History: Teacher strums GCSE modules into revision CDs

9th October 2009 at 01:00
Teacher's tuneful revision aids are smash hit with pupils

Original paper headline: Drum those dates into my head, Sir

It's like the opening line to a joke: what do you get when you cross a musician and a history teacher? There is, however, a straight answer: history revision instilled through the medium of soft rock.

Jeff Thomas, who teaches history at Seaford Head Community College in East Sussex, has strummed and sung GCSE history modules for children to listen to while revising.

In a CD series called Revision Rocks, he creates catchy tunes and lyrics to help children learn the important facts and events for their exams.

The teacher turned part-time musician now teaches four days a week, devoting the rest of his time to writing songs.

"It all started when I took my guitar into work one day," he said. "I played a blues tune and asked the kids to compose lyrics for it. I then went home and put them all together in a song."

After a positive response, the singer conducted a mini-experiment, teaching one part of the module through song and the other through ordinary methods.

"It was interesting because the answers to the module taught through song were a lot longer and more focused. The children expressed an obvious confidence."

Mr Thomas sent flyers to schools studying similar modules. Fellow history teachers soon started ordering his albums online, while students downloaded them on to MP3 players to learn on the move.

Jim Attridge, head of humanities at Farringtons School in Chislehurst, Kent, has used the albums to start or end a lesson and introduce or recap on a topic. "Anything that will vary teaching styles benefits teachers and students," he said.

Mr Attridge, the school's cross-curricula leader, has contacted Revision Rocks requesting tracks without lyrics. He said: "It's great because it serves as a tool for other activities. I have used it to inspire students to write their own songs from what they have learnt."

One Berkshire school played the album in the coach on a history field trip to Belgium.

Professor Susan Hallam of the Institute of Education in London says there is strong evidence that learning through music reinforces memory. The author of Music Psychology in Education, she suggests this is why children learn the alphabet through song.

"When we recall information, music acts as a cue - it gives a strong code to retrieve information in addition to the factual information itself."

So what's next for the singing history teacher? "One boy came out of his exam this summer and said, `Sir, I just wrote all the lyrics of the song for that second answer.' Believe it or not, that's enough.

"The next stage for me is to get out and visit schools. I want to use music in history to help more pupils understand the facts."


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