Sleep learning benefits explored


Published: Thursday 9th October 2014 by The News Editor

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Parents have struggled for years with how to get their teenager out of bed in time for school, now researchers are attempting to discover if a lie-in leads to better exam results .

A new study is to look at whether starting lessons later, and educating students about the benefits of sleep, boosts GCSE marks.

The trial, led by academics at Oxford University, is one of six projects being set up to investigate how neuroscience could improve education in the UK.

Other experiments include examining whether pupils do better when there is an element of chance in their reward for answering a question correctly and the impact of physical activity on academic results.

Around 31,800 14 to 16-year-olds (Years 10 and 11) at 106 schools are due to take part in the sleep study, with the main trial lasting two years.

In the first year, one group of pupils will be given sleep education – such as the benefits of getting enough rest – and the other will not.

And in the second year, one group of students will start lessons at 10am, one will receive sleep education, a third will receive both and a fourth group will have neither.

Sleep education could involve highlighting the benefits to youngsters of getting a good night’s rest, such as being more likely to win a place on a sports team if they are on top form and appearing more attractive to the opposite sex, the researchers suggested.

As part of the study, pupils may be asked to keep sleep diaries and some will wear electronic devices that monitors sleeping patterns.

Researchers will look at the impact on GCSE results, as well as other areas such as the effect of devices such as mobile phones and tablets on sleep.

Colin Espie, a professor of sleep medicine at Oxford University, said: ” We know something funny something happens when you’re a teenager. You seem to be slightly out of sync with the rest of the world.

“Of course, your parents think that’s probably because you’re a little bit lazy and opinionated and if only you got to bed early at night, you’d be able to get up in the morning.

“But science is telling us in fact there are developmental changes during the teenage years, which lead to them actually not being as tired as we think they ought to be at normal bedtime and still sleepy in the morning.”

He added: ” What we’re doing in the study is exploring the possibility that if we actually delay the school start time until 10am, instead of 9am or earlier, that additional hour taken on a daily dose over the course of a year will actually improve learning, performance, attainment and in the end school leaving qualifications.”

The project is not the first to look at the effects of later start times on pupils’ attainment. Around five years ago, Monkseaton Community High School in North Tyneside ran a pilot study, with lessons beginning around 10am.

It found that pupils, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, scored better GCSE results.

Youngsters taking part in the “uncertain reward” study will compete in teams to gain points in science class by answering questions correctly. They will be given the chance to spin a “wheel of fortune” that could see them end up with more points, or none.

Dr Paul Howard Jones of Bristol University said: “We know answering questions in class is important for students’ learning but, based on our understanding of the brain’s reward system, we will be encouraging all students to continuously answer questions as part of a game. Students will need a combination of luck and learning to win. Current research suggests this is more motivating and effective for students’ learning.”

A third study, led by two universities – Oxford and Oxford Brookes, will examine whether increasing the amount of physical activity pupils do during PE lessons has an impact on their work in the classroom.

Professor Heidi Johansen-Berg of Oxford University, said: “We all know that exercise is good for the body, but research suggests that it’s also good for the brain. We therefore think that making PE lessons more active could boost subsequent lesson performance and academic outcomes over a longer time, but the only way to know for sure is to test the idea.”

The six new projects have been funded with grants totalling almost £4 million from the Wellcome Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).

The other three will look at training pupils to suspend their pre-existing beliefs in solving mathematical or scientific questions; the effectiveness of repetition and “spaced” learning – which sees lessons broken up with a different type of activity and a new method of teaching children to read.

Dr Hilary Leevers, head of education and learning at the Wellcome Trust said: “Our growing understanding of how the brain acquires and processes information has great potential to improve teaching and learning.

“We know that many teachers are keen to try new approaches based on neuroscience; however, we have so far lacked evidence about what will actually be beneficial to their students.”

Published: Thursday 9th October 2014 by The News Editor

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