Songs in the key of learning drive new revision method

28th August 2009 at 01:00
Swansea firm rewrites classic texts as pop ditties in bid to grab GCSE English students' attention

Hundreds of pupils in south Wales will be studying GCSE English through the medium of music next year as part of an educational venture championed by the Prime Minister.

Rewise Learning's LearnThruMusic package breaks down set texts such as Othello and Lord Of The Flies into rock and pop songs in a bid to grab pupils' attention and make lessons memorable.

By September, the downloadable resources will be used in 35 secondary schools across the south Wales valleys.

The Swansea-based education company was praised by Gordon Brown during the Cabinet's visit to Wales in July, when Nathan Dicks, director of Rewise, asked the PM whether he would back the idea.

Mr Brown told a press conference that the project "sounds good, doesn't it?"

Mr Dicks has since been in regular contact with the Prime Minister's aides and now has his sights set on expanding into England.

As well as set English literature texts, the company sells songs about grammar and essay-writing, all of which are written and performed by professional musicians.

Laura Taylor, English teacher at Lewis School Pengam in Caerphilly, helped the firm break down GCSE English syllabus texts into characters and basic themes.

"It doesn't cover everything you need to know, but it does establish the groundwork so that (pupils) can make connections and hopefully follow them up," she said.

Ms Taylor described the resources as a useful "hook" with which to grab pupils' attention - particularly boys. It offers an easy way of engaging with children and making education accessible to all.

"Everyone has a phone, MP3 or CD player, and they're more likely to listen to these at home than pick up a book," she added.

Dave Matthews, deputy head of Hawthorn High School in Rhondda Cynon Taff, has tested the resources with pupils and believes they will be particularly useful for revision.

"There are lots of pupils who don't have a high level of home support - it's almost cool to say you're not revising and we have got to change that," he said.

"With this they don't have to be sitting at a table - they can be outside, walking around."

Mr Matthews said music was an important influence on all his pupils. "Both boys and girls are very good at remembering the words and dances to music in the charts - even the lowest-ability kids can do it," he said.

"There's no one thing that will successfully engage every child, and some of them will make little or no use of this. But the fact that they don't have to do any extra work makes this a very good deal for a kid."

David Jones, south Wales representative of youth music organisation Yo!Maz and a former music teacher, said it was a useful tool for young people on the edges of mainstream education.

"We are dealing with young people, such as in pupil referral units, who are not necessarily educationists," he said. "In those other settings, there's sometimes a barrier when you tell young people they are going to study a course.

"With this there is an element of subconscious learning. They don't see it as formal education but it does allow them to start developing skills such as English and computer literacy."

The company now plans to create songs for maths and science lessons as well as for English.

The resources are currently being evaluated by psychologists and researchers at Swansea University, who are studying the impact on pupils' skills and motivation.


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