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Music: The Key to Learning
Josh Ledbetter

          On a daily basis, teachers are faced with two main issues -- how to get students motivated to learn, and how to keep them focused on what will be taught. Included in the latter is the how to ensure the material that is taught will remain in the student's memories for longer than the time it takes to teach the lesson.

          At least in the younger grades, it appears that music is the key to both of these issues. Children are naturally musical; that is, they love to listen to music and they enjoy singing. It therefore seems consequential that music should be used to achieve and maintain a child's interest in almost all subject areas.

          Clearly the lyrics of a song can attach themselves to the long-term memory of adults and children alike. Since there is an abundance of songs for children, in a wide variety of languages, it becomes relatively simple to find one that fits the subject matter of any particular school curriculum. Not only can music improve the academic achievement level of students, it can greatly enhance the sociological aspect of the curriculum.

          When a song is introduced to a class of first graders as part of thematic unit, the lyrics can easily portray specific concepts the teacher desires to teach. But, what often goes unnoticed is the value those same songs provide to the general atmosphere of the classroom.

          For instance, once a song is introduced, it can be spontaneously sung during transition times. As students clean up and put away material for the next activity a degree of uncontrolled activity can sometimes be inflammatory to the atmosphere of the classroom. By starting to sing the song as the students end the first activity and continuing it through the transition period, they will move more calmly about the room and exhibit an almost innate purpose in their movements. Consequently, their conduct is much more controlled and self-directed. In other words, what can often be a time which necessitates structure and discipline turns into a quiet, calm, free-flowing period of learning.

          The creation of songs designed explicitly for a particular lesson or theme is the ideal situation. While this can be an intimidating procedure for many, it is actually a fun and exhilarating event.

          For example, a song I wrote for a unit on Native Americans is an excellent outline for the unit. The verses individually portray concepts that I want my students to learn about the indigenous people of the Americas.

          For the beginning songwriter, I would suggest using very common melodies with which the intended audience is thoroughly familiar. This should make the learning process much less intimidating. Since the tune is well known by the students, all they really have to do is adapt it to a new set of words -- something of which little children are experts. Listen closely to a young child sing the National Anthem for example and you will hear how inventive children can be with song lyrics.

          By putting curricular concepts into musical form, they can quickly become an ingrained part of students' long-term memory. So much so that many years later, when they hear a common melody, the adapted lyrics will come rushing back into short-term memory. Therein lies the key to using music. It can make the process of recalling information from the long-term memory to the short-term memory simple and efficient.

Josh Ledbetter is Guam's Teacher of the Year, 2000.
He is also a part time elementary education instructor at the University of Guam.




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