By Jacquelyn McDaniel, The Urban Educator (April 2017)
Using earworms, catchy tunes, to learn content is a great example of culturally relevant education being embedded into instruction. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing: In the car, on your mp3 player, or while cleaning learning can take place at the same time. That’s how my daughter learned the names and capitals of the 50 united states of America. Instead of listening to the radio in the car on the way home. We’d listen to this. She’d also listen to it in the tub, on her mp3 player, or while cleaning her room. This was in 2nd grade. She is now going to the fourth grade and she can still sing the entire song. Children are more intelligent than we give them credit. We just have to find ways to empower them so their intellect can shine. Culturally Relevant Instruction Strategies such as using music to learn the each state in the U.S. are excellent ways to bridge the achievement gap between children of color and the dominant culture of power in America.
What is it about a melody that helps us memorize words and lyrics?
This can be explained by “earworms,” which are melodies that get stuck in your head. Advertisers use this with catchy melodic jingles. If you find yourself walking around singing the Baby Back Ribs commercial, you are the victim of an earworm. (Keahey, 2008) The phenomenon has spanned the ages. In 1882, Mark Twain wrote a short story of an annoying “jingling rhyme” that became indelibly lodged in the author’s mind until he passed the curse along to another hapless victim. (Kolver, 2003) Rhythm and words, i.e. song and verse, have always been a very powerful memory aid, and this is supported by recent scientific research.
Watch a 4-year-old sing the “50 States that Rhyme” song
Why hasn’t music been viewed as a viable instruction technique?
Advertisers explicitly understand how powerful music can be in getting the message across with brainwashing-like jingles and soundbites. By listening to these specially composed melodies with their rhythmic repetitions a few times, the sound patterns are ineradicably burned into your auditory cortex.
How We Learn
A large part of learning in general and language learning, in particular, is to do with the memorization of words, facts and other significant information. It’s a well-known fact that we use only a fraction of our brain power and traditional book learning is now recognized as not suiting every learner. Music opens up and exploit more of the brain’s native power, and accelerates learning. Extensive research into the powers of music in the learning process revealed that “music puts listeners into a state of relaxed alertness, the “alpha state”, the ideal state of consciousness for learning, and his tests were conclusive (Lozanov, 1970s).
Researchers at Dartmouth College reported that they had pinpointed the region of the brain where ‘ earworms ‘ or catchy tunes reside, the auditory cortex. They also found that the sounds and words that have actually been heard can be readily recalled from the auditory cortex where the brain can listen to them “virtually” again and again. (Nature Journal, 2005) It seems music is a wonderful catalyst to the memorization of content.
How could you use the “50 States that Rhyme” in your class?
Check out my other post such as “Ballin! The CST is a Game!