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I love to read about different ways to learn.  Learning is something that, whether we realize it or not, we do (hopefully) all of our lives.  Somethings we enjoy learning (like new high scoring words in Scrabble or Words With Friends) and other things, not so much (like an obligatory program for work.)  In all of these scenarios, we all have learning styles.

Learning styles in children tends to be simplified by school systems.  If a child doesn’t fit into the given categories, there is often a need on the student, parents and teachers to find a way to help the child adapt to more classical ways of grasping and retaining information.  As a music teacher, the more “out of the box” ways of learning that I know about, the more I can help a student adapt to learning music and hence often apply that same idea to other subjects in a traditional school setting.

A couple of years ago, I had read that a math teacher in China played specific pieces of classical music whenever he taught a certain method for solving equations.  The music in the background was subtle and played over speakers in the classroom.  At the end of the month, he handed out a test on the method.  Students took the test in a silent room.  Grades were comparable to a normal performance for the students.  Then, he rewrote the test that night and gave it as a surprise to the students in his class the next day.  This time, he played the music that he had been using whenever he covered the mathematical method.  The difference in scores was huge.  Students, even ones who struggled with math typically, scored significantly higher and reported that they seemed to be able to recall the steps to solving the equations easier.  Soon, the school adapted a musical system to each topic and subtopic.

When I read the article, I wondered how it might help some of my students who struggle with ADD or students who just have trouble retaining information while studying.  I decided to conduct an experiment.

I invited any students who wanted to participate in the study to load a 20 minute MP3 of some classical music I recorded of myself playing harp.  The music was repetitive, as I had read that often helps ADD students as well.  I asked all who had the MP3 to listen to it while studying one particular subject.  Then, students with IEP’s who got clearance were allowed to listen to the MP3’s on their earbuds while taking the test for that specific subject.

The results were interesting.  While my non-ADD students said that the music helped them to focus in general, they didn’t see huge improvement in their grades; maybe only 5%.  The improvement was pretty small.  On the other hand, students who were diagnosed with ADD and could use the music during the testing saw at minimum of of 20% improvement or more.  That is significant because it could raise the test score an entire grade point.

I took the findings of my little experiment to the local school, asking if they might too be interested in applying the concept on a larger scale in classrooms.  I received an email that back that said while the experiment was interesting, it was cost too much for the school to implement such a program.

It goes without saying that I was disappointed to read their response.  Never the less, I have to see it as a victory.  Some of my students gained a valuable study tool and thanks to their IEP’s can use that tool to the fullest extent at test taking time.

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