Wednesday, July 21, 2010
***edit 8.20.2010*** - Part 2 w/ Videos - http://djfrobot.blogspot.com/2010/08/teaching-kids-english-using-sequential.html
As some of you know, I am not just a musician, but a kids music & English teacher as well. Most foreigners living in Japan do some kind of teaching work. I specifically teach young kids age 3-12 at 2 different schools here in Osaka. Being that I love music, I am always bringing in instruments and playing music with kids (not that normal CLAP YOUR HANDS bullshit)...but work with real instrument improvisation and use good music (like house, reggae, jam music, etc). My kids absolutely love it when I use music in my English lessons.
Recently, I have been finishing up the book "Musicophilia" by Oliver Sacks. This book has really changed my life, and especially my view of how messed up our brains can actually be. After finishing chapter 17, "Accidental Davening : Dyskinesia Cantillation", I had some really interesting ideas for teaching. In this chapter, Sacks goes on to talk about a patient he had (David) who has dystinesia and was a devote Orthodox Jew. The man would just sit around and CONSTANTLY sing "Ov vey, Oy vey vey". It was a really unusual situation, and he could not engage anyone about anything due to his illness. But, if you were to start talking to him, WHILE using the same melodic and rhythmic structure as the song he would sing, he could answer you back with anything you wanted to talk about. He just could not ENGAGE the talking without it being put to that song. So once you finished talking to him (and you could talk about deep personal topics with him) he would go back into his null state of "Oy vey...".
Now as many neurologists and doctors know....your brain has many different parts, each performing different functions. We have certain parts that handle rhythm, speech, pitch, harmonic balance, etc....and rhythm in particular has its roots in the oldest parts of our brain (because we needed this to walk, and survive). So, it is an extremely important part of our brains....that most everyone has acute control over (however some better than others).
It was also argued by Merlin Donald in his 1991 research paper entitled, "Origins of the Modern Mind" that the reason why humans developed was through "mimetic evolution" where as apes tended to stay in "episodic evolution". The ability to mimic rhythmic sequences therefor uses very unique parts of our brain that do not normally function while learning a foreign language.
This got me to thinking about teaching and using right brain strategies in my methods. So this week, in all my schools, I decided to try a new activity (an experiment so to say) using rhythm and mimicry....and with AMAZING results.
Now, for you who teach Engish....you know that it is tough to teach a large number of new vocabulary in one sitting (and have the children actually retain it). You can teach new words, you can try games, songs, drills, but usually....they will not remember all of them....just a few...and it will take a few more weeks to actually get the words to stick. This was not the case with my idea.
With most of my kids age 8-12....one of the hardest things is teaching irregular conjugated verbs in the past tense (ex. run - ran, sleep - slept, blow - blew, etc). In Japanese, verb conjugation for the most part is pretty simple...you just need to change the end of the verb to "ta" or "mashita". English likes to be difficult, and make most words "+ ed" or have a whole new word. It is really hard to get kids to remember all these new words, so I tried the rhythmic approach.
What I did was make a GRID on the board (4x4) (16 squares to represent 4 beats in a measure). Each grid location has a number above it. Now, I start out with JUST 4 words. I taught the new past tense verbs, explained the a little with a mnemonic device, and then let the kids come to the board. I sat in the back with a hand drum, and would simply play a simple beat....with anywhere from 1-4 hits in it. When I finished, the kids would quickly look at the board, find the corresponding number, and then say the English. I would repeat this until they seemed to remember all 4 words...and then I would add 4 more....and 4 more...until I got up to 16. By the end of this activity, ALL CHILDREN remembered ALL 16 words....quickly, and without thinking. They also REALLY LOVE the game because it tends to be like video games that they play like "Mario Party" or that taiko mimicking game. Once the kids get the hang of it, you can even let them go to the drum, and make a beat, and let them organize their OWN game (which is nice because I can just sit back and let them go at it, and just make sure they are answering correctly and playing the right number of beats).
By tapping into the rhythmic side of their brains, they were able to learn and retain 16 brand new words in about a 25 minute sitting. I have never been able to get kids to remember things like this. Kids have a really good sense of rhythm even if they are not musically inclined, and can easily hear how many beats are played even when it is played REALLY quickly. The kids amazed me.
I really want to start studying some more right brain strategies for teaching....because...sometimes...especially with language learning...things can get really mixed up in their heads when trying to embed so many "brand new" images into their brains. By using rhythm to make them stick....their brains become like super glue!