I can't start blogging this week without huge amounts of gratitude to all the amazing people in my life and my town. I've had so many people come up and tell me what a difference I've made for them and their little ones- parents from last year's school and schools from long ago. In my current role I've met people for the first time in a professional context and straight up they say to me that they can tell my heart and soul is in special education. 'You can hear it in the way you speak so passionately' was the feedback from one professional. I've been in touch with educators around the world thanks to my blog and Facebook page plus I've been asked to consult for a couple of other educational settings! It is great to exchange ideas and learn from others. Wow, simply wow. What a week filed with positive affirmations. Thank you.
It is because of this that I really want to give something back this week. Something practical. While I was dancing and singing with my little ones this week it struck me; the need for music and movement in learning. I guess it is something we take for granted with early childhood as being a necessity, but who is to say that it isn't needed all the way through to secondary school and beyond? I guess the best example of the way music can become etched in our memory is in the way songs can makes us remember those great moments of a relationship and those songs given to us by others in laughably bad relationships we'd rather forget. Most of us would have a break up song or two, right? What memories and feelings do they evoke? In university I would study for a subject and listen to only one album, then in the exam, I would remember the songs from the album and it would help me remember what I had studied!
Music can absolutely be used that way in education. Teaching Yr 8 maths last year I found this little ditty which helped my kids enormously:
Hey diddle diddle, the median’s in the middle,
You add then divide for the mean.
The mode is the one that is the most,
And the range is the bit in between.
I didn't write it, I won't claim credit for that, but it did prove invaluable in help my guys remember the difference between mean, median, mode and range. You could hear them humming the tune during the exam.
When giving instructions I would (and still do) sing them and the tune, the rhythm of the instruction would stick much more easily than simply saying it. You have to be able to be self deprecating or have a great singing voice and I know I'm the former rather than the latter! How easy is it to get kids to pack up when you sing 'Everybody pack up, pack up, pack up, just like me!'?
There is a large body of evidence that suggests we have a kinesthetic memory too - that is movement can help things stay in our memory and movement can help us remember that information. Certainly visual instructions are retained in working memory longer than verbal instructions, so tapping your head when you asked kids to put their hat on or miming opening a book when you ask students to open their maths book will help them follow the instruction and really requires no extra of the parent/teacher. I've had kids act out cell division in science classes and had the physically demonstrate Newton's Laws of Motion. The answers on the exam paper showed that the concepts had stuck in their memory!
The idea that kids learn by sitting at desks in neat little rows belongs in the prehistoric British boarding school model that is- in the past. We know better today thanks to leaps and bounds in neuroscience and it's a wonder why more isn't taught to beginning teachers as part of their degree.
You might even find that the music and movement will have the dual effect of assisting those students with sensory processing needs. I know that I for one adore getting to dance around with my guys several times a day as it helps me enormously. The endorphins ensure that every day is a good day! My staff have even commented that I'm not too shabby on the dance floor but I'm doing it for the fun and learning! How awesome is my job to be paid to dance and sing and teach all in one? It helps to meet sensory seeking needs but may not work for those with sensory sensitivities, so again, finding a balance is needed.
You don't have to get kids doing an interpretive dance to every new topic you teach, nor do you need to deliver everything as though life is a Broadway musical (wouldn't it be grand if it were?). Just adding a little bit of variety is the key. A little but of music, a little bit of movement and you will create memories that will far outlast any break up song!