Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hoping to See You All ... Later

We are considering another change to our bell schedule, one that would align us with the other small secondary school in our district. The topic came up in our Small Secondary Task Force meetings while discussing the possibility of videoconferencing with them as way to expand our course offerings, but I am going to be very up front regarding my primary motivation: I like their start time. 

Chemainus Secondary begins their day at 8:50 am, 25 minutes after we currently do. They have students enrolled from a small nearby island and are tied to a ferry schedule that prevents them from beginning any earlier. We don’t have this particular constraint, so my reason for the potential change is driven mainly by this – moving to a later start time would be better for learning.

For years the research has been telling us that our students are sleep-deprived, the adolescent sleep cycle is different than the adult sleep cycle, teenagers don't learn well first thing in the morning, and they would be happier and more engaged at school if we wouldn't make them get up so darn early. It is fascinating how often we ignore information like this in the education world, and just keep on doing things out of habit and convenience. Here are three excerpts from research articles that support a later start in schools:

According to the National Sleep Foundation, “Research shows that adolescents require at least as much sleep as they did as children, generally 8 1/2 to 9 1/4 hours each night (Carskadon et al., 1980). Key changes in sleep patterns and needs during puberty can contribute to excessive sleepiness in adolescents, which can impair daytime functioning. First, daytime sleepiness can increase during adolescence, even when teens’ schedules allow for optimal amounts of sleep (Carskadon, Vieri, & Acebo, 1993). Second, most adolescents undergo a sleep phase delay, which means a tendency toward later times for both falling asleep and waking up. Research shows the typical adolescent’s natural time to fall asleep may be 11 pm or later; because of this change in their internal clocks, teens may feel wide awake at bedtime, even when they are exhausted (Wolfson & Carskadon, 1998). This leads to sleep deprivation in many teens who must wake up early for school, and thus do not get the 8 1/2 - 9 1/4 hours of sleep that they need. (Dahl & Carskadon, 1995).” Read the entire article here.

Rhode Island moved its start times back 30 minutes and saw immediate benefits from the change. “After the delayed start, the percentage of students who said they got at least eight hours of sleep a night jumped from about 16 to 55 percent. Class attendance improved, and there were fewer visits to the health center for fatigue-related complaints. Plus, the number of students who said they felt unhappy, depressed, annoyed or irritated dropped significantly. Before the study, teachers, coaches and administrators all resisted the later start. After, nearly all voted to keep it in place.” Read more about this study here

In “Changing Times: Findings From the First Longitudinal Study of Later High School Start Times”, later start times are said to offer “significant benefits such as improved attendance and enrollment rates, less sleeping in class, and less student-reported depression.” The data collected in this paper is especially compelling. Click here to see the full article on the Kyla Wahlstrom study.

Some people say that teens will just go to bed later and this change will not solve anything, but the studies above generally debunk that idea. In regard to our younger students, the later start will bring us more in line with the elementary schools in the rest of the district, so our grade 6 and 7 students are not getting up earlier than students the same age in other schools because of our unique configuration. (See the schedule here.) Others have mentioned after-school activities and work as reasons not to change. While these are certainly pressing issues for some students, an 8:50 start would still allow us to dismiss at 3:05 pm, giving students plenty of time for other activities. Even so, if student learning is the school focus, our decisions should be driven primarily by what is best for learning, rather than by preferences around work and play. For many schools and districts, the biggest challenge with a schedule change is getting the bussing organized, and from what I’ve heard from our Operations Department so far is that this change looks very possible and we will still be able to interlock with our elementary schools and various transfer points. 

The next hurdle to overcome is what's known as the "tumble".  We have a fixed schedule where the periods do not rotate through the day, and Chemainus has a schedule that rotates every month, and both of our school staffs seem pretty attached to what we already have. I am hoping to negotiate at least a compromise, such as having the morning classes tumble from period one to period two then back again without switching to the pm, but this is all going to require some serious conversation in a time frame that may not be particularly suitable for this kind of discourse. I have to remain hopeful that we can come to some kind of agreement, make the most of our shared learning opportunities, and give our students more reasons to stay and learn in their home communities.

Even if we cannot reach an agreement, our bell change should still be considered for its potential benefit to learning. I’m an chronic early riser myself, and won't likely enjoy any extra shut-eye, and videoconferencing isn't something that gets me too fired up as a learning medium. If you have read any of my previous blog entries you may have noticed that I am a fan of great instruction, a lively interactive experience - with frequent FEEDBACK - that would be difficult to duplicate effectively through a monitor and speakers, even with high-definition! (The demo was pretty impressive, I must admit.) My conversations with other districts using this technology were also primarily positive so long as you use it appropriately, and I really do want to be able to offer some more course choices in our little school.  While the "VC" should be a superior experience to a typical online distance learning program, I don’t believe it should ever replace our enrolling classes, and therefore it will likely benefit just a small number of highly motivated senior students.  A later start time, however, and the opportunity for 25 more minutes of sleep every night would benefit nearly everyone’s learning, and that should be more than enough reason to consider it. 

Read a very detailed article from the Scientific American here.
Read more articles on this topic posted on the BC Education Plan website by clicking here
For an article in Psychology Today click here. 
Check out the Start School Later website (US) and all of their resources, by clicking here
The LA Times adds to the conversation in grades 6-12 here. 
For an article on driving safety and early start time, click here. 
Schools and district moving or considering a change to a later start. 
For some commentary regarding younger students click here. 
Go to the Students' Lounge blogsite on this topic by clicking here


  1. Technology, Pedagogy and Education
    Vol. 19, No. 3, October 2010, 295–314
    ISSN 1475-939X print/ISSN 1747-5139 online
    © 2010 Association for Information Technology in Teacher Education
    DOI: 10.1080/1475939X.2010.513761
    Images of the future for education? Videoconferencing:
    a literature review
    Tony Lawsona*, Chris Combera, Jenny Gageb and Adrian Cullum-Hanshawb

    Read this article as it details how imperative it is to have all members of the education community on board BEFORE the teaching practice is implemented.

  2. Looking forward to having more conversations, especially with the stakeholders that learn and WORK in the building! I suspect, contrary to what pop culture tells us, that not everyone really wants to be on TV. Should be interesting. Thanks for the article Anon. PJ