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Making learning fun

Music boosts academics at McIntosh Primary

BY RHOMA TOMLINSON Observer writer

Monday, December 16, 2013    

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Remember when you were in basic school?

The classroom was full of energy — music, songs, brilliant colours. Much of what was learnt was steeped in happy rhythms and poetic songs.

Songs like 'a, b, c, d, e, f, g... next time won't you sing with me' and 'one and 20, two and 20, three and four and five and six and 20, 27, 28, 29, 30'.

A similar but more advanced programme incorporating music and song in the classroom has been reaping success at a number of primary schools.

The First Global Bank initiative entitled 'Music — a perfect pitch for a sound education', was launched across six primary schools in 2011 to defuse the myth surrounding Mathematics and English, and to help students do better in these courses.

Organisers targeted the grade three students in particular, to ensure a good showing on the Grade Four Literacy Test, which assesses primary school students' ability to read and do Math ahead of the GSAT exit exam.

First Global pumped money into the programme, and equipped the schools with a plethora of musical instruments — recorders, drums, guitars, keyboards, pianicas, among others. Months later, the national media was reporting general improvement in both numeracy and literacy among students at participating schools. Teachers were convinced that it was largely because of the music programme.

The programme has continued, and for the past few weeks, bank representatives have been checking in on each school. One of their latest stops was at McIntosh Primary, which sits on a hill just below the Royal Flat community in central Manchester, and enrols 1,168 students.

The school was one of six chosen as pilots in 2011, and today, there are 91 students in the music-assisted learning programme.

Principal Sheron Anderson insists that the programme has reaped up to 88 per cent success in Math at the Grade Four Literacy Test Level and well over 90 per cent success in literacy. This, she says, is well over the target set by the Government for 2020.

But what do the teachers really do with music in the classroom? Anderson says it's used to teach all sorts of mathematical and literacy concepts.

"Suppose it's a class where they're teaching nouns; when they (children) hear a noun, they clap their hands, snap their fingers, or when they hear music, words would come to their minds and they would use those words to write an essay."

The principal's example was played out during the launch of a Math Adventure Day held at the school on Tuesday, December 10, 2013. At the opening session held at Wesley Mount Memorial Church, students from grades three and four sang a range of melodies, highlighting the mathematical concepts behind fractions, factors, additions, multiplications, among others.

Fun songs, entitled, 'Go Math, go', and 'If you're happy and you know it say Maths time', helped fuse the concepts of learning Math in a fun way, while improving the students' musical skills.

Teacher Flaine Bartley, who was specially recognised for her success in incorporating music into learning, said she saw a marked improvement in overall behaviour, just months after the programme was brought to McIntosh Primary in 2011.

"Behaviour improved and holistic development enabled students to turn over a new chapter in their lives. When I started in 2011, the 16 boys and 14 girls were reading below their grade level. Then they got singing, they learned to play an instrument or be a part of the choir. At the end of 2011, 28 of the 30 were reading at or above the level and achieved mastery in reading and comprehension. Also, they could all play three instruments," she said.

A parent, Earl Williams, recalls how his daughter Abigail showed marked improvement shortly after enrolling at McIntosh Primary. He said his daughter, who had lost her mother, was not doing well in school, and was averaging in the 50s.

"I didn't want to pressure her, but I told her, we're gonna set some targets... by grade four, you should move to the 70s. Now she's averaging just below 80s," Williams said.

Abigail's classes used music as a big part of their learning programme, he said.

Not only have the children been using music to learn important concepts, but generally, the school has become more musical. The principal said after launching the programme, they started a school band, and created a 100-member boys choir. This is in addition to the school's choir.

There are now 91 students on the music programme, nearly 100 per cent more than when it started. School officials say although it started as a grade three programme, it now incorporates grade four. They also insist that there is less distraction during the learning process, as everyone is singing.

President of First Global Financial Services, Stephen Whittingham, said when his company started the project in 2011 they never imagined it would've reaped so much success so quickly. Buoyed by the results, the programme has now been extended to 10 schools across the island, he said.

"We as Jamaicans are musical people. There is rhythm in our souls. We believe this is the best way that education can resonate... it is said, if a child cannot learn the way we teach, then we must teach them in the way they can learn," said Whittingham.

School officials claim that all students in the music-assisted programme are enthused and engaged.

"We have concretised the theory that music promotes the learning of numeracy and literacy. I'm convinced that if this programme is extended to all places in Jamaica, we will become a place where people can live, work and do business," said Anderson.

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