UTech professor experiments with live music in class; reports improved performance
It's 1:00 on a Tuesday. You open the door to the classroom where calculus tutorials are held and are greeted by the woody strums of an acoustic guitar.
You look around, wondering if you had pushed the wrong door, but the lecturer, Dr Glenroy Pinnock, is there so you conclude that it must be the right place afterall.
Your mind turns to the students — who are about to sit a test — and you wonder if they don't find the music bothersome, but the tapping of feet and the drumming of fingers on the desks soon provide the answer.
"No, I don't find it distracting because I study music so the music helps me to concentrate," first year music major Rohania Grant tells the Observer later.
"When I study I use music. I can't study in silence.
Her classmate, Jerome Marshall adds: "The music is not distracting as long as it is on a level that is not overpowering the lecturer. Is a likke rasta vibes and it build yuh spirit."
Dr Pinnock, a lecturer at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) uses live instrumental reggae music as background in all his mathematics tutorial classes. It reduces student anxiety and improves performance, he says.
"The idea came about when I was at UWI, Mona studying. I realised that when I was practising mathematics and listened to certain songs, particlularly instrumental reggae songs, my solution skills would have been maximised. In other words, my brain capacity in trying to fathom solutions to the questions would have been at the maximum," he told Career & Education.
That was some 17 years ago while he was pursuing a double major in physics and mathematics. Later, when he enrolled in the doctoral programme at Walden University, Pinnock put his theory to the test, using it to form the basis of his dissertation. He published the results in an article titled, “Using Live Reggae Instrumental Acoustic Music to Influence Students’ Mathematics Test Scores” in the peer-reviewed
Journal of Mathematics Education (December 2015, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp. 115-125).
The abstract reads: "In this study, one group of university introductory precalculus and calculus students (n=61) displayed differing levels of mathematics competency. These students participated in a mathematics workshop with background music for duration of 180 minutes. The mathematics performance (ie, standard mathematics exam results) of the students was measured. Their pre- and post-test mathematics scores were examined.
"The correlation between the mathematics pretest and the mathematics post-test was found to be statistically significant. In addition, the mean differences from the paired samples t-test were statistically significant, favoring the posttest scores. The implications for positive social change include informing local teachers, parents, policy makers, and students an innovative approach to impact students’ mathematics scores positively. As a result, it is hoped that international students’ performances will be increased and greater mathematics achievement realised".
Pinnock completed his doctoral work in 2014 and has been employing his approach to maths teaching since 2012. In addition to UTech, he lectures at Church Teacher's College which is offering a joint masters in education with UTech, and he teaches CSEC and CAPE maths, chemistry and physics at Mr Pinnock's Mathematics Class in May Pen on weekends.
"Each year I have workshops before they go into final exams because ususally their anxiety levels are all risen so we need to get them calm and maintain their confidence because without that they are not going to function well in the exams," Dr Pinnock explained.
"The feedback that we get suggests that this is really working for the students plus, when you compare the first test score (prior to the introduction of the music) with the second test score you see a marked increase; a degree of significance that is there."
Pinnock is a musician and lead vocalist for Ajaniah and the Red Roots Band. Band member Bernard Raymond accompanies him on the guitar in maths class.
"The guitar, especially the reggae strum, keeps me on key. I will be there teaching for like fours hours without even feeling hungry or tired.
Asked if other genres of music could be as effective in improving students test scores, Dr Pinnock said anecdotal data suggests that reggae is more effective given . However, he said he will soon be undertaking formal research with classical and reggae genres in order to have an objective comparison of the two.
"I tried with classical music but our students, because of their cultutral underpinnings, sometimes find it boring. It's fine, but when it comes on to the undertone of the musical format, I think it is a little too jazzy for our people. Being from Jamaica, we are all in tune to that reggae undertone," he said.
Pinnock hinted that
See part 2 in next week's edition