For the first part of the school year, my students read a series of weekly articles around one burning question: what skills and knowledge matter most for a flourishing life? The articles are a mixture of ones I use every year (that list is here when you scroll down*) and the ones Lynsay and I collect new during each school year (those are part of these lists). The topics my students have read and written about this year have included forgiveness, optimism, procrastination, smartphones, and personal finance.
(I discuss “burning questions of the year” as a knowledge-building strategy in the third chapter of These 6 Things, which you can order here. Thanks for your support!)
And oh yeah, one more topic: sleep.
The way I see it, we have two options in secondary schools when it comes to sleep:
- Change school start times to align with science (for some more information on this, here's an article from some random organization called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and/or
- Be sure to arm our students and their families with what science tells us about sleep.
I'm not a policy change specialist. If you are, push for option one.
But I am a teacher who writes, so let me write about the simple means I use for teaching my students about sleep.
There are two things I want students to know: first, why sleep matters, and second, how to improve sleeping. (That latter part is sometimes called “sleep hygiene.”)
One of the best ways to get students learning is to get them reading.** This article that I wrote several years ago does a fair job introducing these concepts. At the very least, I assign this article one time a year for all of my students. The assignment includes a one-page written response.
To go deeper, in the past I've used a series of three articles from the New Yorker (1, 2, 3). I assign one per week. At the end of three weeks, we hold a pop-up debate on what schools should do about sleep. Here's another article that goes deep into the topic — this a profile in The Guardian of one of the world's leading sleep scientists.
My students are in ninth grade, and they've had plenty of thoughtful teachers before me. I hold no illusions that I'm the Great Informer. But no matter how familiar or strange these ideas about sleep are to my students, I want to be sure each year to touch on the topic at last once.
As a teacher in a school that rings its first bell at 7:32 am, I think it's part of the job.
*If you'd like to help me polish up this page, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It needs help!
**It also turns out that one of the best ways to get them reading is to get them learning.