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Can Music Be Used to Help Students with Their Academic School Work?

Can music be used as a helpful tool to help students excel in their academic studies, or is it a unhelpful distraction?

Nicole Cadorette

on 20 April 2011

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Transcript of Can Music Be Used to Help Students with Their Academic School Work?

Can Music Be Used to Help Students in their Academic School Work? Jody C. Hall Does Music help us concentrate and understand our assignments? Or is it just a distraction that ultimately harms our school work? Jody C. Hall tested 278 eighth and ninth grade students to see if music affected their reading comprehension using a standardized reading comprehension test.

The students were unaware of the experiment until the final tests were completed, then questioned about their ability to complete the test.

Her goal was to see if music could be used in the classroom just as it is used in industry and office work.

She alternated the music between the groups to eliminate any possibility of familarity.

The results of her experiment show that 58% of the students' scores increased with the use of background music (452).

The number of attemps increased as well as the accuracy of answers.

"83.26% desired music as a permanent feature in the study hall" (456). Music Enhances IQ? Glenn Schellenburg's Article on the connection between music and IQ The Mozart Effect- The finding that passive listening to music temporarily increases spatial abilities.

Schellenburg's research connects the act of learning music to increased academic skills.

Learning music has a positive impact on a young brain:
"Music lessons involve long periods of focused attention, daily practice, reading musical notation,memorization of extended musical passages, learning about a variety of musical structures (e.g., intervals, scales, chords, chord progressions),and progressive mastery of technical (i.e., fine-motor) skills andthe conventions governing the expression of emotions in performance."(511)

He argues that music lessons directly impact non musical skills such as verbal memory, reading ability, selective attention, and mathemathics.

He performed an experiment on children around 6 years old, gave them music lessons and tested their IQ after, the result was a small increase in IQ.

"Music lessons, taught individually or in small groups, may provide
additional boosts in IQ because they are like school but still enjoyable.
Moreover, music lessons involve a multiplicity of experiences that
could generate improvement in a wide range of abilities"(513)

Although this research shows that learning to read and write music help young brains absorb and comprehend information, it lacks the connection to listening to music as a helpful way to focus on assignments. My goal is to research and conduct an experiment to see if music can be used as a helpful tool for school or if it is nothing more than a distraction among college students Music and Mathematics Kathryn Voughn Kathryn Vaughn searched over 4000 sources to find research that linked music to mathematics.
She studied the connection to learning music and math, as well as the connection to listening to music and an improvement in math skills.
Music and Math are related: Inviduals who excel in music also do well in math.
"This meta-analysis demonstrates a modest positive association between the
voluntary study of music, on the one hand, and mathematical achievement,
on the other hand" (154).
She then studied 6 different experiments on children in preschool/elementary school in which the children were taught music either instrumentally or vocally, then were tested on their mathematical skills. In this study the students exposed to learning music did have end up improving their math skills. Can music be used to teach reading? Ron Butzlaff argues that music and academics are linked in the following ways:
Tonal distinctions can be connected to the phonological distinctions used in reading.
Musical lyrics are usually predictable and easy to remember - an easy way to be teaching children to read.
when students form a musical group in school it teaches them to work together - a skill that will be used throughout their academic life. He tested a group of students studying music and found that they scored higher on standerdized reading tests, however, it does not prove that music makes a student smarter or better in school. "For instance, students who score well on reading tests may for some reason choose to pursue music; they may be better equipped for some reason to learn music; or they may read more and their reading experience may enhance their musical interests." (174) Experimental Effects of Radio and Television Distractors on Children's Performance on Mathematics and Reading Assignments The Impact of Noise on Performance in the Classroom." The Relationship of Background Music to Spelling Achievement in Fifth Grade Using Music as a Background for Reading: An Exploratory Study. Effects of Music Loudness on Task Performance and Self-Report of College-Aged Students "One explanation for why many students routinely choose to do their homework with a radio or TV operating is that this distraction facilitates studying" (181)

Experiment 1:
In the first experiment the 5 authors of this article had a group of 12 sixth graders do their math assignments under the following conditions: quiet, with a radio on, and with a TV on.
Each student was informed of the experiement and was told they would be interviewed when it was over. They had 30 minutes to complete a 4 page booklet of math and reading problems, but had the option of leaving when they completely the assignment.
The results showed that the distractions had no impact on the amount of time the students used to complete the assignment.
When analyzing the quality of work the authors found that students with a TV distractor completed less problems, but the distractors did not affect the accuracy of the problems completed by any of the students.
Wayne L. Herman This study was three 4 week units. The first unit used no music, the second used semi-classical music, and the third used the patriotic, "USA on the march" album. There was a total of 6 classes tested - all of them focused on teaching the students spelling.
The restuls showed that the playing of music did "not aid nor hinder appreciably the spelling achievement of children on weekly and unit tests (108).

Because the students had a wide range of academic ability and some students already knew how to spell most of the words, the data from these tests were inconclusive.
However, it showed that the use of music did not distract or hinder the students from learning their assignments. 3 Classes participated in this study. One was exposed to only noises from other children, "babble", the other was subjected to "babble" plus environmental noise and both were compared to the control class with no noise. (509)
All students completed an ability test and four assessments. The assessments included a verbal assignment, a reading assignment, a mathematic assignment and a spelling assignment. All of dockrell's previous research led her to hypothosize that the noise could only have a negative impact on the students, and her goal was to make this impact more recoginized to better enhace the learning environment for children.

"While it appears from all these studies that chronic exposure to particular sources of environmental noise may adversely affect children's academic performance, there are many other factors, often unreported, that may influence performance and interact with the effects of noise"(512).
Julie E. Dockrell Most of these sources provided valuable experiements and data to show that music does not hinder or distract students from their work, but many fail to show that music can be beneficial to the study process or helpful when working on assignments

Most of these sources tested children and young minds. Many of them fail to connect this research to adults or college students.

Most of the sources also focus stictly on the data collected from assignments and test of students while using background music or other elements of distraction, many do not conduct interviews to see if the students actually enjoyed listening to music or if the students felt they worked better with music, even if their results do not show a change. Key Terms:

Mozart Effect-A set of research results that indicate that listening to Mozart's music may induce a short-term improvement on the performance of certain kinds of mental tasks known as "spatial-temporal reasoning;"

Cognitive-of, relating to, being, or involving conscious intellectual activity (as thinking, reasoning, or remembering)

Spatial Abilities- Spatial ability is a category of reasoning skills that refers to the capacity to think about objects in three dimensions and to draw conclusions about those objects from limited information.

Tonal- of, relating to, or utilizing the diatonic system; having an established key

Perseptual- of, relating to, or involving perception especially in relation to immediate sensory experience

Phonology- The study of speech sounds in language or a language with reference to their distribution and patterning and to tacit rules governing pronunciation.

Reading Setting- The reading setting encompasses both the "when" and the "where" of any reading act.

Auditory background- a background setting consisting of or relating to hearing, the organs of hearing, or the sense of hearing Music to Teach Reading Don L Wulffson Colleen N. Mullikin and William A. Henk "the reading setting can also influence the way individuals interpret text"(352).
Their research is primarily on the reading setting - the use of an auditory background.

45 students participated in the study ranging from 4th grade to 8th grade, all of them with average reading ability.
They were tested in three groups: one with no background music, one with classical music and one with rock music.
Their assignments consisted of social studies passages followed by 10 comprehension questions for each passage. The students were given 20 minutes to read each passage and answer it's questions.
"Classical music seemed to outperform the no music and rock music treatments at all grade levels tested. Similarly,the no music treatment generated mean scores that were consistently higher than those obtained in the rock music condition" (355).

The slow soothing classical music seemed to help the students focus and achieve more on their reading comprehension assignments, while the loud fast rock music seemed to distract them and harm their work.
"On the average, readers exposed to soft classical music retained more information than either the no music or rock music groups"(356).
The Effect of Background Music on the Reading Comprehension of 278 Eighth and Ninth Grade Students Ron Butzlaff Final Conclusion: Another study she did linked listening to soothing music to improvement in math
"Fifteen experimental studies were identified which investigated whether
listening to soothing background music while taking a math test resulted in
elevated math scores" (158). This experiment failed because the subjects also included special needs children and children with behavior problems, whose scores improved much more with background music than all the other subjects.
"The results of this meta-analysis show that playing music in the background
while students are taking math tests has only a small positive effect, at best" (163)
"Thus, we cannot conclude with any certainty that soothing music enhances
math performance" (164).
Kathryn Vaughn searched numerous sources and found that there is a link between those who choose to study music and their achievement in math, however, her research on the link between listening to music and achievement in math showed only small improvments which could have been imfluenced by other factors. Experiment 2
Experiment 2 focused on reading assignments. The authors tested 9 students using a packet of narratives followed by reading comprehension questions, but kept all other conditions the same as in experiment 1. With the TV distractor there was a slower answer rate and less completion rate than the other two factors, but when the authors looked at the percentage of questions answered correctly there was no signifcant change.
The experiments failed to show that the distractors helped facilitate studying, but also failed to show a significant negative result from the use of TV or radio distractors while studying.

These tests and results focused mainly one the TV as a main distractor, the entire article does not mention the radio factor very much at all. David E Wolfe This study examined the effects of the loudness of background music on task performance of college students (191).

200 non-musical major were tested using a set of mathemathical problems and a questionnaire.
They were assigned randomly to one of four groups : (1)task only; (2) task plus background music presented at 60-70
Decibles, (3) task plus background music presented at 70-80 dB; and (4)task plus background music presented at 80-90 dB (191).
"The experimental music consisted of four instrumental selections from current motion picture sound tracks"(194). And each test was 9 minutes and 54 seconds long.
Wolfe then looked at the number of math problems completedand how many were completed correctly.
The number of questions completed nor the number completely correctly did not change.
When interviewed most of the students said that the music was not distracting and the loudness of the music showed no physical evidence that it distracted the students. However, when questioned,the students in group four (where the music was loudest) did say they felt that it was hard to concentrate with the music.

"Music played at a soft or moderate volume may provide a pleasant sound environment ... without disrupting primary
functions of work tasks, decision making, or interpersonal conversation" (199).
Don L. Wulffson is a teacher in search of a way to better teach children to read. His main focus is students' with reading and learning disabilities.
His experiement : "The base activity is to provide each student with the lyrics of a song which he reads as the record is played; this is preceded or followed by various activities" (179-180).
"What is of real importance here is that the student, with the aid of the record, is identifying words correctly" (180).
Most of his students found listening to music in class enjoyable.
" So often the student with a reading disability is frustrated and bored with the reading materials with which he ordinarily has to work. In my classroom I have not yet found a student who is reluctant to listen to and read the lyric of a song" (180).
The activities he did with the children after the music was played would be discussion, writing or drawing. All of these exersizes motivated and helped the students comprehend words and then began to read more clearly and were interested in school. 2of his examples are :
Directions to the student: Three words have been taken out of the song. The three words are given below. Figure out where the three words go.
Well, the ____________ swallower
He comes up to you, and then he kneels
He crosses himself
And then he clicks his high-heels
And without further notice
He asks you how it ______________
And he says, "Here is your throat back,
Thanks for the ______________."
And you know something is happening,
But you don't know what it is,
Do you, Mr. Jones?


Directions to the student: Pick the word or words that correctly
finish the statement.
The sword swallower was wearing a) tennis shoes, b) high-heels,
c) cowboy boots

*Words and Music by Bob Dylan. "Ballad of a Thin Man." His method proved successful in working this his students. The music got the children excited and movitvated to read and learn. Wulffson encourages other teachers to try this method to improve the reading of their young students. Hall tests the use of background music on 8th and 9th grade students but does not relate it to an adult setting. My goal is to see if these standards are the same in a college/adult setting. I have observed that many students only do their assignments or tests using background music, so they must feel that the distraction helps them in some way.

I tested 6 students from UCF ranging in age to 18-21.
3 students were tested in the UCF library using a writing prompt and background music
3 students were tested with the writing prompt without the use of background music.

The writing prompt was :
“Recall and reflect on an event or person who changed or impacted your early academic life. Briefly write a short narrative that describes how this event or person impacted you and your academic skills. How has this made you who you are today as a student and a person? How has this impacted other aspects of your personality aside from school?” After the experiment I had a group interview session with the group who wrote with background music to see how they felt about working with music.
Then I went back and analyzed each writing piece looking for emotional context, descriptive words, and overall length to see which group accomplished more. The three students who were tested with background music all said they enjoyed listening to music. One student said it helps her be more creative and invokes though, another said it helps her block out all other distractions and helps her focus, and the last student said music just gives him an enjoyable background so assignments don't seem too boring and stressful. The writing samples were mostly the same, some of the ones with the use of background music were more lengthy than the silent group samples but overall the quality of work was the same in both groups. My research was consistent with the previous conversation in showing that music has not being proven to help or hinder students' study habits or ability to complete assignments, but that it can provide an enjoyable background and become a focus tool or "beneficial distraction" for older students.
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