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Memory, Music, Emotion: Links to Enduring Understanding

May 10, 2012

Memory: We are what we remember!

Today was a day of learning.  I watched two TED talks that lit up my neurons, showing me connections between the power of music, emotion, and memory in building stronger understanding.  Are there ways in our classrooms to use brain-based strategies to improve student understanding and achievement?  Neuroscience tells us there are plenty of ways to do this.  The writings of David Sousa, Judy Willis, Marcia Tate (see a CFT blog post on brain strategies), and others are paving the way for teachers to learn what neuroscience is telling us about how to improve our teaching to improve the learning.

While these two speakers, Joshua Foer and Michael Tilson Thomas, do not make specific connections between teaching and learning, everything they reference in their talks is fodder for teachers to use in building a more engaging classroom experience for students.

Joshua Foer’s talk, Feats of memory anyone can do, is really quite interesting and compelling.  Classroom teachers can learn a great deal about what they might do in their classrooms to improve student learning by employing strategies that enhance student memory.  The implication is that teachers would have to learn and practice these strategies themselves and USE them in the classroom to help students learn.  The visualization exercise Joshua uses in the beginning of the talk is illustrative of how powerful visual learning can be to enhancing our memories.

Michael Tilson Thomas tells the audience a personal story that shows how his passion for music was nurtured by his parents’ love for music.  He then goes on to draw a beautiful connection between music and emotion.  It is the bridge between music and emotion that builds a strong and enduring memory.  When I listen to Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony or Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, these interesting and diverse pieces of music conjure up all kinds of memories in my life that are connected to springtime, New York, and freedom.

Why is music absent from the typical learning environment of most students?  Is it because teachers don’t know how to use music as a teaching tool?  Is it because teachers do see the value of music as a teaching tool?  Whatever the reason, Michael Tilson Thomas demonstrates that the powerful connection between music and emotion can be used to help students engage and remember what they learn.

I would be interested in hearing from others whether the connections between memory, emotions, and music should be used by teachers to engage learners, helping them connect to what we value in our curriculum and hopefully learn it in a more enduring way.

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