State Assessment Time is Here Again!

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questionsState assessment time is here again and improved student performance on these assessments is on the mind of every parent, teacher, and campus administrator.  These assessments should be a reflection of what the student has learned over the past year, right?  So how can we help our students learn more and better? I recently read an article which is based on some research in England on the following website: http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/9NeyKo  Here is selection from that BBC article  —

What did your school smell like? Was it noisy or peaceful?

 A growing body of research suggests that smells and sounds can have an impact on learning, performance and creativity.  Is there anything in it? And if so, what are the implications for the way we all work and study?

There is certainly some well-established research to suggest that some noises can have a detrimental effect on learning. Numerous studies over the past 15 years have found that children attending schools under the flight paths of large airports lag behind in their exam results.

 Bridget Shield, a professor of acoustics at London South Bank University, and Julie Dockrell, now at the Institute of Education, have been conducting studies and advising politicians on the effects of all sorts of noises, such as traffic and sirens, as well as noise generated by the children themselves. When they recreated those particular sounds in an experimental setting while children completed various cognitive tasks, they found a significant negative effect on exam scores. “Everything points to a detrimental impact of the noise on children’s performance, in numeracy, in literacy, and in spelling,” says Shield. The noise seemed to have an especially detrimental effect on children with special needs.

Whether background sounds are beneficial or not seems to depend on what kind of noise it is – and the volume. In a series of studies published last year, Ravi Mehta from the College of Business at Illinois and colleagues tested people’s creativity while exposed to a soundtrack made up of background noises – such as coffee-shop chatter and construction-site drilling – at different volumes. They found that people were more creative when the background noises were played at a medium level than when volume was low. Loud background noise, however, damaged their creativity.

Many teachers all over the world play music to students in class. Many are inspired by the belief that hearing music can boost IQ in subsequent tasks, the so-called Mozart effect. While the evidence actually suggests it’s a stretch to say classical music boosts brainpower, researchers do think pleasant sounds before a task can sometimes lift your mood and help you perform well. The key appears to be that you enjoy what you’re hearing. If you like the music or you like the sound – even listening to a Stephen King novel – then you did better. It didn’t matter about the music.  So, it seems that schools that choose to screen out disturbing noises and create positive soundscapes could enhance the learning of their students, so long as they make careful choices.

This isn’t the only sense being tweaked to affect learning. Special educational needs students at Sydenham High School in London are being encouraged to revise different subjects in the presence of different smells – grapefruit scents for maths, lavender for French and spearmint for history.  In 2003, psychologist Mark Moss, at Northumbria University, carried out a range of cognitive tests on subjects who were exposed either to lavender or rosemary aromas. “Rosemary in particular caught my attention as it is considered to be arousing and linked to memory,” he says, “whereas lavender is considered to be sedating”. Moss found that those who were smelling lavender performed significantly worse in working memory tests, and had impaired reaction times for both memory and attention-based tasks, compared to controls. Those in the rosemary group, on the other hand, did much better than controls overall in the memory tasks, although their reaction times were slower.

Take a moment to tune into your senses, now. Close your eyes and take a few nice deep breaths. What can you hear and smell? The answer, it seems, may affect how much you have learned in the past few minutes. 

Rosemary Manges

Rosemary Manges, Program Coordinator for Inclusive Services, has over 39 years of educational experience ranging from the public school classroom, administration, preparing pre-service teachers at the college level to development of policy at TEA. She is in her 10th year at Region 10.

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