Our juvenile-corrections classroom was just about full yesterday, with 19 kids of all ages, both genders, in their various colors (when kids complete certain requirements, they move up through various levels, with different colored uniforms). We were working on a drawing assignment: a self-portrait, using mirrors. This is a pretty difficult thing to do for anyone, and for kids with little success in school, it was a real challenge. They had to focus over more than hour, and take my guidance with good grace. Not always easy.
However, when everyone is on task, I play music (my choice of music BTW…no requests or even subtle hints ) Yesterday, the Pandora station I chose was playing a lot of familiar tunes, and just about everyone in the class was singing along, in just about full voice. The room was rockin’! My standing rule: “Singing and dancing are always allowed, as long as we stay on task.” So everyone was working consistently, but singing.
I walked around the room to check the work, which was proceeding beautifully. Everyone took on this sometimes detested task–the dreaded self-portrait–with great attitude. If someone isn’t doing well, it’s obvious–and then they have to erase and fix the work. But no complaints, just smiles and singing. It works the same way when we are writing essays and stories during English.
Why does it work?
It has to do with brain chemistry. Putting it very simply, when we feel stress, chemicals block the learning pathways to short-term and long-term memory. When we sing, or exercise, or dance, or do other art activities, endorphins (pleasure chemicals) undo the damage of the stress chemicals and open the pathways to learning. They also make us happy, so whenever we think of the things we learned, we feel joy and pleasure (more here: http://wik.ed.uiuc.edu/index.php/Learning_and_Emotion). That’s a pretty good deal in learning.
“Can we have another half hour of school today?” these kids in lock-up ask me when it’s time to end the day. Well, that sounds like a little story out of unreal, feel-good tale, but it’s true.
Chalk it up to the endorphins.