21 December 2007

Metronome Learning in Elementary School--Calibrating the Internal Brain Clock

Mental calibration for optimal learning is an important discipline, particularly for children just beginning to learn how to deliberately learn. One mental calibration method that appears to help elementary school children learn better is the interactive metronome.
...the 9-year-old bobs his head between cowbell tones to help him fixate on the metronome beat. Scores on the computer screen in front of him track his timing with the beat, but unbeknownst to the fourth-grader, the repetitious movements are helping him develop new neural pathways in his brain....Almost a dozen youngsters have been hooked up to the metronome at the school, which includes a hand and floor pad sensor that measures the accuracy of the user's response to the reference tone and shows results on a computer screen.

There are 13 exercises that involve a combination of clapping, tapping the hand sensor and stepping in time to the beat with one foot, and shuffling both feet onto the floor pad sensor. While it may be difficult to fathom how synchronized tapping can improve your brain's ability to process information, studies back up anecdotal evidence that the metronome works.

...After a short stint using Interactive Metronome, teenagers at the school showed a sharp one-year improvement in reading fluency scores. Even more interesting to Taub and his colleagues, there were gains in the students' ability to solve problems in mathematics.

It's an important point because most learning seems to be domain-specific, said Kevin McGrew, an educational psychologist and director of the Institute for Applied Psychometrics, a private consulting company in Minnesota...."It doesn't make you smarter; it doesn't give you more knowledge, but you're better able to manage, focus and concentrate better," said McGrew, a visiting professor in educational psychology at the University of Minnesota.
Source via Kevin McGrew

From the research paper by Gordon Taub et al, referenced by Kevin McGrew, one of the coauthors:
86 participants completed pre- and post-test measures of reading achievement (i.e., Woodcock-Johnson III, Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing, Test of Word Reading Efficiency, and Test of Silent Word Reading Fluency). Students in the experimental group completed a 4-week intervention designed to improve their timing/rhythmicity by reducing the latency in their response to a synchronized metronome beat, referred to as a synchronized metronome tapping (SMT) intervention. The results from this non-academic intervention indicate the experimental group’s post-test scores on select measures of reading were significantly higher than the non-treatment control group’s scores at the end of 4 weeks. This paper provides a brief overview of domain-general cognitive abilities believed effected by SMT interventions and provides a preliminary hypothesis to explain how this non-academic intervention can demonstrate a statistically significant effect on students’ reading achievement scores.
Tick Tock Talk

I am more familiar with the Interactive Metronome technique as used for brain rehab. But it makes sense as a mental calibration method for young children--whose brains are rapidly changing. Every athletics coach understands the need for an athlete to "warm up" prior to performing. The same need to calibrate applies for singers and actors. Smarter surgeons will tend to mentally rehearse a complex procedure before beginning.

But the mental calibration of the interactive metronome is at a more basic level than a pre-performance warmup. It is closer to the neuroplasticity shaping that occurs with neurofeedback training. I would expect neurofeedback to be useful from time to time in overseeing metronome therapy. It is only a matter of time before the various parallel calibrations find each other.

Here is a video illustrating basic IM technique

Here is one of many free online metronomes

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Blogger Will Brown said...

I wonder what relationship exists between this metronome technique and the reputed history of Morris (Moorish) Dancing from the Crusades period of English history? Reputedly, the dance steps were performed to percussion instruments setting a beat for the purpose of enabling the dancers to become more effective fighters. No weapons or obvious combat maneuvers are employed, however.

Friday, 21 December, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

Rhythm is integral to most forms of dancing. The war dance--where participants mime the actions taking place in combat--and the hunt dance--where participants mime the hunt--are favorite dances of hunter-gatherers. Young observers can learn to hunt and fight by imitating the dance.

As for using rhythmic dancing for actual regimented combat training, I suppose it makes sense. Rhythm disciplines the brain--particularly the motor system, but presumably sensory and associative systems as well.

Some elementary school and pre-school teaching systems integrate "pseudo-rap" lessons, where educational material is presented via rhythmic speech. (without the violent and misogynistic lyrics, hopefully)

The epic poems and stories told around ancient campfires were no doubt presented rhythmically--easier to remember and more hypnotic in effect on listeners.

Saturday, 22 December, 2007  

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