Don’t Listen to Music While Studying

As I mentioned in a previous post multi-tasking is largely a self-imagined myth. Another study, published in 2010 by Dr. Nick Perham, a lecturer in the School of Health Sciences at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, demonstrated how music can interfere with short-term memory performance in serial recall tasks. Interestingly, Perham discovered that listening to liked or disliked music impaired serial task performance equally, and both were worse than the quiet room control condition. He also stated that it was the lyrics in music, not acoustical variation, that was responsible for impairment while reading. “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.” David Cutler, a high school history and government teacher from Florida, interviewed Dr. Perham in 2013 and wrote an article for Spin Education, describing his experience with his own students and their desire to listen to music while working on assignments.

There is some evidence that suggests that listening to something you like (whether music or a book on tape) before attempting a task may improve arousal and mood, leading to better task performance. More studies have to be done to confirm this supposition, Mozart effect to the contrary. In the meantime, the bottom line is: don’t listen to music while trying to perform other tasks.

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Liberal Arts Disciplines Prepare Graduates for Long-Term Professional Success

What I’ve suspected all along has just been given weight in a report published by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS). Contrary to public opinion, a liberal arts major is the equal of any STEM major in terms of long-term earning potential and employment. “Recent attacks on the liberal arts by ill-informed commentators and policy makers have painted a misleading picture of the value of the liberal arts to individuals and our communities,” said AAC&U President Carol Geary Schneider. “As the findings in this report demonstrate, majoring in a liberal arts field can and does lead to successful and remunerative careers in a wide array of professions.” The report also notes that liberal arts graduates are over-represented in social science fields, such as social services and counselling. Unemployment rates are low and decline over time.

With all the increased emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) classes lately, liberal arts have gotten a bad rap. This report demonstrates that a liberal arts degree does indeed have high value. The authors note that “the liberal arts and sciences play a major role in sustaining the social and economic fabric of our society.” We need liberal arts every bit as much as we need STEM, and perhaps more so, as the liberal arts provides the teachers and counselors that will guide the next generation.

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Frightening stats about reading!


I felt this one was too scary not to post. Literacy rates haven’t changed in 10 years? Good grief. I will continue to be a book proponent at all levels at my high school and hope to stem the tide.

Originally posted on NovaNews:

It’s not often that I cross post on both my blogs, but I felt that the content of this one was as relevant to NovaNews as it is to BevsBookBlog.   So here it is:


As I gear up to make a presentation tomorrow at the annual VATE (Victorian Association of Teachers of English) State Conference 2013, my mind is easily turned by headlines that highlight illiteracy levels.

Stumbling on a post in the GoodReadingMagazine blog  I found myself trawling around for the stats that were highlighted in a September 2013 Huffington Post article: The US illiteracy rate hasn’t changed in 10 years.  As it turned out, the stats were based on a study conducted by the US Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy which I found published online on Statistic Brain.

US Illiteracy Stats on Statistic

32 million or 14% of US adults being illiterate and a…

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Effect of puzzle solving on student creativity

Apparently, kids really like solving puzzles. According to Istar Schweger, Ph.D., puzzles provide ways for students to build on emerging skills. And from Marcel Danesi, Ph.D. comes “The thinking involved in solving puzzles can be characterized as a blend of imaginative association and memory.” So I’ve started putting out jigsaw puzzles for my students to put together in the library. Some days I get big groups working on them, but most days it’s just a few that keep plugging away. Some days I get teachers drawn in to work on a particular section, or some of the admin staff will wander over to put in a piece or two. Solving jigsaw puzzles requires concentration, paying attention to patterns, and building on information stored in memory. Plus, there is something very satisfying about placing a piece next to its companion, watching a clear section emerge from the chaos of individual pieces. I like to think that I’m helping train students’ brains and helping them in ways of which they may not be aware. The biggest thing, though, is that I want them to have fun. There’s such pressure built in to every school day that a break now and again is nice.

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Higher social class predicts unethical behavior

What? How crazy is that?! In a paper published in January 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS), seven studies were conducted that revealed that upper class individuals behaved more unethically than lower class ones. Apparently, the better off you are the more likely you are to lie, cheat and steal, due to your more positive attitude towards greed. According to the paper, the upper class value their own welfare above that of others, and greed leads to reduced concern of how their behavior affects others.

I have long heard that poorer families give a greater percentage of their income to charity than their wealthier counterparts, and now it turns out that richer you are, the more Scrooge-like you are. With all apologies to Mr. Scrooge. But why are upper-class individuals more prone to unethical behavior, from violating traffic codes to taking public goods to lying? And what would be the results, I wonder, if the study were conducted in a different country? Is it just Americans or does society’s nobility behave boorishly across cultures? I find this to be distressing on many levels, and I’m not sure what can be done to reverse this trend.

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March is Women’s History Month

Womens History MonthMarch is when we celebrate the achievements of women around the world, the famous and the not-so-famous. Even “just a mom” is a chauffeur, research assistant, psychologist, nutritionist, referee, teacher, chief financial consultant and more. What moms do cannot be measured simply in terms of financial compensation–they provide loving homes and unmitigated support, not only to their immediate families, but also to those that come into their orbit. Moms are simply amazing, and they deserve to be recognized as much as those women renowned for some other achievement.

Tell the women in your life how grateful you are that they’re there. And don’t forget that behind every great man there is an equally great woman.

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Think you’re great at multi-tasking? Think again.

Do you listen to music as you do your homework? Watch TV while on your iPhone? Talk on your cell phone while driving? Conversely, can you focus on just one task at a time? Is it really possible to actually multi-task, that is, complete two or more tasks at the same time? According to a study published on PLOS One (a peer-reviewed, open access journal), the answer isn’t as cut and dried as you might think. Turns out that perceived ability differs significantly from actual ability, and that people multi-task because they’re not able to block out distractions. The study indicates that overall performance may suffer, as multi-tasking can be physically and mentally challenging. Also, it turns out that the people most able to multi-task are those that also have the ability to not multi-task; in other words, being able to selectively focus on a single task was an indicator that the individual would also be able to complete more than one job at a time.

Interesting. People that rate themselves high in ability to multi-task turn out to be not so good at it, and the ability to focus exclusively on one task indicates that you’d be good at multi-tasking. What kind of an effect will this have on how people present themselves during job interviews? The ability to multi-task is seen as very desirable, but when people over-state their competence what then? I think that the old-fashioned adage of doing one thing and doing it well is a is still a good lesson to teach and model, one which will serve our students in good stead well into the future.

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How reading literature affects your brain

I have more ammunition now, thanks to a study by humanities scholar Natalie Phillips at Stanford university. She mapped the relationship between reading, attention and distraction by placing volunteers into an MRI, hooking them up to eye-tracking equipment, then having them read passages from Jane Austen’s “Mansfield Park.” The student volunteers were asked to read at two speeds, recreational, and critically and analytically, as though they were reading for an assignment. A computer program tracked their eye movements, breathing and heart rates.

The results were more extensive than she’d imagined: areas of the brain normally used for physical activity and movement were engaged, the part that we use to place ourselves spatially in the world; it was as though the readers placed themselves physically in the story.

Concentrated, close reading “activated unbelievably widespread parts of the brain that are immensely cognitively complex, on a par with doing hard math problems or working through computer code,” she said.

At a time when the value of a liberal arts and humanities education at publicly funded colleges is under fire from cost-cutting governors and nervous university presidents, this research, she hopes, might lead toward validating literary study as a critical learning tool. The complex congitive brain patterns of the brain scans “show us that we have really no idea of the complexity involved in literary analysis.”

I think this is fascinating! Who knew that reading analytically could be such good exercise for your brain? Even though this is only one study and it’s still early days, I’m hopeful that with more studies it will show how beneficial it is to read. I’ve long been a proponent of fluent reading being a strong indicator of scholarly success, and now there seems to be scientific evidence corroborating the statement. I firmly believe that the more you read, the better you will do in all subjects; if you can’t read, how can you expect to comprehend the erstwhile gobbledegook that is a chemistry or calculus text book?

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VAASL conference

Attending VAASL conference on libraries and collaborative learning. So far so good.

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CPD23 Newbie

I signed up this week for CPD23, which translates to “23 things for continuing professional development” for the uninitiated. It took me a while to find out what it meant, which made me feel not a little foolish. It started three weeks ago: Thing One was to create a blog for this whole process, which, luckily, I already have. Thing Two was to investigate other blogs by people also engaging in CPD23. I’m still working on that one, as time management is still something that I struggle with. I’ve read (and been inspired) by one or two blogs, and I’m working on reading more of them today. Thing Three was to Google yourself and see what kind of electronic footprint you’ve created, and how you want your personal brand to reflect on you. I discovered that there is a Heather A. Steinmiller, Attorney at Law, who lives in Philadelphia and who has some major accomplishments to her name. I did find myself over three or four Google pages; my Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as LinkedIn and some of the other groups to which I belong. There are photos that I’ve shared, and you can find my home address, phone number and maiden name. Kind of scary, that last. All in all, though, my footprint pales in comparison to Heather A. A good thing? A bad thing? Just a thing? I want to be “profersonal” by keeping some things private and sharing others in a way that portrays me in a positive light.  Anyway, something to keep in mind as I continue this journey with some very fascinating and desireable companions.

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