Tag Archives: Reading

Mental muscle: six ways to boost your brain

Many will not find it surprising that the word “music” appears 23 times in this New Scientist article.

I found this paragraph especially interesting:

“Musically trained people perform better on tests of auditory memory – the ability to remember lists of spoken words, for example – and auditory attention. Children with a musical training have larger vocabularies and higher reading ability than those who do not (Nature Reviews Neuroscience, vol 11, p 599). There is even some evidence that early musical training increases IQ (Psychological Science, vol 15, p 511).”

Harry The Piano and Gauntlet of Fire

There should always be room for a bit of fun in the school day, especially if it involves exposure to amazing musical skill. My PT today showed me this video of Harry The Piano playing the main theme from Harry Potter in a huge variety of styles – shouted out at random from (I presume) the person doing the filming. This is a great inspiration for pupils, many of whom (along with some teachers) have a dread of melodic improvisation, far less harmonic.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/PwpBSHEHEek?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

I’ve said it before, but feel it’s worth repeating, that the parallels between Music and Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) are not, in my opinion, as straightforward as one would imagine. One might imagine reading, writing, listening, speaking in MFL to equate with reading, composing, listening, playing in Music. I’d contend that a more realistic parallel would be playing, composing, listening, improvising.

Compared to many generations gone by, we have made great strides in regarding musical improvisation as something ordinary mortals should be able to attempt, but there’s a long way to go

World Book Day

Thursday, being World Book Day, I took my current read into school, as suggested – Proust And The Squid by Maryanne Wolf. Although it is pure coincidence of timing, it seemed to me that there could be no book more fitting. Aware that the title did not automatically yield clues to content, I said simply, “it’s about reading and the brain.” Most pupils had a quick look at the front cover. Only one, a girl in S1, read the back cover – and then said, “cool.”

I thought that this would be the ideal opportunity to conduct a short survey on reading habits. The aim was to have four straightforward questions and for the entire process to last 30 seconds, so as not to intrude on lesson time. The sample group represent, I would contend, the motivated pupil – people prepared to carry an instrument to school at least once-a-week; prepared to practise 5 days-a-week at home; prepared to catch up on work missed while at their instrumental lesson; prepared to spend lunchtimes and Friday afternoons rehearsing in school and local authority ensembles; prepared to represent the school in several concerts each year.

The sample comprised 23 pupils – 13 boys and 10 girls – the age range S1 – S6. Percentages have been rounded up/down to the nearest whole number.

Question 1:   Apart from school reading, are you reading anything else – for interest or pleasure?

Whole group – 48%      Boys – 38%      Girls – 80%

Question 2:   Is there a book which you plan to get round to reading?

Whole group – 65%      Boys – 54%      Girls – 80%

Question 3:   Do you ever read a book more than once?

Whole group – 48%      Boys – 23%      Girls – 80%

Question 4:   Do you enjoy writing – anything at all – even funny emails to friends?

Whole group – 52%      Boys – 31%      Girls – 80%

The difference is those currently reading for pleasure and those planning to read could be explained by the timing of the survey – various SQA folios were due in by the end of the week; the SQA Music practical exams were imminent. The interest in re-reading seemed the most straightforward way of trying to distinguish those who read to find out what happened next from those who experienced some joy in the language or created world within any given book. Almost without exception, the response to being asked about enjoying writing was, “school stuff?” The tone implied horror at the very suggestion that this could be enjoyable. Perhaps this conveyed a feeling of being beset by deadlines.

Assuming that we all believe reading and writing to be good things, it seems clear that boys are missing out somewhat.

Had the survey been about dance, the statistics would have been more stark. It seems that almost all girls on my timetables are involved in some kind of dance activity in or out of school. To the best of my knowledge no boys are.



Like buses, synchronicity comes in threes. John Connell recently led me to an article in which Nicholas Carr asks Is Google Making Us Stupid? This Sunday, I came across Brian Appleyard‘s piece in The Times, Stoooopid….why the Google generation isn’t as smart as it thinks. The next concentration-based piece I spotted, in a section called Emily’s News on the site of Scotland’s Centre for Confidence and Well-being, was entitled You may not see it, but TV is affecting children.

The last of these three articles, which deals specifically with very young children, is relatively straightforward. The previous two contain so many variables that it’s difficult to see this debate coming to an end any time soon – but it is surely a very good thing that it is taking place. My own view is that, before worrying too much about difficulty of reading lengthy articles online, a few parameters need to be set. I skim through a great deal on the net, often in the living room with the TV or radio on (sometimes both); my email & feed-reader sit open along with a correspondence-chess website. However, I consider this to be searching as opposed to reading. I would no more sit with my laptop, struggling to read an in-depth piece in a distraction-filled environment, than I would with a book. I’d retire to somewhere quieter, having set aside the time to concentrate. If that weren’t possible, I’d send the url to myself in an email, paste the text into a word processing application, or bookmark the page with del.ici.ous and read it later.

I spend more time online than many people I know and, to the best of my knowledge, my concentration is no worse than before. With books easer to track down, and reviews easier to garner online than off, I probably read more books now than at any time in my life. In school, I teach 52 lessons-per-week and don’t find myself suddenly wondering what I was saying, or who these people are in front of me. However, at 48 years old, my formative years were over long before the internet began to impact on my modus operandi. Has enough time elapsed to tell what effect, if any, has been wrought on young people’s concentration? Currently, they spend as long as I do in class; they sit in silent exam halls for as long as ever; as far as I’m aware, a football match still lasts 90 minutes….

The synchronicity was kept alive when I came to a captivating story this morning entitled The Last Channel by Italo Calvino – from an outstanding collection of stories entitled Numbers In The Dark. Without spoiling this almost Kafkaesque tale, I can reveal that the protagonist allows his habit of channel-hopping with the remote to escalate to monumental proportions. However, even he appears to be searching and not watching. If your brain is not e-addled, you may be up to reading it in parallel text.