Do you remember the show “Cheers?” Some of you might be too young to remember what a great show it sometimes was. There’s an episode where Coach explains to Sam how he prepares for his night school geography test. Coach says “You can learn about anything in this world if you’ll just follow my little trick...we associate our facts with music.” He then goes on to rattle off a half-dozen facts about Albania to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In." To this day, I remember that Albania borders on the Adriatic, its terrain is ‘mountainous,’ and its chief export is ‘chrome.’
Coach was on to something! EdSource recently featured a middle school math teacher who led her students in little chants, songs, and dance moves to help them remember math facts. She found that there was a boost in her students’ math test scores. In the same article, a UC Davis psychology researcher found that memories, music, and emotions were processed in the same region of the brain.
Associating music to facts is one little approach to help students learn, but there are other things that teachers can do, too. The power of taking small breaks has been underestimated. A recent write up in EduTopia discusses the benefits of taking short breaks. These types of breaks can be a mindful moment in class, an exercise break, or a social break. Research has shown that taking breaks can increase productivity which can also boost creativity and social skills.
At our last parent education event, author of The Minds of Boys and Girls, Michael Gurian shared a few strategies that teachers can take back into the classroom that may help students focus. Different strategies that speak to one gender or the other. First grade teacher Maggie Sanchez at Encinal tried a strategy with one of her male students and found it to have surprising benefits. She had a male student who normally has a difficult time sitting still and focusing. She decided to toss a fuzzy ball with her student before at test. What she found was a less anxious student who performed well on the test when he normally would have had difficulties.
So what’s the lesson to be learned here? Sometimes it’s the little things that we do during the school day that have a long lasting impact on student learning. What will you try in your classroom today?