Want to improve your grades? Sleep more!

With Semester 1 just ended and students now focussing on working through a successful second semester, I (and many of you) have been talking to students and parents about changes they can make to see greater improvement in their learning. Usually that conversation starts with studying more, but recent research suggests that sleeping more is just as important.

The study titled “Sacrificing sleep to study can lead to academic problems”, showed that “across the years of high school, the trade-off between daily study time and sleep becomes increasingly associated with academic problems” (pp. 139). The study also found “that the reduced sleep that tends to occur on nights of extra studying is what accounts for the increase in academic problems that occurs the next day.”

This is not to say that students should not study! The research also acknowledges that there is a link between high achievement and more study, but caution that the extra study should not be at the expense of sleep.

9 hours of sleep per night is the recommendation for adolescents. In an ongoing survey I have been conducting, after 75 responses, 5.7 hours per night is the average for high school students at the school I lead.

So, if students want to improve their learning, and then as a consequence, their grades, help them to consider the following… develop a routine that allows you to sleep 9 hours each night. Spread your study out across all nights of the week, and if you need to put in some extra hours of study, don’t sacrifice your sleep – instead, give up something else that is not as important.

As this study suggests (and other studies confirm), “sleep is a key restorative process during which consolidation of learning takes place.”


Society for Research in Child Development. “Sacrificing sleep to study can lead to academic problems.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 August 2012. <>.


“Copy this down…” or don’t. It’s up to you!

From an interesting article about the Primary Years Program… Click here for the full blog post.

If we truly value thinking and creativity, then why would there be a need for students to copy something down. Whether it’s a definition, a list of attributes, or instructions for how to do something, doesn’t the act of expecting students to copy down whatever it is we are looking for steal their thinking? If learning is all about making meaning, aren’t we missing an opportunity to have students construct their own meaning if we are expecting them to copy down someone else’s meaning?

Out of the whole post, this short paragraph has been clunking around in my head more loudly than the other ideas shared within. I’ve been asking myself, “Should teachers be telling students to copy this down?”

When I taught for a year at TongJi Medical University in Wuhan, China (after having taught elementary for four and a half years in Australia) I was introduced to a “copying” culture in my students. Whatever I wrote on the blackboard (with chalk!) was diligently copied into all 45 journals in the room. I didn’t need to say, “Copy this down.” The presumption was that whatever I wrote on the board was important, without necessarily understanding what it was important for. That year made me rethink what I used the blackboard for!

Fast forward twenty years and now we have LCD projectors and interactive whiteboards (not a stick of chalk anywhere!) and the ability to bombard our students with a “blackboard” full of Google or Powerpoint slide after slide after slide after slide of “important” information. My Chinese university students would be most dismayed because they would not possibly be able to copy it all down. And maybe because of that they would begin to ask which information was important to copy, which makes me wonder about why students should take notes at all. Why anyone takes notes at all!

Well, from my personal perspective, I take notes every day. Notes of every meeting I attend. I write down who is there, the date on which it takes place, the time of day and the main things we speak about. If I need to complete a task as a follow-up to the meeting I note that down. But in all of that, the most important element is why. Why I note those things down!

I note those things because I know that in the future I will need those pieces of information for something else I will need to do. Those are the things that are important to remember in order for me to do a good job of being the Principal.

From a student perspective, the WHY should be similarly important. WHY a student is taking notes should drive what notes they are taking. This demands that students actually KNOW what they need their notes for, be it an exam at the end of the week or semester, for a project they are developing or for an essay they might be writing. They must KNOW the criteria around which that task will be assessed. Only then can they determine if what is being presented to them on the “blackboard” is worth copying down.

So when we say, “Copy this down” we are missing the most important part of the whole note-taking process – the CRITICAL THINKING that demands the worth of the information be COMPARED to the demands of the task, to result in a CONSCIOUS DECISION to copy or not to copy.

So when the inevitable student question “Do we need to copy this?” comes up (as we all know it will), try answering with a question instead… “Why might you need to remember this information?”

If the student can’t answer that question then you (or the student) might have bigger problems, but it WILL prompt critical thinking.

Note-taking, as the original blog post mentioned, should be about students making their own meaning from information presented to them. Don’t ask students to “Copy this down”, ask students to be critical about what they think is important* and let them choose!


*But make sure you are VERY clear with course goals, expected learning outcomes, assessment criteria and assessment details!

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