A post by Annie Murphy Paul about a medical professor making songs about diseases for his students to help them remember better made me think back about something I did the first year I was teaching in the teacher training program. I had a class of over 60 gym teachers to be. I was teaching them didactics, psychology and other neat stuff, but they often complained that my classes were one of the few where they couldn’t move. After 2-3 weeks I promised them that in the last lesson before midterms they would be moving a lot. It became a kind of running gag with them asking if they would have some sport in my class, and me telling them to wait for the last class before midterm.
The one before last lesson I entered the room and told them to take pen and paper. I made them write down 8 verses, one for every chapter we had seen that term. They had to learn these verses by heart for the last lesson the following week, and if they’d wondered what the melody was? I started humming the infamous tune that you often can hear when American soldiers are training their running skills. Oh and btw, I expected them to wear training clothes for next class.
Well, the following week I welcomed them at the gates of our institute on bicycle and I lead them to the parc where they had to run for over a half hour reciting the song. They asked me why I was on a bicycle, my answer was that I already new the course. The truth is that I had trouble to follow them even on a bicycle.
I long thought this little exercise worked so well because i was adapting to their kinesthetic learning style, but in fact it was the song and the rhyme that worked so well. Yep, I once was a believer, now I know better. The best thing was that it gave my students a very handy oversight of all key elements of the course so when they started studying they could easily link everything to this oversight.
2 years later I had the honor of teaching them again, then near the end of their program. I couldn’t help myself and suddenly I started the song by shouting out loud the first verse. The whole group replied with answering the song they still remembered very well.