Why Students Should Not Listen to Music While Studying


Don’t Listen to Music While Studying

Photo credit: zsrlibrary via flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

I notice several students listening to music while busy at work. I have no good reason to ask that they remove their headphones and turn off their devices. As I walk around the room, I admire the elegant, concise prose each produces.

I ask one student why music helps her concentrate. “It soothes me and makes me less stressed,” she says. “Plus, Ed Sheeran is just awesome.”

As a college student, I spent countless hours studying in a dark corner of the Brandeis University Library. Often, I would lose track of time and wonder about seeing the sun again. Once, my mother called to ask why I hadn’t yet returned home for Thanksgiving. I had forgotten about the holiday, focused on getting a jump-start on a major history paper while listening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” on repeat.

Placing aside the issue of my self-induced exile, for me as well, music offered not only comfort but also increased focus — or so I thought, at least until coming across the work of Dr. Nick Perham, a lecturer in the School of Health Sciences at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff.


Perham’s 2010 study, “Can preference for background music mediate the irrelevant sound effect?”, shows how music can interfere with short-term memory performance.

I recently spoke with Perham, who told me about the “irrelevant sound effect.” This involves a subject conducting a certain task, in this case recalling a series of numbers, while listening to different kinds of background music. If sound exhibits acoustical variations, or what Perham calls an “acute changing-state,” performance is impaired. Steady-state sounds with little acoustical variation don’t impair performance nearly as much.

I’m also interested by another of Perham’s conclusions. “We found that listening to liked or disliked music was exactly the same, and both were worse than the quiet control condition,” he says. “Both impaired performance on serial-recall tasks.”

Still, I’m curious how prevalent serial-recall is in everyday life, and if one could get by without developing this skill. Unlikely, Perham says, as one would have tremendous difficulty recalling phone numbers, doing mental arithmetic, and even learning languages.

“Requiring the learning of ordered information has also been found to underpin language learning. If you consider language, learning syntax of language, learning the rules that govern how we put a sentence together, all of these require order information . . . ” Perham says.

Perham asked his subjects how they think they performed when exposed to different tastes in music. Each reported performing much worse when listening to disliked music, although the study’s results showed no difference.

I presented Perham’s findings to my students, many of whom still refused to accept that listening to music while studying impairs performance. I even gave one of these otherwise bright and thoughtful individuals early access to my podcast interview with Perham.

“I enjoy listening to music while doing math,” she says. “It really helps me think, and I won’t stop listening even with the results of this study.”


My student is mistaken, but Perham explains that she should listen to music before getting to work, to engage what’s known as the “arousal and mood effect.” In fact, as long as she does something enjoyable before hitting the books — whether it’s listening to music or doing anything else — past studies have shown that this can produce the same positive effect on performance.

I ask Perham then about the so-called “Mozart effect,” which, in one early experiment, gave individuals who had recently listened to the famous classical composer enhanced spatial-rotation skills. When they stopped listening and were asked to cut and fold paper, they performed better than when listening to something else.

“Subsequent studies suggested that this wasn’t correct,” Perham says.

Instead, improved performance had more to do with the preference of sound one listened to before engaging in such work.

“They found it if you like listening to Stephen King’s stories,” Perham says. “It wasn’t anything to do with classical music or Mozart, it was to do on whether you liked [listening to] something or not.”

In one of his more recent studies, Perham says, he found that reading while listening to music, especially music with lyrics, impairs comprehension. In this case, it’s spoken lyrics, not acoustical variation that impairs productivity.

“You’ve got semantic information that you’re trying to use when you’re reading a book, and you’ve got semantic information from the lyrics,” Perham says. “If you can understand the lyrics, it doesn’t matter whether you like it or not, it will impair your performance of reading comprehension.”

In conducting my own little experiment, I decided to write this article in complete silence. These days, I write while listening to Dave Matthews, John Mayer and other “chill” music. I’m not sure if or how this fits exactly into Perham’s findings, but I finished writing in about half the time it normally takes me for something of this length.

At the very least, here’s to hoping that my experiment will entice my students to also give it a try.

Editor’s note: A PDF transcript of David Cutler’s interview with Dr. Nick Perham is available on Spin Education, where this post originally appeared.

10 Characteristics of an Innovative Classroom

10 Characteristics of an Innovative Classroom

If your goal is to engage and educate students to the greatest extent possible, you need to consider the benefits of an innovative classroom. An innovative classroom will possess several key traits, including:

1. Reflection

Innovative classrooms engage in constant reflection and inquisition. They think about what is working as a class and independently and what is not. Reflection can be uncomfortable, but for a class to be constantly evolving and innovating, this process must occur. Furthermore, an innovative classroom will always be asking itself, “what if?” Students won’t be satisfied with the status quo and will push themselves to be always learning more. Invite and encourage students to ask questions.

2. Constant learning

An innovative classroom never stops to catch its breath. Every event is seen as a teachable moment, and students will benefit from a fast-paced, ever-changing environment.

3. Creativity

A creative classroom not only comes up with unique solutions to everyday problems, but it also develops the responses necessary to deal with future challenges. A creative classroom fosters innovation by encouraging students to think outside of the box.

4. Connection

An educator must always know his or her students, as well as the trends that are emerging in the profession. He or she will seek out new techniques and technologies and encourage students to do the same.

5. Principles and routines

You should exist and function on strong principles and routines. Incorporate strong values to guide the class. The teacher in an innovative classroom will encourage consistency and diligence by establishing hard-and-fast guidelines for how the day is run.

6. Problem-finding

Innovative classrooms don’t wait for problems to appear to them–they actively seek out problems in the classroom, in their learning, and in the world. Innovation starts with a question–not with an answer. New technologies and understandings can only be developed when students begin to ask questions about “why” or “how.”

7. Collaboration

A collaborative classroom encourages innovation by pushing students to work with others who may be different from them, either in their beliefs, behavior, or background. Collaboration in the classroom encourages discussion, which is the father of all innovation.

8. Variation

Don’t rely on one teaching or learning technique to get a point across. An innovative classroom includes teaching strategies that are always evolving, and are different from day to day.

9. Goal setting

Innovative learners will set goals for themselves, and crush them. These goals may be large or small, or ideally contain some aspects of both types, but should guide learners towards innovation.

10. Opportunities for revision

Not only are innovative learners risk-takers, but they also recognize that nothing is ever perfect. As a result, an innovative classroom is resilient and pushes students and teachers to always be changing, adapting, and improving. Innovative learners will look to themselves and others to better every aspect of their performance.

These ten characteristics are important in establishing an innovative classroom. Although they don’t necessarily always come naturally, it is important for teachers to be aware of them and to incorporate an action to help develop each characteristic on a daily basis.

Read the original article here.

Zaniac Fieldtrips

Zaniac Partners with Schools!

Captivate your students with Zaniac’s high-tech STEAM experience!

Imagine your students as engineers for the day, immersed in the 3D design process and printing out their own creations.

Picture them using innovation to build motorized robots or to create apps. Zaniac partners with schools to better prepare students for the 21st century with STEAM skills!

We have Six NEW STEAM Programs this year and we can’t wait to share them with you! Join us for an Open House this Saturday, August 26th from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.! Learn more about our New Programs and some of the popular ways we work with schools!

Field Trips to Zaniac 
Bring your students on a customized Field Trip to Zaniac to complete STEAM Challenges in our state-of-the-art high-tech campus!

STEAM Enrichment During School
Trained Zaniac instructors will come to your school during regular class hours to engage your students with customized STEAM Programs to fit your lesson plans.

Satellite Programs After School
Our After-School STEAM Programs can be customized for your school and classroom needs. Call us to hear more about our most popular after-school programs like Robotics, Coding and App Creation.

School Events
Partner with Zaniac at your School’s Events including STEM and STEAM Nights, STEAM Socials, Carnivals and Fairs. Let us engage kids and parents alike with STEAM activities at our Zaniac mobile booth. Plus, we give away cool Zaniac swag!

STEAM Socials
Come to Zaniac with your STEAM Club, honors students or entire class and have a STEAM Social at Zaniac during school, after school or on weekends.

STEAM Awareness Events
Zaniac works with STEAM education leaders, community leaders, and business leaders to collaboratively join forces to discuss STEAM education for K-12 with the goal of empowering our youth of tomorrowwith 21st century skills!

Let’s Work Togther! Click Here To Email Us!
Download our Zaniac for Schools Booklet!
Our Zaniac For Schools booklet details our various programs and all the ways we can partner to engage children with STEAM Learning!

Please contact me to talk about how Zaniac can support and complement your educational needs for the upcoming 2017-2018 School Year.

Co-Owner and Campus Manager
Lynne Porter

Humanities Webinars (free!)

Live, interactive professional development webinars on compelling topics by leading scholars for humanities educators and advocates of all levels. All webinars are free of charge. Provided by The National Humanities Center.


Humanities Spring Webinars

The National Humanities Center offers “America in Class” webinars. Located in Research Triangle Park, NC, the Center is the country’s only independent institute for advanced study in all branches of the humanities. Its fellowship program supports distinguished scholarship; its education programs provide professional development opportunities and instructional resources for pre-collegiate teachers; and its public programs strengthen understanding of the humanities and advocate for their foundational role in American society.

These classes are particularly relevant for social studies and English / Language Arts 4-12th grade teachers, but can also be well-suited for elementary teachers looking to strengthen background knowledge, which can then be shaped into developmentally appropriate content.

Teaching Death of a Salesman
Leader: Andrew Sofer, Boston College
Thursday, January 12, 2017
7:00 – 8:30 pm ET
Hidden Photos: A New Picture of the Black Struggle for Civil Rights
Leader: Martin A. Berger, University of California, Santa Cruz
Thursday, February 16, 2017
7:00 – 8:30 pm ET
The Poetry of Rita Dove
Leader: Rita Dove, Poet
Thursday, January 19, 2017
7:00 – 8:30 pm ET
Teaching Langston Hughes
Leader: Carmella Williams, Author
Thursday, February 23, 2017
7:00 – 8:30 pm ET
Islam in America: A Cultural History
Leader: Ellen McLarney, Duke University
Thursday, January 26, 2017
7:00 – 8:30 pm ET
JFK: The First Television President
Leader: Ellen Fitzpatrick, University of New Hampshire
Thursday, March 2, 2017
7:00 – 8:30 pm ET
Modern Art Comes to America: The Armory Show
Leader: Marshall Price, Nasher Museum
Thursday, February 9, 2017
7:00 – 8:30 pm ET
Roosevelt at Rushmore
Leader: Thomas Brown, University of South Carolina
Thursday, March 9, 2017
7:00 – 8:30 pm ET

Resources for Discussing Race & Racial Justice

On Friday, December 2nd, Mary Virginia and Megan attended a local workshop on talking about Race and Racial Justice with children. Here are two resources, we think you will find valuable.

Recommended Developmental Stages of Discussion Race & Justice is a document that breaks down topics and recommended approaches for different age groups: 0-4, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12, 13-17.

Racial Justice Action has some relevant ways for white teachers to incorporate non-white voices, develop personal education and enrich our students’ experience.

Please let us know if you have any questions about this content.

Self-Paced Courses in History: Earn 15 contact hours (1.5 CEU)

We are a Gilder Lehrman affiliated school! Take advantage of one of these self-paced courses!


Facing History

Webinars, workshops, & seminars with lots of opportunity for teacher scholarships


A smattering of new resources for everyone


This lesson on empathy, perspectives, and collaboration is designed for middle grades, but can easily be adapted for 4th (maybe younger) or high school classes. This approach can be a great way to encourage students to practice civil discourse.

An Activity to Help Kids Learn Civil Discourse


20 Books Featuring Diverse Characters to Inspire Connection and Empathy (PreK-10th grade)

14 Books to connect students to the valuable struggles of scientists (1st-HS)


Looking for new teaching strategies? (2-12th grade)

Questioning Toolkit (a great resource to strengthen your questions, K-12th grade)

Questions to deepen comprehension (6-12th grade, applicable for science and the humanities)




Early K-5: How to Teach Kids about the Brain

Laying strong foundations for emotional intelligence.
By Hazel Harrison | March 17, 2016

When children understand what’s happening in the brain, it can be the first step to having the power to make choices. Knowledge can be equally powerful to parents too. Knowing how the brain works means we can also understand how to respond when our children need our help.

Sometimes our brains can become overwhelmed with feelings of fear, sadness or anger, and when this happens, it’s confusing—especially to children. So giving children ways to make sense of what’s happening in their brain is important. It’s also helpful for children to have a vocabulary for their emotional experiences that others can understand. Think of it like a foreign language, and if the other people in your family speak that language too, then it’s easier to communicate with them.

So how do you start these conversations with your children, make it playful enough to keep them engaged, and simple enough for them to understand?

Here is how I teach children (and parents) how to understand the brain.

Introducing the Brain House: The Upstairs and the Downstairs

I tell children that their brains are like a house, with an upstairs and a downstairs. This idea comes from Dr. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson’s book The Whole-Brain Child and it’s a really simple way to help kids to think about what’s going on inside their head. I’ve taken this analogy one step further by talking about who lives in the house. I tell them stories about the characters who live upstairs, and the ones who live downstairs. Really, what I’m talking about are the functions of the neocortex (our thinking brain: the upstairs), and the limbic system (our feeling brain: the downstairs).

The Brain House

Who Lives Upstairs and Who Lives Downstairs?

Typically, the upstairs characters are thinkers, problem solvers, planners, emotion regulators, creatives, flexible and empathic types. I give them names like Calming Carl, Problem Solving Pete, Creative Craig and Flexible Felix

The downstairs folk are the feelers. They are very focused on keeping us safe and making sure our needs are met. Our instinct for survival originates here. These characters look out for danger, sound the alarm and make sure we are ready to fight, run or hide when we are faced with a threat. Downstairs we’ve got characters like Alerting Allie, Frightened Fred, and Big Boss Bootsy.

It doesn’t really matter what you call them, as long as you and your child know who (and what) you are talking about. You could have a go at coming up with your own names: try boys/girls names, animal names, cartoon names or completely made-up names. You might like to find characters from films or books they love, to find your unique shared language for these brain functions.

Flipping Our Lids: When ‘Downstairs’ Takes Over

Our brains work best when the upstairs and the downstairs work together. Imagine that the stairs connecting upstairs and downstairs are very busy with characters carrying messages up and down to each other. This is what helps us make good choices, make friends and get along with other people, come up with exciting games to play, calm ourselves down and get ourselves out of sticky situations.

Sometimes, in the downstairs brain, Alerting Allie spots some danger, Frightened Fred panics and before we know where we are, Big Boss Bootsy has sounded the alarm telling your body to be prepared for danger. Big Boss Bootsy is a bossy fellow, and he shouts: “The downstairs brain is taking over now. Upstairs gang can work properly again when we are out of danger.” The downstairs brain “flips the lid” (to borrow Dan Siegel’s phrase) on the upstairs brain. This means that the stairs that normally allow the upstairs and downstairs to work together are no longer connected.

Flipping your lid

Sometimes, Flipping Our Lids Is the Safest Thing To Do

When everybody in the brain house is making noise, it’s hard for anyone to be heard. Bootsy is keeping the upstairs brain quiet so the downstairs folk can get our body ready for the danger. Boots can signal other parts of our body that need to switch on (or off). He can make our heart beat faster so we are ready to run very fast, or our muscles ready to fight as hard as we can. He can also tell parts of our body to stay very very still so we can hide from the danger. Bootsy is doing this to keep us safe.

Try asking your child to imagine when these reactions would be safest. I often try to use examples that wouldn’t actually happen (again so that children can imagine these ideas in a playful way without becoming too frightened by them). For example, what would your downstairs brain do if you met a dinosaur in the playground?

Everyone Flips Their Lids

Think of some examples to share with your child about how we can all flip our lids. Choose examples that aren’t too stressful because if you make your kids feel too anxious they may flip their lids then and there!

Here’s an example I might use:

Remember when Mummy couldn’t find the car keys and we were already late for school. Remember how I kept looking in the same place over and over again. That’s because the downstairs brain had taken over, I had flipped my lid and the upstairs, thinking part of my brain, wasn’t working properly.

When the Downstairs Brain Gets It Wrong

There might be times when we flips our lids but really we still need the upstairs gang like Problem Solving Pete, and Calming Carl to help us.

We all flip our lids, but often children flip their lids more than adults. In children’s brains, Big Boss Bootsy can get a bit over excited and press the panic button to trigger meltdowns and tantrums over very small things and that’s because the upstairs part of your child’s brain is still being built. In fact, it won’t be finished being built until the mid twenties. Sometimes, when I want to emphasize this point, I ask kids this question:

Have you ever seen your Dad or Mum lay on the floor in the supermarket screaming that they want chocolate buttons?

They often giggle, and giggling is good because it means it’s still playful, so they are still engaged and learning. I tell them parents actually like chocolate just as much as children, but adults have practiced getting Calming Carl and Problem Solving Pete to work with Big Boss Bootsy and can (sometimes) stop him from sounding the danger alarm when he doesn’t need to. It does take practice and I remind children that their brains are still building and learning from experience.

Ultimately, this is about enabling children to learn functional ways to manage big feelings, and some of that will happen from conversations about the things that went wrong.
From a Shared Language to Emotional Regulation

Once you’ve got all the characters in the brain house, you have a shared language that you can use to help your child learn how to regulate (manage) their emotions. For example, “it looks like Big Boss Bootsy might be getting ready to sound the alarm, how about seeing if Calming Carl can send a message saying ‘take some deep breaths.”

The language of the brain house also allows kids to talk more freely about their own mistakes, it’s non judgmental, playful and can be talked about as being separate (psychologists also call this ‘externalized’) from them. Imagine how hard it might be to say ‘I hit Jenny today at school’ versus “Big Boss Bootsy really flipped the lid today.” When I say this to parents, some worry that I’m giving children a free pass. “Can’t they just blame Bootsy for their misbehavior?” they ask. Ultimately, what this is about is enabling children to learn functional ways to manage big feelings, and some of that will happen from conversations about the things that went wrong. If children feel able to talk about their mistakes with you, then you have an opportunity to join your upstairs brain folk with theirs, and problem solve together. It doesn’t mean they escape consequences or shirk responsibility. It means you can ask questions like “do you think there is anything you could do to help Bootsy keep the lid on?.”

Knowing about the brain house also helps parents to think about how to respond when their child is flooded with fear, anger or sadness. Have you ever told you child to calm down when they have flipped their lid? I have. Yet what we know about the brain house is Calming Carl lives upstairs and when Bootsy’s flipped the lid, Calming Carl can’t do much to help until the lid is back on. Your child may have gone beyond the point where they can help themselves to calm down. Sometimes, parents (teachers or caregivers) have to help kids to get their lids back on, and we can do this with empathy, patience and often taking a great deal of deep breaths ourselves!

Where to Go from Here?

Don’t expect to move all the characters into the brain house and unpack on the same day; moving house takes time, and so does learning about brains. Start the conversation and revisit it. You might want to find creative ways to explore the brain house with your child.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Draw the brain house and all the characters
Draw a picture of what it looks like in the house when the downstairs flips the lid
Find a comic, cut out and stick characters into the downstairs and the upstairs
Write stories about the adventures of the characters in the brain house
Use a doll’s house (or if you don’t have a doll’s house, two shoe boxes, one on top of the other works just as well) and fill it with the downstairs and upstairs characters.
If you find other creative ways to explore the brain house, I would love to hear about them.

Make it fun, make it lively, and kids won’t even realize they are learning the foundations of emotional intelligence.


Thought Provoking: Why a ‘Growth Mindset’ Won’t Work

Stanford professor Carol Dweck’s work is being used all over the world. When we look at what school should epitomize…the growth mindset should be at the center. Many adults who work in schools say we need to get away from a fixed mindset, because a student’s intelligence and future are not set. There is always room for growth.

But what if our actions in school contribute to the reason why a growth mindset has a low effect size?

Recently, John Hattie gave a keynote at the Annual Visible Learning Conference in San Antonio, Texas. Over 1,000 attendees from all over the world sat in the audience when Hattie gave a keynote focusing on The Science of How We Learn, which is the title of his book that was published 2 years ago.

As Hattie was going through the Skill, the Will and the Thrill of learning, he put up a slide that said, “Growth vs. Fixed mindset – .19.” For those of you who don’t know, and for full disclosure, I work with John as a Visible Learning Trainer. I gave up being a school principal in a community I loved to work with him. I write about his work from time to time because it provokes some of my best thinking. And because I’m such a huge fan of the growth mindset (I barely graduated from high school and was retained in elementary school), this slide poked my own hornet’s nest.

We usually look for effect sizes that are .40 or above, which is what Hattie refers to as the Hinge Point. The Hinge Point provides a year’s worth of growth for a year’s input. A .19 is concerning because it is so much lower than the Hinge Point. The beauty of Hattie’s work is that an influence with a low effect size (ex. Growth vs. Fixed Mindset) doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. The low effect size may be due to how the adults in the classroom or school building approach the influence, and we may have to change how we approach it.

As Hattie continued to speak, he said the reason why growth vs. fixed mindset has a low effect size is due to the fact that adults have a fixed mindset and keep treating students accordingly, so right now the effect size is low, and will continue to stay low unless we change our practices in the classroom. We put students in ability groups, they get scores on high stakes tests that help label them, and then we place them in Academic Intervention Services (AIS) which adds to their fixed mindset. Once students enter into AIS or Special Education, very few leave.

Students are conditioned to have a fixed mindset, and it’s due to us.

What can we do differently?

First and foremost, we have to get away from having a fixed mindset because it has terrible implications for how we treat students. We do not have a crystal ball, and we shouldn’t treat students who struggle like they will struggle for the rest of their lives. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we treat students like they will always struggle…they may always struggle.


If students aren’t doing well in our classrooms it may not be due to them and may require that we change the way we teach. “Change the environment and not the child.” When we use ability groups, categorize students by test scores, and do not instruct in a variety of ways, we will continue to treat students with a fixed mindset. Our fixed mindset puts them at a greater risk of having a fixed mindset. We need to try to do the following:

  • Less Testing – Yes, I know. We don’t feel like we have control over this but we do have control over parts of it. We can continue to speak up about the harmful way that high stakes testing is being used, but we can also change the way we use the tests we create and use in our classrooms. First of all, use less summative testing. Formative assessment is the sweet spot. Be less concerned about grades and more concerned about formative assessment. Join Teachers Throwing Out Grades and read this blog by Shirley Clarke.
  • More feedback – If we want things like class size to matter more, than we need to change the way we provide feedback. Reflect on the feedback you provide to students. Does the feedback go deeper as the students gain more expertise in the topic? Or do we just slap a grade or a sticker on a paper and say “Great job!” Praise, although great to hear, does not move learning forward.
  • Flexible Grouping – When we put students in ability groups like Lions, Tigers and Bears, something I was guilty of, they know which group has the high achieving students and others who are not as gifted in the curricular area. Students, no matter their academic level, can provide effective feedback to each other if it has been modeled correctly.
  • Different Questioning – 95% of questions stay in the surface level.  According to Hattie’s research, Experienced teachers ask 75% surface and 25% deep. Expertteachers as 75% that are deep and 25% that are surface. Check out SOLO Taxonomy for alternatives.
  • Stop talking so much – “Teachers ask more than 200 questions per hour,” which means wait time is low and students are not getting the opportunity to talk with one another. Try to do a Think, Pair, Share or cooperative conversations.

In the End

We talk a lot about the growth mindset but our actions may be counterproductive to putting it into action. A growth mindset is so vitally important for adults and students. Adults need to have that mindset for their own growth but more importantly for the growth of their students.

Talking about the growth mindset is not good enough. Our actions are where the rubber hits the road. If we believe the growth mindset is important, and believe that it should have a higher effect size, then we need to follow up with the actions to make it happen.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D.

July 17, 2015 9:35 AM

View the original article in EdWeek.