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How does the brain learn? What is “whole brain” learning?
Important thinking skills and cognitive systems such as reasoning, creativity, problem solving and making decisions are developed through a process of triggering firing patterns between brain cells that synchronise and link multiple sites in the brain. The neuron of each brain cell acts like a switch and the processes of thinking and learning can be seen as a great number of switches being activated at once. As the cells are fired, they form pathways that link with other cells, building up an amazing network of connections. Repetition, such as that found in song verses and refrains, is the major key to the successful and permanent formation of these vital pathways, leading to patterning and long-term memory of facts, functions and ideas.
Studies show that music stimulates not just brain activity, but also coherence and synchrony. If more of the brain is active at once, the electrical discharges of triggered cells are not just random, but run down many paths simultaneously. Generally speaking, language is a function of the left hemisphere of the brain and recognising visual and rhythmical patterns is a function of the right hemisphere However, there is a bridge between the two hemispheres, called the “corpus callosum," consisting of millions of nerve fibres, which carry information both ways. In this way, the brain acts as an elaborate system of interconnected sites and works by sending information simultaneously down many paths. The linking of song and language therefore has messages running between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, creating “whole brain” learning.
Another important way in which "whole brain” networking influences learning outcomes is seen in a person’s chemical response, which causes emotional states. In the case of singing, stress levels are lessened, positive social feelings are increased and self-image improves, all of which hugely benefit the learning process.
Using songs to learn ...
Why is it so effective to teach French through song?
Music and language share much common ground, having something of the same ‘mathematical’ basis. Participation in music contributes to developing important thinking skills and cognitive systems such as reasoning, creativity, problem solving and making decisions. It does this by triggering firing patterns between brain cells that synchronise and link multiple sites in the brain.
Pupils always respond positively to upbeat music and attractive melody. Their learning is positively received by association. Students become focused on the activity and motivated to learn and assimilate.
Presenting target structures and vocabulary by song broadens even further the learning arena you are providing for your pupils, catering for pupils with aural, musical and kinaesthetic intelligences. Carefully written language songs are a rich medium, which send out tangential messages about the cultural environment they describe.
Patterned verses and choruses provide essential repetition of key structures - a great springboard to the writing or saying of parallel sentences and forming conversation to the same pattern, with gradual substitution of vocabulary.
Nothing imprints linguistic patterns as cogently as repeating them with a combination of rhyme, rhythm and engaging melody. Words and music are welded together and, as the catchy tune becomes engrained on the memory, so do the words. Through the unique impact of melodic music, pupils will keep vocabulary and language structures in their long-term memory.
Listening to music has been linked in many studies to improved academic achievement. Research has shown that learning outcomes are improved by the passive listening to Mozart while studying, and the benefits of the active practice of language through song are even greater. Therefore, Music Manifesto’s National Singing Programme is working towards introducing much more singing into the primary classroom, as a way of improving learning. See www.singup.org
How does the animated song software of the ZIM ZAM ZOUM programme further help learning?
Learning potential is heightened through a winning combination of catchy and tuneful music, with accessible French dialogue and charming animations of colourful characters, with whom the children instantly engage. It makes sense to give pupils every possible memory aid and visual/aural hook for their learning.
All learning styles are addressed (according to the multiple intelligences identified by Howard Gardner):
Visual (respond to attractive, colourful graphics, witty animation and visual clues to meaning)
Aural (respond to listening to rhyme, rhythm and engaging melody, distinguishing)
Kinaesthetic (respond with dance, clapping, stomping, body movement, percussion,)
Musical (respond with singing, playing, distinguishing)
Linguistic (respond by interpreting lyrics while listening or through exercises)
Logical/mathematical (respond to pattern)
Social (respond with community singing, dance, co-operation and bonding)
The software is a practical mix of song, animation, interactive exercises and fun activity sheets, which together deliver effective teaching materials for language learning.