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Cognitive Learning Theories in Practice!

  • Jan 19, 2011
  • Dianna Babcock & Cheryl Henningsgaard

The learning linkage between movement, music and literacy is rooted in the cognitive learning theories of Piaget, Maslow, and Vygotsky.

How does movement and music provide avenues for literacy?

Based on Piaget’s cognitive learning theory, young children learn new concepts through previously learned “schemes.” For example, one of the first melodies many young children learn in our culture is the melody and song, “Twinkle, Twinkle.” The melody is the “scheme.” The melody is familiar to the child. New words to this “schematic melody” are added and the child is learning their alphabet and later a Nursery Rhyme. The same melody is used for three different songs-“Twinkle,” “ABC” and “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.”\

Movement paired with music and verbal cues teaches so many different literacy concepts. The music can tell a story (Peter and the Wolf, Nutcracker), and is narrative. Programmatic music (Peer Gynt by Edvard Grieg, The Four Seasons by Vivaldi, Le Mer and Claire De Lune by Claude Debussy, Sorcerer’s Apprentice) tells a story without words, but through the melody, dance (movement) and rhythm structure. Music and movement can reinforce directionality and impulse control such as by “stopping and starting to music.” Dance form has specific structures which are literacy based (slide, twirl, gallop, march), or based on mathematical patterns (ABA form).

Maslow’s theory is rooted in the foundations of emotional security before new learning can take place. The young child must feel safe. Music provides the framework for emotional security. It was E. Thayer Gaston who wrote in the ground-breaking classic Music in Therapy “Music is derived from tender emotions.” It has been documented that lullabies are a cross cultural phenomena. The lullaby -- the music, the words, melody, and the movement or “Rocking the Baby” are integral parts of the complete experience for the youngest of children.

Vygotsky’s sociocultural learning theory is based on the learning experience that occurs from the structure and interplay of a specific social setting. The social experience is the “scheme” or as Vygotsky describes it as the “zone of proximal development.” Music and movement are the scaffolding agents, or the steps that are taken for learning to occur. Used together, they build a natural staircase for literacy learning.

Cognitive learning theories can assist us in curriculum that is relevant and meaningful to young children. Based on the cognitive learning theories of Piaget, Maslow, and Vygotsky, MUSIC and MOVEMENT build powerful learning linkages to literacy.

©MacPhail Center for Music, 2011

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