Sunday, 22 February 2015

Melinda Tankard-Reist (2015 Term 1 Week 5)

On Wednesday last week, in a number of different sessions, author and advocate Melinda Tankard-Reist spoke to our female students from Years 5-12 and our male students from Years 9-12, as well as to our staff and to approximately 100 parents and friends on the previous evening. Her message was tailored to the contexts in which she spoke, being both age-appropriate and gender-sensitive, but the feedback that I have received from the range of audience members was that her presentations were informative, provocative and disturbing. If your children were in one of the student groups addressed by Melinda, I encourage you to raise her presentations with them and listen to their reflections (although these will doubtless vary, depending on how forthcoming and articulate your child tends to be).

While there were a number of issues raised by Melinda, one of the more important had to do with the challenges of raising young women with a healthy body image. Later in the week, Melinda provided us with this link to a helpful tip-sheet for parents of girls. I commend it to you as a helpful resource. For those who wish to add their voice to the Collective Shout grassroots campaigning movement against the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls in media, advertising and popular culture, you can find more information here. For those parents who may have missed Melinda's presentation, or who may be interested in finding out more, her blog can be found here.

At the Senior Theology and Philosophy Forum last week, I spoke to the Year 11 and 12 students about the Christian understanding of humanity as being created in the image of God and therefore inherently valuable and intrinsically worthy of respect and dignity. This worldview is counter-cultural in many ways; our society tends to value people based on other factors, such as their achievements, wealth, popularity and appearance. It is profoundly liberating to have one's self-worth grounded in this way. I suspect it is also a helpful guard for our children against the societal pressures about which Melinda warned us.

On another note, as part of our Learner Profile goal of shaping engaged and aware global citizens, we have been running our Year 10 Global Education program for about seven years. The program has evolved over time, but its twin foci continue to be service-learning and horizon-broadening. In recent years the program has consisted of students choosing one of three options during the final weeks of Year 10: a trip to Vietnam/Cambodia; a trip to Broken Hill; and a variety of activities and excursions centred around Sydney. This year we are planning to broaden the range of options; Year 10 students and parents will be informed about the proposed experiences at an information evening on Monday.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Learning while listening to music (2015 Term 1 Week 4)

If you really wanted to create conflict between parents and children, there are no shortage of topics that you could choose. Time-worn battlegrounds include the tidiness (or otherwise) of the bedroom, the amount of study being done, and the relative newcomer to the scene, the amount of time spent on screens. Common-sense dictates that we need to be thoughtful about which 'discussions' are worth initiating and different families will reflect their priorities differently. I am loathe to open up a new field for strife, but I am increasingly concerned about the cognitive impact of listening to music while studying.

Lots of research is being done in this area and even a simple Google search will bring up a bewildering number of studies; I got more than 28 million hits in 0.3 seconds! I must confess, I only read a dozen of them, most of which were blogs or popular-level summaries of scholarly work, and I didn't engage in the kind of deep analysis of methodology that the topic probably deserves.  

Reasonably soon in my reading it became apparent that, whatever your position on this question, you won't have difficulty finding someone who will encourage you to continue to hold it. Confirmation bias is alive and well. 

At the risk of succumbing to my own confirmation bias, the key research in the field seems to be this one. Since it is only available to people with access to the scholarly journal, Applied Cognitive Psychology, you may do better to access summaries via this blog, this blog or this website.

The upshot is that, while listening to music prior to studying may increase levels of cognitive arousal or alertness(simply because it can put you in a good mood), listening to music while studying has a negative effect on performance. Study takes place best in silence.

For those who look to the music as a way of blocking out other noise, there is some evidence that listening to your favourite music has a more negative effect than listening to something you don't like. Presumably this is because you engage more with the music that you like. 

It is also worth noting that music with lyrics has a particularly deleterious effect; a brain processing words through their eyes and words through their ears at the same time, has diminished capacity through cognitive overload.

Some students have told me that they "can't" study without listening to music. I don't doubt their experience, but I suspect it has more to do with the fact that they have formed an unhelpful habit that they find it hard to quit, than that the music is actually helping them. My fear is that they have habituated a behaviour that hurts their performance, a bit like getting used to swimming while towing a bucket.

How are habits to be broken? The only way possible is through  focused effort, sustained determination and the formation of new habits. As we all know, habits are easier to break earlier in the formative process.

If your child is developing the habit of listening to music while studying, it may be that this discussion is one worth having. Of course, it would be good not to create a 'battle-ground' in doing so ... but that is a discussion for another article.

Monday, 9 February 2015

We need more sleep! (2015 Term 1 Week 3)

We need more sleep
Making the transition from holiday rhythms to term-time rhythms can come as a shock to all of us. The leisurely sleep-in is replaced by the frantic scramble to get out the door with all relevant items. The freedom to stay up late into the night or to take a mid-afternoon nap are no more. The days and the evenings are packed with more activity and responsibility and, often, we make extra waking time by robbing our sleeping time.

The reality is that many of us function on less sleep than we should. The SMH recently reported on a report by the National Sleep Foundation in the USA that arose from a meta-study of more than 300 studies. Recognising that the needs of individuals may vary significantly, their recommendation is that adults are getting between 7-9 hours per night, teenagers get 8-10 hours per night and younger students get 9-11 hours per night.
The matter for young people is made even more pointed by some more research reported in Time magazine, which explores the relationship between sleep and academic achievement in students. The conclusion is that there is a significant performance variable associated with sleep deficiencies. In other words, learning is sabotaged by poor sleep.

The challenge of getting good sleep is compounded for teens by a shift in their diurnal rhythms that is associated with adolescence; this makes the implementation of sensible and helpful supports for sleep all the more important. The accepted wisdom with reference to improving the quality and efficacy of sleep is not rocket science. Parents ought to establish a consistent bedtime routine, emphasize the need for a regular sleep schedule, keep electronic screens out of bedrooms, and ensure that children understand the importance of sleep.

From the Christian worldview, ‘rest’ is essentially and properly a human priority. The creation account in Genesis 1 records God resting from his labours. Scholars have noted that the rhythm in this ancient account has the evening (the time of rest) preceding the morning (the time of work); we often frame the two the other way around. The establishment of a Sabbath day – the day of rest – in the Scriptures recognizes the importance of down-time, of which sleep is a part. One of the threats of our ever more connected and busy world is that we begin to devalue rest and, consequently, sleep.

For your own sake, and for the sake of your children, can I urge your household to make the establishment of good sleep patterns a priority as the school year gets underway.

Independent education
One of the unmistakable markers of summer, along with cricket on the radio, is articles in the mainstream media questioning the value of independent schools. The facts presented in these articles are often provocative and worthy of consideration, but there is one fact that is rarely acknowledged. As pointed out in this article in the SMH, more and more families are opting for non-government schools.

The trend does not just appear in NSW. About one third of Australian parents have looked carefully at the range of educational options, have done their research, weighed the factors that matter most to them and come up with the conclusion that investing in their child’s education at a non-government school is worth it. Furthermore, nearly half the children of secondary school age in Australian cities come from families who have weighed up the pros and cons of state school education and decided on a non-government school for their children.

This fact ought not be glossed over by those who have an agenda in diminishing the non-government education sector. The genuine belief that non-government education is worth it is demonstrated by the parents of more than 500 000 students each year at significant financial cost. I suspect that those who disparage independent education may not have spent much time listening to those who esteem it.

A point of change for this blog

A change of focus for the blog

A quick survey of posts made on this blog reveals that the process of blogging has come to me in fits and starts! Frequently inspired by conferences, books, speakers or the random ideas that flit through the ether, the blog has been a helpful way for me to process my thinking. Thanks to all those who have read along the way!

From today, the nature of the blog is changing. Whilst it will continue to unpack my thinking on all sorts of matters educational, it will do so in the context of being the 'official' content of the e-newsletter that is distributed to the parent community of Inaburra School. Associated with this change are a change of title, some modification of the branding and appearance and any number of other updates that are appropriate to digital renewal.

The posts that precede this one ought not be deemed with the same level of official school sanction as the ones that follow; I have floated more than a few kites and lead balloons in musings over the years. However, I did not want to remove the posts, recognising that they have an integrity of their own, and it seems to me that the URL for this post is more than appropriate for the new use to which it is being put.

Therefore, let's  ...

Faith, knowledge, love