Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Learning Faster vs Learning Better

A discussion in Ed., the magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, looks at the flaws in the assumption that students who are "fast learners" or "quick to get it" perform better than those students who take more time to work their way through course material.

This assumption was challenged by Parisa Rouhani, Ed.D., as part of her doctoral dissertation. Dr. Rouhani noted that the way our educational system looks at those who need more time as somehow "deficient" or "less capable" is reflected in the need for students to be diagnosed with a learning or attention problem in order to be entitled to extended time on exams.
However, Dr. Rouhani's study of a group of ninth graders found that there was "no meaningful relationship between time and performance. Some students who did well in the course took a long time, while others did not." By analyzing the performance of her class of subjects, she found that the most important determinant of whether students did well in the course was whether they had mastered the material. The question that this small study raises is why do we continue to use time as a measure of competence and limit time for high stakes testing and even classroom evaluations? Clearly, this issue needs more study, with a larger group of subjects.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Behaviors That Impact Impulsivity

Research findings published in the September issue of Pediatrics look at the effects of "Movement Behaviors" on impulsivity in more than 4500 children, ages 8-11. These guidelines (The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth) aren't really all about movement; they are evidence-based recommendations that children 5 to 13 years old:

  • Accumulate a minimum of 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity; and
  • Spend not more than 2 hours a day on recreational screen time; and
  • Get between 9 and 11 hours sleep each night.
The researchers were interested in looking at whether these behaviors would have an impact on impulsivity, which is a core characteristic in attention disorders as well as certain behavior disorders and emotional dysregulation. They began with the hypothesis that children who met all of the recommendations for these parameters would show less impulsivity than those who did not. 

They looked at various combinations of physical activity, sleep, and screen time and determined that 30 percent of the children did not meet any of the recommendations. Less than 5 percent of the children met all the guidelines. The researchers found that the most important factors in whether children demonstrated reduced impulsivity (and its positive counterpart, perseverance) was sufficient sleep and limited screen time. Physical activity seemed to have much less of an impact.

 The researchers note, "Our findings highlight that sleep and [screen time] interact in a fashion that provides unique benefits compared with meeting either movement behavior alone and may be especially clinically relevant to target concurrently in interventions, given a small percentage of children meet these movement behavior guidelines."

They conclude that while physical activity may not impact impulsivity, it has other important benefits. Furthermore, strategies to limit recreational screen time while encouraging early bedtimes and sufficient sleep, can help avoid and treat impulsivity related disorders. 

Photo by Alfred Rowe on Unsplash

Friday, September 13, 2019

Sleep and Memory

We've written countless times about sleep, and the importance of sleep for children of all ages.* Now, a new study paints a clear picture of how academic learning is significantly affected by sleep deprivation - and how this impact continues in effect over a period of several weeks.

A new study in the Journal of Adolescent Healthnoted in AAP Newsexamined the effects of sleep deprivation on 59 teens ages 15-18 at a boarding school in Singapore. The group was divided into two parts; one set of students could sleep for nine hours, which is the generally recommended length of sleep for teens of that age group. The other set of students were permitted only five hours of sleep, an amount not unusual for sleep deprived students.

After a period of four days, designed to replicate a typical school week, both groups of students were taught detailed facts about ants and crabs over the course of a six hour day. The students were tested on what they had learned 30 minutes and then three days after the lesson concluded. Some of the students (from both the sleep deprived and the control groups) were also tested six weeks after the lesson.

The study authors noted, " We found significantly reduced retention of factual knowledge after four nights of restricted sleep, and this deficit was still evident when tested 6 weeks later." The data shows:

  • 30 minutes after the lesson, the sleep deprived students retained 26% less information than the control group, a finding that the researchers note may be attributed to impaired encoding of the material in the first place.
  • After three days, the sleep deprived students retained 34% less than the control group.
  • Six weeks later, among those of the students who returned for follow up (14 sleep restricted and 22 of the control group), the sleep restricted participants retained 65% less of the learned material for certain responses.  

This study should be required reading for all teens who dismiss the importance of a full night's sleep.

*The links to our blog posts on sleep are too numerous to include. You can find them by searching the term "sleep" or selecting "sleep" from our list of blog topics, both of which are located on the right hand side of this post. 

Photo by Tracey Hocking on Unsplash

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Avoiding the October Surprise

Tomorrow is the first day of school for New York City students, but their older siblings and friends at college likely started classes days or weeks ago. College students who are new to campus living need to adjust to a wide array of  "self care" responsibilities. These are things that used to be done with parental support or, at least, parental awareness. They include getting adequate sleep, eating well, avoiding dangerous situations, and staying up-to-date on assignments.

One responsibility in particular can make or break a student's chance of success in college: maintaining his or her medication regime. Students who require medication, whether to treat a health condition, a mental illness, or AD/HD, have likely been taking these medications regularly, perhaps reminded by or assisted by their parents. They have parental help with obtaining prescriptions, including making appointments with their doctors, knowing about their drug plan coverage, and getting refills (in general, controlled substances - which include most medications for attention and psychiatric conditions - require that the patient be seen by the prescribing physician at least every three months), and monitoring side effects. Parents can often tell when their adolescent is not taking prescribed medications just by observing how they feel and behave.

Not infrequently, when a student arrives to begin college, they are eager to assert their independence and might decide they don't really need their medication. Or, they may have the best of intentions to continue their medication regime, but become distracted and don't follow through with taking their meds regularly.

Why do we call this the "October Surprise"? We first heard the term from a colleague who was describing a regular experience in her legal practice, when parents would call her and report that their college student suddenly was failing, or in the infirmary, or decided they couldn't handle college. Why? After some investigation, many of these students had stopped their medications as soon as they got to school. Since most of these medications don't stop working immediately, it took until late September or early October for them to be fully out of the student's system and for the student to feel the full effects of functioning without needed medication. Hence, the surprise in October.

College students may not realize that there is no opportunity for a "do over" in college. If a student fails a course, that "F" is there forever, impacting his or her GPA. I've sat with more than one set of parents who sought guidance in what they could do once their child has failed several courses and have been able to offer little solace.

Families need to begin when a student is in high school to create medical independence, but it is not too late to speak to a college student to make sure he or she has the tools to manage their medication. Students need to understand their medical or psychiatric conditions, know what medications they are taking and why, and how to keep their medication secure from those who would like to try their attention meds to "help" them study. Your student needs to understand that in addition to the legal and ethical issues involved, ADHD stimulants are called “controlled substances” because of their potential for side effects. They can do harm to individuals who are not under the supervision of a physician. Your son or daughter should know how to obtain more medication when they need it -- even if that means letting a parent know rather than making arrangements for a refill themselves.

Speaking with your student about his or her medications, the importance of taking them, and when and how to reach out for additional medication or to report problems is an important part of college readiness and can make a real difference in college success.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash