The same old, same old…..

Posted by on Oct 24, 2013 in Blog | 0 comments

Research in the UK this week suggests that physical activity helps improve academic performance. In the  US  town of Santa Rosa the news is that teenagers have different sleep patterns and maybe the school day should start later. meanwhile we have breakfast clubs so that children can start the day with food in their stomachs and thus aid concentration. And so it goes on, all these NEW discoveries that have in actual fact been kicking around for years.

It is no secret that physical activity can effect learning performance, although there will always be exceptions to the rule. Someone pointed out in comments on the BBC website that Professor Stephen Hawking gets by without exercise. However, for some children there is no doubt that some physical exercise before lessons would wake them up and for others, letting off steam would help them concentrate better when they get to class.

Teenagers and sleep patterns is not a new concept either. in the US many schools have tied shifting the time of the beginning of the school day and the original research I think was initiated by Mary Carskadon in Canada some years ago. While it is true that SOME teenagers shift into a different sleep rhythm, not all do but it is good to be aware that students have a time of day when they are really on top form and other periods when they aren’t, just as adults do. What parents should take form the research is that if they have a grumpy teenager who finds it nigh on impossible to rise in the morning then look at their sleep patterns. Are they on the internet till the early hours of the morning? Their brain is forging a pattern of going to sleep later and later till after midnight becomes the norm. Bearing in mind they need nine and a quarter hours sleep this means that they are not going to feel like surfacing till after 10a.m.They’ll feel groggy and disagreeable.

Last year I worked with Mary who was acting in just such a way. She was spending over 8 hours a night on Skype, was tired all the time and behind with her work. The Skype activity just came to light in conversation about her learning! During the first week we set about keeping a sleep diary. It was hard going for her because she wanted to talk to her boyfriend. We agrees 1 Skype free night in the first week. In week 2 we talked about setting time limits. By week 4 Mary was looking much more refreshed, had instigated Skype free nights and cut down on the other nights. She got her work in on time. We were then able to work with other issues such as the most effective way to revise and she actually attacked her studies with enthusiasm. Mary had got into the habit of coming home from school, taking food to her room, logging on and staying there for hours on time. it IS difficult for parents to monitor older teenagers but they need boundaries, even if they do kick against them.

Different ways of learning also appears in the press regularly and teachers usually are quite damning of research because they perceive  that they have to teach in many different ways. Firstly, doesn’t any good teacher try to reach every child in the class but secondly, and more importantly, doesn’t the research just highlight the fact that there is more than one way of crossing a pond? I often work with holistic learners ( right brain in old parlance), who need to see the ‘big picture’ before they start processing a problem or working on a topic. Put it this way, they’re the ones who read the end of a book after they’ve just read the beginning so that they know where they are going! These students often have lots of thoughts in their head at the same time, find it difficult to focus, thrive on emotion are creative and maybe…. don’t do too well in class.

By explaining to them what will work for them they can get a handle on their learning. Once they gain some confidence, the sky’s the limit. They are the ‘out of the box’ thinkers who can really cause good things to happen – providing they are given the tools to work with. They may not like reading, can’t sit still for longer than 10 minutes and their files are a mess but all is not lost. They can be helped to be efficient learners.

So the theories go round and round and here and there and Education Authority embraces one for a while. Developments in brain research are forging ahead and we now no so much more about how teenage brains work, the changes that are taking place and how we can adapt teaching and learning to take account of these developments. No two children are the same and they develop at different rates but with a little care and some conversation we can figure out what will help the individual.

If your teenager is struggling and you’d like to ask a question, email me frances@francesgreen.com and I’ll get back to you.