Stories and other associations can be such a help when you are trying to learn or remember something. On an outdoor adventure programme I was watching on TV a guy was tying a knot in a rope, and as he was doing it he was saying, “the rabbit comes out of the hole, runs round the tree, and goes back in the hole”. I was intrigued, so I looked it up and found two different ways of learning how to tie this knot, called a ‘bowline’, a knot which is used to form a fixed loop at the end of a rope.
One way went like this: Tie a bowline by forming a loop in the standing part of the line. Pass the end up through the eye of the loop, around the back of the standing part and then down through the eye again.
Even though these instructions are straightforward, I did have to study them a bit to understand them, and I knew that if I tried to tie a bowline later I’d struggle to remember how to do it.
Then I looked for instructions that had the rabbit story, and I found this:
After I read these instructions, I went looking for a piece of string because I really wanted to tie that knot! Now that I had the rabbit in my mind, it was fun to tie the knot, and it was easy. I could tie it again and again without looking at the instructions – all I had to do was think of the rabbit.
Why is this way of teaching so effective? First of all it’s fun, which is motivating – that’s what got me hunting for the string. Secondly, it’s engaging. It captures your attention easily, and you are led through the thought process without having to try to understand it.
Thirdly, it uses an association, which gives you a handle on the information so you can keep it in your memory. When you tie the knot, all you have to remember is to make the tree and the hole, and then get the rabbit moving! This is such a powerful way to learn and remember things, as the association allows you to keep the instructions in your mind until you master them. Then, after tying the knot a number of times, you’d be able to do it without thinking about the rabbit any more. It was interesting, though, that the guy on the programme still talked about the rabbit as he was tying the knot, even though he’s probably tied a bowline thousands of times. We often have an affection for associations that have helped us to learn – we just like them.
Easy Notes uses this approach in teaching the notes on the piano and the stave to beginners. Just like the rabbit helped me to tie the bowline, stories and characters can make it fun and easy for kids to learn and remember the notes.
And speaking of rabbits, this year, as I’ve been using Easy Notes with my beginner students, I’ve been changing one of the characters, Boot B, to Bunny B. The story goes that there is a gate with three posts down on ‘Bass Stave Farm’, just below the dog’s kennel (which they learn about in Easy Notes). Field F is growing under the gate and Bunny B is hopping over it.
On the stave,Field F grows below the bottom line of Bass Stave Farm, and Bunny B is on the second line because of his two big ears. When you see a note on the second line, think of Bunny B with two ears – ‘two lines, two ears’. And where is that Bunny on the piano? Hopping over the gate, with Field F growing under it. Easy! Now the notes on the stave and the notes on the piano are linked.
This change has been working really well with the kids – it’s a strong character association, and they all really like Bunny B. So I’ve decided to incorporate it into Easy Notes when it’s time to reprint the books – watch out for Bunny B hopping over the gate in the 2nd edition!
One five-year old student I started teaching this year very politely corrects me when I say Boot B by mistake – she’d much prefer Bunny B! She now has a big pile of 18 note flashcards that she can name and play on the piano. I can’t help saying to her, “Wow, you’re only five and look at all the notes that you know!” It still amazes me how these five-year olds can learn so many notes and read and play the music in their piano books so easily – thanks to Bunny B (and the other characters).
Here she is in a video I took recently. Her name is Hannie, and she has been learning for six months.
As stated by Sprenger, “Everyone can learn under the right circumstances. Learning is fun! Make it appealing.”1 Sometimes a simple story, like a rabbit running around a tree or hopping over a gate, can create the right ‘circumstances’ for real learning to take place. It’s great how a story can turn something that’s difficult to learn into something that’s not only easy to learn, but fun as well. Creating learning ‘circumstances’ like this when we teach can open up the potential of our students’ minds to take so much more in, understand so much more, and retain it all while they build it into their long term memories, where it stays for life – securely attached like a well-tied bowline!
(The character magnets and magnetic stave come with the Wilbecks Easy Notes – Magnetic Stave Whiteboard and Character set. The gate will be available in the 2nd edition of the Easy Notes theory books.)
1Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learning_styles, Marilee Sprenger in Differentiation through Learning Styles and Memory