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Song as a Tool for Content Area Learning
S. Ruth Harris, O.D., M.A.T.

 "Okay, class. Let's sing our song about the 50 states
to the tune of 'Turkey in the Straw.'"

"Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas,
California, Colorado, Connecticut,
Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii,
Idaho, Illinois, Indiana,
Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana,
Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan,
Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri,
Montana, Nebraska, Nevada.

     I could never recall the names of the United States in alphabetical order until my children taught me the Song for Learning the Names of the United States song. Then it was easy. Why?
     Integrating song with content area learning has a long history. In the 1800's, lessons in mathematics, history, science, geography, and language arts were regularly reinforced with song.
We all intuitively understand how the "ABC Song" demonstrates the effectiveness of music.

How Songs Augment the Learning Process

     Music can create and activate "prior knowledge." We learn most effectively when we already know something about a subject. Even a little knowledge about a subject makes it easier to acquire and digest new information on that subject. Prior knowledge provides "hooks" on which students can attach new material. When students are able to link new information to the old, they show increased interest in a subject. They can learn with a sense of purpose.
     Music is an enjoyable way to provide the base of prior knowledge that is so critical to learning. After singing songs in Spanish, an English-speaking child will recognize words as he studies Spanish language and culture, increasing his ability and his interest.
     Music can be used to provide an introduction to, and stimulate interest in, subjects across the curriculum. As one's base of prior knowledge grows, interest and learning become easier, and a positive cycle is established.
     The use of music in the classroom is consistent with theories of multisensory learning. Cognitive psychologists have confirmed what educators have long known -- that we have a variety of different, but mutually enhancing, avenues to learning. Music is one such avenue.
     Research suggests that the more senses we use, the deeper and broader the degree of learning. Teachers are encouraged to use auditory, visual, kinesthetic and tactile modes to supplement the learning experience. While music is obviously an auditory activity, the kinesthetic, visual, and tactile modalities can be activated via clapping, dancing, and instrument playing.
     Music can help focus a learner's attention. Again, research is confirming what intuitive teachers have always known.
     Music can function as a mnemonic device to aid recall of information. Just as we might use the expression, "In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." to jog our memories, we can use song to augment our recollection of facts.
     It's easier, and a lot more fun to rehearse song than text! Music and song stimulate creativity and foster a positive attitude towards school.


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