An article in the New York Times‘ Science Times section on Tuesday, September 7, 2010, might offer parents and students young and old some interesting insights into how the human brain accomplishes one of our hardest feats: studying!
In the world of music we don’t call it studying we call it practice and this article actually praises traditional musical practice as an example of the best way to practice other subjects:
Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time. Musicians have known this for years, and their practice sessions often include a mix of scales, musical pieces and rhythmic work. Many athletes, too, routinely mix their workouts with strength, speed and skill drills.
While I have seen many educational theories come and go, this article seems to me to ring true based on my own personal experience:
Such theories have developed in part because of sketchy education research that doesn’t offer clear guidance. Student traits and teaching styles surely interact; so do personalities and at-home rules. The trouble is, no one can predict how.
Yet there are effective approaches to learning, at least for those who are motivated. In recent years, cognitive scientists have shown that a few simple techniques can reliably improve what matters most: how much a student learns from studying
I also like what the article has to say about testing. I really do not like the emphasis put on standardized testing over the last decade. But this article validates the use of shorter, targeted testing as a means of reinforcing what has just been studied.
In music, the test is called performing. For music students the performance can be for a teacher at a lesson, at home for Mom, or on a stage for the entire school. All of these situations will absolutely enhance and encourage proper studying.