Simple Student Routines for Back-to-School Success

NY Times Motherlode blog

CreditJessica Lahey

In my last column, I wrote about simple solutions for back-to-school supplies, and a rollicking debate ensued in the comments section about the merits of the binder system, paper versus digital systems, and the perception that parents impose undue complexity on their kids these days. The one thing it seems we can all agree upon, however, is that the plan kids implement to keep their schoolwork in order is far more important than the tools they use.

In my former middle school, (and in my own home) we established a predictable, weekly routine that set the tone for the kids’ organizational success. Once a week, we put time aside for locker and binder cleaning, and made sure parents knew that on Wednesdays, being on time meant being early. Every Wednesday morning before homeroom, students were required to empty their lockers of crumpled loose papers, figure out what to recycle and what to keep, and ferret out the source of the fruit flies hovering over their locker.

Once locker clean-out was complete, younger students also got weekly binder checks to support their efforts to stay organized. This weekly routine offered a great opportunity to show students that filing their papers and notes in the proper section of the proper binder can save them so much time and angst later on. I can’t tell you how many “lost” assignments were recovered in the wreckage of backpacks and binders on Wednesday mornings. This routine is an essential part of teaching kids about planning and managing their work and their materials, because if we are patient with their small failures and missteps, the organization of things can evolve into the organization of thoughts.

By the time these students graduate to eighth grade, locker and binder checks have become little more than a weekly formality, but for sixth graders who are just learning how to transition from one classroom, one desk, and one teacher to a locker, seven classrooms, and seven teachers, it is a vital part of their education.

Ana Homayoun, a student organization expert and founder of Green Ivy Educational Consulting, agrees. She offered further advice in an email:

The weekly regroup is also a great time to plan out their goals, reflect on what went well the previous week, and what they would like to do differently in the upcoming week. By creating a weekly opportunity for reflection, we can help students think through and solidify habits.

I can already hear the murmurs of concern about the time sink and authoritarian tone inherent in this weekly routine. So, for a prophylactic rejoinder, I turn to a commenter from last week,Amanda113:

I went to a highly competitive private school, and they insisted on the binder method for each class. In fact, our teachers would do random “binder checks” to make sure they were organized and complete. Was it authoritarian? Absolutely. But it was such a great organizing system, and it prepared me well for college and law school. I kept some of those binders as a keepsake, and I still marvel at their organization.

Another commenter was kind enough to provide my next bit of advice. In order to save students’ backs from strain and brains from chaos, they need to have a place to file papers that are no longer essential to daily work, but still needed for future reference.Anonymous wrote:

I teach 6th and 8th grade, and every Friday I take class time to pitch stuff. I also have a plastic crate with hanging files in my classroom — a file for each student — that’s where I have them keep the work I would like them to save rather than lug it around with them. … I also have a shelf for each class where they can leave textbooks or workbooks that they may not need every single day. The amount of THINGS we ask students to keep track of is pretty ridiculous. It seems like we’re teaching them to be organized, but we’re not. We’re not helping them see what can be tossed, what is worth saving and how to save it.

The most important routines we can give kids as the summer fades into fall, however, are those around family time and sleep. Postponed bedtimes and chaotic breakfasts set the tone for insufficient sleep and bad moods, and to prevent these disasters, Ms. Homayoun recommends that parents engage in preventive medicine:

Create end-of-day routines to make the mornings start off happier. Remember those mornings when kids lost their shoe, were tracking down their homework, and spilled breakfast on their shirt on the way out the door? Morning madness can’t be avoided BUT it can be tamed. With young kids, make a game and set a timer for ten-fifteen minutes at the end of every evening where they work to put their backpack by the door ready to go with completed homework inside, and anything else that can be completed in the evening and may make your morning easier.

I conclude with the most important routine of all, one that sets the stage for kids’ emotional, physical, mental and academic well-being: sleep. I said it last year, and I’ll say it again: Kids need more sleepthan they are getting. According to the Centers for Disease Control, preschoolers need eleven to twelve hours, elementary school kids need at least ten, and adolescents need nine to ten hours.

In order to protect those vital hours of sleep, parents may just have to step up and take a hard line on bedtime. I’ll let Ms. Homayoun take the hit and serve as the unpopular messenger on this bit of advice while I hide behind her and nod my head vigorously.

First, take all phones (ideally, all technology) out of the bedroom, and have them go in a digital box after a certain hour (for those kids who insist their phone is their alarm clock, get them a fun alarm clock for their bedside). Students often are up later than their parents realize answering texts, sending Snapchat messages, and perusing Instagram.

Speaking of technology, I have purposefully avoided an important aspect of the discussion about supplies and organization — the shift toward a paperless classroom. I hope to cover the organizational and educational implications of this trend in another column, but as most schools still rely on paper and pencils as their default technology, I’m going to have to live with my Luddite label for a while longer.

Please, comment or email your questions and suggestions for this year’s Parent-Teacher Conference columns, because we truly want this column to be a partnership; a place for you to ask questions and find answers about the confluence of education and parenting.

How a Bigger Purpose Can Motivate Students to Learn

Mindshift

An interesting article about the importance of students finding a higher purpose in their learning.  We help our students make connections with the needs of their local community and the world through our service-learning program.
 | August 18, 2014 

Jane Mount/MindShift

A few years ago, psychologist David Yeager and his colleagues noticed something interesting while interviewing high school students in the San Francisco Bay Area about their hopes, dreams and life goals.

It was no surprise that students often said that making money, attaining fame or pursuing a career that they enjoyed were important to them. But many of them also spoke of additionally wanting to make a positive impact on their community or society — such as by becoming a doctor to take care of people, or a pastor who “makes a difference.” What’s more, the teens with these “pro-social” types of goals tended to rate their schoolwork as more personally meaningful.

Given this information, Yeager and his colleagues wanted to know: could such a bigger sense of purpose that looks beyond one’s own self-interests be a real and significant inspiration for learning? They believe the answer is yes. And they’ve devised a new social psychology intervention to foster a “purposeful learning” mindset as another way to motivate pupils to persevere in their studies. Yeager, now based at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, conducted the work in collaboration with UT colleague Marlone Henderson, David Paunesku and Greg Walton of Stanford, “grit” guru Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania, and others.

They recently explored purposeful learning in a series of four studies and put their intervention to the test against one of the banes of learning: boredom. Initial promising results suggest the psychology strategy could encourage pupils to plug away at homework or learning tasks that are challenging or tedious, yet necessary to getting an education that’ll help them reach their greater life goals.

Can Drudgery Be Eliminated from Learning?

The idea of drudgery in schoolwork is anathema to many progressive educators these days.Game-based approaches to learning are far favored over “drill-and-kill” exercises. And while an emphasis on fortifying students’ academic “grit” and self-discipline in their study habits has been explored in depth, it’s controversial. Along with criticisms about deeper implications relating to race and poverty, some observers say the buzz over grit neglects the need to make dull classroom lessons more compelling to today’s learners. As education author Alfie Kohn has written, “not everything is worth doing, let alone doing for extended periods, and not everyone who works hard is pursuing something worthwhile.”

It’s complicated, though. At Stanford’sProject for Education Research that Scales, Paunesku believes that teachers and educators should make learning more engaging wherever possible. “However, the reality is that schoolwork is often neither interesting nor meaningful,” he said — at least, not in a way that students immediately get. “It’s hard for students to understand why doing algebra, for example, really matters or why it’ll help them or why it will make a difference in their life.” Yet, he noted, such work is often key in building basic skills and knowledge they’ll need for a successful future.

With that in mind, Yeager and Paunesku designed an intervention that subtly guides students to connect their academic efforts with pro-social long-term goals, to see whether it might help inspire them to plow through assignments that are “boring but important.”

As a baseline, the research team first investigated a mindset of “self-transcendent” purposeful learning by surveying 1,364 low-income high-school seniors at 10 urban public schools in California, Texas, Arkansas and New York. The teenagers sat down at a computer and took an “academic diligence task” devised by Duckworth and Sidney D’Mello of the University of Notre Dame. For a few minutes, the participants had the choice of either doing lots of simple, tedious math subtraction problems, or watching YouTube video clips or playing Tetris.

The students with a purposeful-learning attitude (who agreed with socially oriented statements like “I want to become an educated citizen that can contribute to society”) scored higher on measures of grit and self-control than classmates who only reported self-oriented motives for learning such as wanting to get a good job or earn more money. The purposeful learners were also less likely to succumb to the digital distractions, answering more math problems on the diligence task — and they were more likely to be enrolled in college the following fall, the researchers found.

The Potential of a Purposeful Mindset

Next, a pilot experiment tested the sense-of-purpose intervention to see if it would improve grades in math and science (two subjects often seen as uninteresting): The researchers asked 338 ninth graders at a middle-class Bay Area high school to log online for a 20- to 30-minute reading and writing exercise. The teenagers read a brief article and specific quotes from other students, all conveying the message that many adolescents work hard in school not just to gain knowledge for, say, pursuing a career they like — but also because they want to achieve “something that matters for the world.”

Study participants then wrote short testimonials to other, future students describing how high school would help them become the kind of person they want to be or make an impact on society. As one teen explained, “I believe learning in school will give me the rudimentary skills to survive in the world. Science will give me a good base for my career in environmental engineering. I want to be able to solve our energy problems.” Another ninth grader wrote that having an education “allows me to form well-supported, well-thought opinions about the world. I will not be able to help anyone without first going to school.”

A few months later, at the end of the grading quarter, the researchers observed positive effects from the intervention, most notably in the weakest students: Underachieving pupils saw their low GPAs go up by 0.2 points. That’s a helpful improvement, said UT Austin’s Henderson, because many pivotal educational decisions hang in the balance based on a GPA cutoff. A few tenths of a point can make or break a student’s acceptance into a program or a school, which could in turn affect what type of job she ends up getting and ultimately, the salary she earns, Henderson said.

“GPA is really a better long-term predictor of not just educational outcomes but all kinds of positive life outcomes,” commented education researcher Camille Farrington of the University of Chicago. A 0.2 point gain in GPA could bump a B to a B+ or a B+ to an A-, she noted, which is an important impact given how brief and relatively inexpensive the sense-of-purpose treatment was. Many other education interventions take a lot more time, energy and money, yet “don’t give any more of a bump than that,” she said.

How Does It Work?

As with other kinds of academic mindset strategies, the benefit from the sense-of-purpose intervention “almost seems like magic,” Henderson said. But it’s not, (as Yeager and Walton have previously elaborated). The research team ran two other experiments (with college undergrads) that helped unpack how the intervention might work: by motivating students to engage in deeper learning, and by bolstering self-control in resisting tempting distractions from schoolwork (as measured again by Duckworth and D’Mello’s diligence test).

What a purposeful mindset does for students is that “when they encounter challenges, difficulty or things that could potentially be roadblocks to learning, it motivates them to persist and barrel through,” Henderson said. The psychology researchers don’t know how long the positive effects last, but they speculate that just a small shift in students’ attitudes could spark a chain reaction of stronger academic performance and confidence that builds upon itself and endures over time.

Such a payoff can be hard to believe. After all, grownups have forever been telling children any number of reasons why a good education is important for their future. But here’s the thing: The technique for nurturing a sense-of-purpose mentality is designed so that “the student owns that and kind of puts those pieces together in their own heads, for themselves,” Farrington noted. “And that is a different thing than your mom or your teacher telling you, it’s important to do this because blah, blah, blah, blah.”

Other, self-oriented goals such as making money or getting out of their parents’ house didn’t seem to inspire students as much as the self-transcendent goals did in the studies. That’s worth noting, Farrington said, especially considering that youths from low-income backgrounds are often exhorted to study hard so that they can get out of their disadvantaged neighborhoods and go to college or find a good job. If the research results are right, these kids may get more motivational mileage out of the goal of making a meaningful contribution to the world. “That’s consistent with what we know in social psychology: that people are motivated by, they care about having meaning in their life,” she said.

The sense-of-purpose work is just in its beginning stages, Henderson said, with the psychologists still tinkering to improve the intervention. They want to explore whether the technique can reduce student cheating, and whether teachers can “activate” the purposeful-learning mindset by writing simple, subtle and carefully tailored messages of feedback on classwork, he said.

Finding Meaning in Schoolwork

The experiments with the new strategy beg the question of whether the researchers are implicitly endorsing drill-and-kill-style learning. They aren’t, Paunesku is quick to say. He’s all for project-based learning and other efforts to make school more relevant and alluring for students. Yet, he added, it isn’t practical or possible to render every lesson or assignment in K-12 “super fun and game-y” for kids — and even if it were, doing so could be a disservice to them later. What would they do when they get to law school and are faced with having to memorize long lists of laws? Or when they land a job that calls for mastering information that no one has “gamefied” to make it exciting to learn?

Students go to school not just to learn specific facts, he pointed out. They’re learning how to learn, how to practice self-discipline and motivate themselves through frustrating roadblocks, and thus are preparing for adulthood. That’s important even if it isn’t always fascinating, he said. But having that bigger sense of purpose, that personal mission of making a positive difference in the broader world, might help students to find meaning in difficult or mundane schoolwork. “If you think about it the right way, you can actually be motivated and you can find it interesting, even if on the surface it’s not fun,” Paunesku said.

Fitness May Boost Kids’ Brainpower

Healthday.com

Study found fitter kids had different white matter, which helps brain regions communicate with each other

Fitness May Boost Kids' Brainpower

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Aug. 19, 2014 (HealthDay News) — Exercise and brainpower in children may not seem closely related, but a small new study hints that fitness may supercharge kids’ minds.

The finding doesn’t prove that fitness actually makes children smarter, but it provides support for the idea, the researchers said.

“Our work suggests that aerobically fit and physically fit children have improved brain health and superior cognitive [thinking] skills than their less-fit peers,” said study author Laura Chaddock-Heyman, a postdoctoral researcher with the department of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Hopefully, these findings will reinforce the importance of aerobic fitness during development and lead to additional physical activity opportunities in and out of the school environment.”

The researchers launched their study to gain more insight into the connections between fitness and the brain in children. Other research has connected higher levels of fitness to better attention, memory and academic skills, Chaddock-Heyman said.

And two recent studies found that fit kids are more likely to have better language skills and to do better on standardized tests for math and reading.

But there are still mysteries. While moderate exercise boosts brainpower for a few hours — making it a good idea to work out before a test — it’s not clear how fitness affects the brain in the long term, said Bonita Marks, director of the Exercise Science Teaching Lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “The chronic impact is less certain and, for health, really the key for future research and health management,” she added.

The new study didn’t examine any thinking skills, but instead looked only at the brain’s “white matter,” which helps different brain regions communicate with each other. The researchers scanned the brains of 24 kids aged 9 and 10, and found that white matter was different in the fitter kids, potentially a sign of better-connected brains.

Higher levels of fitness may boost blood flow, increase the size of certain brain areas and improve the structure of white matter, Chaddock-Heyman said.

What do the findings mean in the big picture?

It’s hard to know for sure. Megan Herting, a postdoctoral fellow with the division of research on Children, Youth, and Families at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, pointed out that the kids with lower fitness levels also weighed more, “so it is unclear if it is actually fitness or ‘fatness’ that may be affecting the brain. “Studies show that individuals with obesity have different brains compared to their healthier-weight peers,” she said.

As for the stereotype of the 99-pound weakling nerd, Herting suggested it may be time for a rethink. “These findings do challenge that if you are aerobically fit, you are likely to be dumb. In fact, from an evolutionary perspective, we were made to move. So rather than fitness being ‘good’ for the brain and cognition, it is feasible that being sedentary may be ‘bad.'”

The researchers are now working on a study that assigns some kids to take part in exercise programs to see what happens to their brains over time when compared to other kids, Chaddock-Heyman said.

The study appears in the August issue of the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

More information

For more about fitness, try healthychildren.org.

SOURCES: Laura Chaddock-Heyman, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher, department of psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Bonita Marks, Ph.D., professor, exercise physiology, and director, Exercise Science Teaching Lab, department of exercise and sport science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Megan Herting, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow, division of research on children, youth and families, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles; August 2014 Frontiers in Human Neuroscience

Back To School – Helping Kids Transition

Kidshealth.org

Back to School

Whether their summer was jam-packed with activities or filled with complaints about being bored with nothing to do, kids often have a tough time making the back-to-school transition.

Battling the Butterflies

As with any new or potentially unsettling situation — like starting school for the first time or entering a new grade or new school — allow kids time to adjust. Remind them that everyone feels a little nervous about the first day of school and that it will all become an everyday routine in no time.

Emphasize the positive things about going back to school, such as hanging out with old friends, meeting new classmates, buying cool school supplies, getting involved in sports and other activities, and showing off the new duds (or snazzy accessories if your child has to wear a uniform).

It’s also important to talk to kids about what worries them and offer reassurance: Are they afraid they won’t make new friends or get along with their teachers? Is the thought of schoolwork stressing them out? Are they worried about the bully from last year?

Consider adjusting your own schedule to make the transition smoother. If possible, it’s especially beneficial for parents to be home at the end of the school day for the first week. But many working moms and dads just don’t have that flexibility. Instead, try to arrange your evenings so you can give kids as much time as they need, especially during those first few days.

If your child is starting a new school, contact the school before the first day to arrange a visit. And ask if your child can be paired up with another student, or “buddy,” and if you can be connected with other new parents. This will help both of you with the adjustment to new people and surroundings. Some schools give kids maps to use until things become more familiar.

To help ease back-to-school butterflies, try to transition kids into a consistent school-night routine a few weeks before school starts. Also make sure that they:

  • get enough sleep (establish a reasonable bedtime so that they’ll be well-rested and ready to learn in the morning)
  • eat a healthy breakfast (they’re more alert and do better in school if they eat a good breakfast every day)
  • write down the need-to-know info to help them remember details such as their locker combination, what time classes and lunch start and end, their homeroom and classroom numbers, teachers’ and/or bus drivers’ names, etc.
  • use a wall calendar or personal planner to record when assignments are due, tests will be given, extracurricular practices and rehearsals will be held, etc.
  • have them organize and set out what they need the night before (homework and books should be put in their backpacks by the door and clothes should be laid out in their bedrooms)

Although it’s normal to be anxious in any new situation, a few kids develop real physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches, associated with the start of school. If you’re concerned that your child’s worries go beyond the normal back-to-school jitters, speak with your child’s doctor, teacher, or school counselor.

Back-to-School To-Do’s

Parents themselves can be a little nervous about the first day of school, especially if they’re seeing their little one off for the first time or if their child will be attending a new school.

To help make going to school a little easier on everyone, here’s a handy checklist:

What to wear, bring, and eat:

  • Does the school have a dress code? Are there certain things students can’t wear?
  • Will kids need a change of clothes for PE or art class?
  • Do your kids have a safe backpack that’s lightweight, with two wide, padded shoulder straps, a waist belt, a padded back, and multiple compartments?
  • Do kids know not to overload their backpacks and to stow them safely at home and school?
  • Will your kids buy lunch at school or bring it from home? If they buy a school lunch, how much will it cost per day or per week? Do you have a weekly or monthly menu of what will be served?
  • Have you stocked up on all of the necessary school supplies? (Letting kids pick out a new lunchbox and a set of pens, pencils, binders, etc., helps get them geared up for going back to school.)

Medical issues:

  • Have your kids received all necessary immunizations?
  • Have you filled out any forms that the school has sent home, such as emergency contact and health information forms?
  • Do the school nurse and teachers know about any medical conditions your child may have, particularly food allergies, asthma, diabetes, and any other conditions that may need to be managed during the school day?
  • Have you made arrangements with the school nurse to administer any medications your child might need?
  • Do the teachers know about any conditions that may affect how your child learns? For example, kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) should be seated in the front of the room, and a child with vision problems should sit near the board.

Transportation and safety:

  • Do you know what time school starts and how your kids will get there?
  • If they’re riding the bus, do you know where the bus stop is and what time they’ll be picked up and dropped off?
  • Do you know where the school’s designated drop-off and pick-up area is?
  • Are there any regulations on bicycles or other vehicles, such as scooters?
  • Have you gone over traffic safety information, stressing the importance of crossing at the crosswalk (never between parked cars or in front of the school bus), waiting for the bus to stop before approaching it, and understanding traffic signals and signs?
  • If your child walks or bikes to school, have you mapped out a safe route? Does your child understand that it’s never OK to accept rides, candy, or any other type of invitation from strangers?

What About After School?

Figuring out where kids will go after school can be a challenge, especially if both parents work. Depending on a child’s age and maturity, you may need to arrange for after-school transportation and care.

It’s important for younger kids and preteens to have some sort of supervision from a responsible adult. If you can’t be there as soon as school’s out, ask a reliable, responsible relative, friend, or neighbor to help out. If they’re to be picked up after school, make sure your kids know where to meet you or another caregiver.

Although it might seem like kids who are approaching adolescence are becoming mature enough to start watching themselves after school, even kids as old as 11 or 12 may not be ready to be left alone.

If your kids or teens are home alone in the afternoons, it’s important to establish clear rules:

  • Set a time when they’re expected to arrive home from school.
  • Have them check in with you or a neighbor as soon as they get home.
  • Specify who, if anyone at all, is allowed in your home when you’re not there.
  • Make sure they know to never open the door for strangers.
  • Make sure they know what to do in an emergency.

To ensure that kids are safe and entertained after school, look into after-school programs. Some are run by private businesses, others are organized by the schools themselves, places of worship, police athletic leagues, YMCAs, community and youth centers, and parks and recreation departments.

Getting involved in after-school activities:

  • offers kids a productive alternative to watching TV or playing video games
  • provides some adult supervision when parents can’t be around after school
  • helps develop kids’ interests and talents
  • introduces kids to new people and helps them develop their social skills
  • gives kids a feeling of involvement
  • keeps kids out of trouble

Be sure to look into the child-staff ratio at any after-school program (in other words, make sure that there are enough adults per child) and that the facilities are safe, indoors and out. And kids should know when and who will pick them up when school lets out and when the after-school program ends.

Also, make sure after-school commitments allow kids enough time to complete school assignments. Keep an eye on their schedules to make sure there’s enough time for both schoolwork and home life.

Helping Homework

Love it or hate it, homework is a very important part of school. To help kids get back into the scholastic swing of things:

  • Make sure there’s a quiet place that’s free of distractions to do homework.
  • Don’t let kids watch TV when doing homework or studying. Set rules for when homework and studying need to be done, and when the TV can be turned on and should be turned off. The less TV, the better, especially on school nights.
  • If your kids are involved in social media, be sure to limit the time spent on these activities during homework time.
  • Keep text messaging to a minimum to avoid frequent interruptions.
  • Never do their homework or projects yourself. Instead, make it clear that you’re always available to help or answer any questions.
  • Review homework assignments nightly, not necessarily to check up, but to make sure they understand everything.

Encourage kids to:

  • develop good work habits from the get-go, like taking notes, writing down assignments, and turning in homework on time
  • take their time with schoolwork
  • ask the teacher if they don’t understand something

To ensure kids get the most out of school, maintain an open channel of communication with the teachers by e-mailing or talking with them throughout the school year to discuss your kids’ academic strengths as well as weaknesses.

Most of all, whether it’s the first day of school or the last, make sure your kids know you’re there to listen to their feelings and concerns, and that you don’t expect perfection — only that they try their best.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: August 2013

Study: Learning a musical instrument boosts language, reading skills

PBS

BY SAMANTHA ABRAMOWITZ  August 9, 2014 at 3:23 PM EDT

PBS Video of the article

Learning to sing or play a musical instrument can improve language and reading skills of disadvantaged children, according to a new study released Friday.

Nina Kraus, PhD, a neurobiologist at Northwestern University, found that musical training has an impact in strengthening neural functions as well as a connection with sound and reading of children in impoverished areas.

Her previous research focused on the impact of music lessons on children of the middle or upper class. This study, which is being presented to the American Psychological Association, included hundreds of students in Los Angeles and Chicago public schools with about 50 percent dropout rates.

“Research has shown that there are differences in the brains of children raised in impoverished environments that affect their ability to learn,” Kraus said in a press release from the APA. “While more affluent students do better in school than children from lower income backgrounds, we are finding that musical training can alter the nervous system to create a better learner and help offset this academic gap.”

In the study, half the subjects received regular group music lessons for five or more hours a week, while the other half had no musical training.

According to researchers, the reading skills of children with formal music training remained the same over a year long period, while the other students’ reading scores declined.

Another group of students, part of the Harmony Project, a music program for inner city kids, took part in band or choir practice every day after schools.

After two years, researchers found that students with musical training were faster and more precise in hearing speech in background noise, which Kraus connects to students having the ability to concentrate on a teacher’s voice in a noisy classroom.

Children in both groups had comparable IQs and reading ability at the start of the study.

Kraus conducted the study with Margaret Martin, founder of The Harmony Project, who was featured on the PBS NewsHour earlier this year talking about the benefits of musical training on young brains. 

“We’re spending millions of dollars on drugs to help kids focus and here we have a non-pharmacologic intervention that thousands of disadvantaged kids devote themselves to in their non-school hours — that works,” Martin said.