Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sleeping Through the Night

The topic of sleep is abundant throughout Lent. The disciples sleeping in the Garden of Gethsemane while Jesus prayed for the strength to carry out His Father's will for Him, and my habit of going to bed early on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday to stave off hunger pangs are two examples.

Okay...they may be the only two examples.

But, as I have mentioned in a previous blog, I have come to accept sleep as a luxury instead of a necessity. I think about the disciples falling asleep and deserting Jesus in His moment of need and I come to realize that maybe sleep is overrated. I also come to realize that my lack of sleep has made me somewhat obsessed with it as a topic.

And why shouldn't I? To my daughter, Elizabeth, sleep is just about the most important part of her life-- and not because she's a good sleeper. No, the reality of the importance of sleep is made evident by the question most frequently asked to parents of a 4 and 1/2 month old:

"Is she sleeping through the night?"

This question is followed by what may be the 2nd and 3rd most common questions asked to new parents:

"How many naps does she take?" and "Is she a good sleeper?"

Sadly, my answers to these three sleep-centered questions would be: no, many but for extremely short durations, and no. In my estimation, whoever coined the phrase "sleeping like a baby" was a fool. I've never walked on so many pins and needles in my life.

I realize that my honesty with Elizabeth's inability to get quality, night-long sleep will bring a plethora of sound, proven advice on the many remedies at mine and Emily's disposal. Let her cry. Feed her food. Give her water. Don't let her sleep during the day. Don't give her a pacifier. Give her a pacifier. Establish a routine. Keep her room warm. Keep her room cold. Keep her room dark. Keep her room bright. Play music. Play static noise. Be silent. Rock her. Leave her. Cover her up. Swaddle her.

Basically, there are as many ways to get a baby to sleep as there are babies.

On the other hand, I am the proud parent of a baby who doesn't "sleep like a baby." She's already displaying her exceptional nature.

Nothing seems as much of a rite of passage/measuring stick of not only Elizabeth's journey from newborn to night-sleeper but our abilities as parents as this "sleeping through the night" phenomenon. Elizabeth is somewhere in infant cyber-sleep on this continuum. Emily and I must similarly be lost in sleep.

To all who ask this question of new parents, I politely retort (and vow never to ask this of new parents):

1. How many hours constitute the night?

2. What is one's definition of sleep?

3. Does "through" involve a potty break/change, early morning (er, I mean late "night") snack or merely the completion of one sleep cycle?

It seems that until more definition is given to this vague requirement of sleeping through the night, a below average score for either Elizabeth or Emily and I is unfair.

The world of education calls this listing of requirements/criteria by which one is evaluated a rubric and it is an essential yet, sadly, rarely used part of the educational process. Too often students receive assignments and eventually grades without any idea as to what is expected (see my retort above) or how they'll be graded (i.e. 4 straight hours of sleep = 10 points; 3 hours = 5 points; less than 3 = 0 points).

In addition, a rubric should reflect the important concepts/objectives behind the assignment. For example, what does "sleeping through the night" have to do with child development? Of course it is an important facet of Elizabeth's growth and progress (it has to be, right?) but why is it given more merit than rolling over, holding up her head, following noises, making noises or grabbing things with her hands (all things Elizabeth can do, by the way). So, not only should a rubric help to identify point values it should also identify areas of importance based on those values.

If you have a worksheet with 10 items and assign it a value of 10 points and yet deduct a point for each item that is spelled incorrectly, you've actually just given a spelling grade instead of the subject or concept behind the misspelled words. Things like neatness and spelling have merit and should be given weight, but the concepts behind such attention to detail should be given more and be heavier. Otherwise, the grade that is assigned is for something other than the skill being addressed.

Sleep is important, but should it be given a heftier point value than focused gazes, following and mimicking sounds or fine motor skills?

As Catholic educators we must ensure we are doing more than just getting our students to sleep through the night. We must get them to define night, compare it to day, articulate the connotation and relationship between night and darkness, list out the stages of the cycle of sleep, summarize the benefits of sleep, classify behaviors during sleep into the different stages of the sleep cycle, and even evaluate the conditions conducive to sleeping.

As you can see, teachers must first identify the objectives behind classroom activities before telling students to complete an assignment. If these objectives are specific, student-centered and measurable, they can help to form the rubric by which the students will be assessed.

Teachers must be purposeful in not only their planning and instruction but also their assessment/evaluation. Answering the question "how" when it comes to an assignment is powerful. Answering the question "why", though, is magical. Both are vitally important when it comes to evaluation.

Strategies abound for how to get Elizabeth to sleep. Less evident is why such shut-eye through the night, whatever that means, is important.

Teachers, it's time to wake up and no longer keep our students in the dark when it comes to how and why we'll assess them.

Even if darkness is conducive to sleeping.