Friday, September 01, 2006

Creating Better Environmental Conditions for Learning

One recent area of interest in regards to creating better environmental conditions for learning has focused on the use of background music. For example, Davidson and Powell (1986) took up this exact subject in their study of American fifth-grade science students. They reported the observations of on-task-performance (OTP) of children in the classroom over 42 class sessions, with data recorded every three minutes (10 times) per session. Treatment, in the form of easy-listening music, was delivered in between two control observations (i.e. 15 sessions without background music, 15 with, and 12 without, in that order). They determined a significant increase in OTP for the males in the classroom, and for the class as a whole. Thus they concluded that the use of easy-listening background music was effective in increasing on-task-performance of children in an elementary science classroom

More recently the so-called 'Mozart Effect' has prompted interest in specific types of music having certain effects on learning. This was sparked of by research published in 1993 by Frances Rauscher, Gordon Shaw and Katherine Ky that was printed in the journal Nature. They asked whether brief exposure to certain types of music could increase a cognitive ability. Thirty-six college students were divided into three groups which spent ten minutes in one of three conditions: listening to (1) a piano sonata by Mozart (sonata for two pianos in D, K 448), (2) a tape of relaxation instructions or (3) silence. Immediately after, they were tested on spatial/temporal reasoning. The measurements of spatial/temporal (S/T) reasoning were obtained using subtests from the Stanford-Binet IQ Test. The important subtest was a paper folding and cutting task (PF/C). The P has to imagine that a single sheet of paper has been folded several times and then various cut-outs are made with a scissors. The task is to correctly predict the pattern of cut-outs when the paper is unfolded. The researchers found significantly higher scores for the Mozart group than for the relaxation or the silence groups. The differences translated into spatial IQ scores for the Mozart group that were 8-9 points higher than the other two groups. However, the effect was very brief; it did not last beyond 10-15 minutes. The authors did not claim that the effects would be limited to Mozart’s music but did think that the benefits to S/T reasoning would require complex rather than repetitive music. However no further definitions of complexity were presented. Also, the authors did not claim that the effects would be found for other aspects of intelligence, such as verbal reasoning or short-term memory, but suggested that these be tested.

Thus we may like to conclude that having some types of background music for some lessons may be of benefit to student learning. However, as noted at the start of this section, it should not be so intrusive that it becomes perceived as noise and thus detrimentally affect performance.

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