This may sound like a strange consideration for teaching and learning, especially from someone who has spoken previously about Tait Coles’ idea of Punk Learning as Kenny Rogers is definitely not Punk! However, the other day, driving back from visiting my parents in Norfolk ‘The Gambler’ came on the radio – the beauty of Radio 2! As I sang along, I realised that – despite not having heard the song for ages, I still knew all of the lyrics word perfect! Although this was incredibly irritating for Jessica, who could hear my singing – with Kenny and I duetting perfectly as I cranked the radio up. Despite being plugged into her own music on her iPod, she could not ignore me! However hard she tried! From this I wondered how a song I heard so infrequently had stuck?
This question was further prompted when I watched the new @RealBrianConley show, ‘The TV That Made Me’. As a telly addict I have enjoyed the first three days of the programme, but like Eamonn Holmes on day one, I was amazed at how the theme tunes have stuck so vividly, including for long forgotten favourites as This Is Your Life and Animal Magic. Similarly, when the news of the death of the last Dambuster pilot broke yesterday I instantly hummed the theme music.
Why is it that certain music evokes such strong memories and associations and, more importantly to me, how can I produce similarly strong links to my pupils’ learning?
Having read Nina Jackson’s Little Book of Music for the Classroom and witnessed first hand the benefit of applying music to learning I know how invaluable it can be and have experimented with different genres and artists to see different effects. But this is a different problem and has caused me to revisit Dr Andrew Curran’s excellent The Little Book of Big Stuff about the Brain.
You see, as I reflected on the music I have recently heard and the recall I have for it, I have realised the emotional links I have to each piece. This is exactly as Dr Curran cites, that memories linked to positive feelings are ones that enter our long term recall and so can be retrieved easily, without even requiring the effort of having to try to produce them.
This has been the case for me. My parents, especially my mum, were always keen on music and car journeys were always punctuated by singing along to the radio – I was one of those children who listened to and (illegally as I now understand it) recorded charts on Radio 1. As a child of the late 70s, 50s and 60s classics still made regular appearances on shows and Kenny Rogers was a particular favourite for all of us. I also loved his story telling quality, as I did – in a different way, Squeeze (Up the Junction) and The Jam (That’s Entertainment) and that’s why these songs are so strong in my memory.
As for the TV shows, the ones I remember happily are ones that brought us together as a family – or perhaps the ones that required me to change channels. Remember before the 80s a child was the only alternative to the lack of a remote control! Before my hours of swimming training started, programmes around 7pm were ones we watched together and before 6pm (teatime) there were children’s favourites enjoyed with my Mum, waiting for dad to come home from work. These shows also gave me an opportunity to chat to mum about the day and what I was watching; Animal Magic, Blue Peter, Grange Hill, Crackerjack (“Crackerjack!”) and John Craven’s Newsround all feature high in the memory.
All great, a lovely trip down memory lane, but how do I translate that to learning?
Well for my new class in September I have resolved to ensure that:
- I create powerful, positive memories.
- Humour is utilised to strengthen the memories.
- I use stories as much as possible to create images to hang memories on.*
- We use discussion and the dialogue will allow the children to shape their own memories, as I have.
* this provides strong recall using the F.O.A.M acronym:
Similarly, I hope to build F.I.R.M Learning for my learners by ensuring:
Hopefully in this way, in years to come they can recall happily the learning from Year 6 and share it with their children – though possibly not at the top of their lungs and in accompaniment of Kenny Rogers! Proving this to be true: