Research School Network: Memory for Learning: What teachers can learn from one student’s ability to remember a record breaking rap track

Memory for Learning: What teachers can learn from one student’s ability to remember a record breaking rap track

Author: Lorwyn Randall

Luke is a Year 11 student who, with little more than the prompt of a kick drum and snare, can remember all 1,560 words of Eminem’s record breaking2013 track Rap God’. Quite a feat. But perhaps even more impressive is that he can recite every lyric in 6 mins and 4 seconds at an average of 4.28 words a second. Is this down to Luke’s Learning Style? Growing evidence would suggests not. What is of interest however, particularly to those of us preparing students for the new content-heavy 1 – 9 GCSEs, is what this might reveal about memory.

The neuroscience in this area has grown immensely since the view that memory is something that is a) located in a specific area of the brain and b) something we have a fixed or even innate capacity for. Experts have shown that memory is the result of a network of neuronal communications that develops as a result of the transference of information between our working memory and our long term memory. So for our Year 11 Eminem fan, Luke, every time he hears the words to Rap God spewing at pace from his favourite rapper’s mouth, he employs his working memory in order to rap along. But what allows for this learning to become so embedded? Research suggests that spaced practice is one of the key factors in memorising information. Luke is revisiting the information, in this case the lyrics, as short sessions over long period of time. The retrieval process is also helping him to self-test. Every time that he sits down to engage with the material he is creating a sense of desirable difficulty for himself – 4.28 words per second! Another interesting link between Rap God and the way that we as teachers can look to present information in a memorable format to young people is through the mix of abstract concepts and concrete examples. Eminem’s lyrics are far from the most palatable (I wouldn’t even suggest looking them up!), but his ability to describe ideas and thenlink them with examples, often through metaphor, translates into highly rich and memorable information.

It’s no secret that students will invest time and effort into something they see as having cultural capital. In this instance a knowledge of the latest offering from the controversial rapper Eminem probably holds more cultural capital for a number of students than learning the periodic table – at age 15 at least! It’s probably also true to say that the sound of the music itself also aids learning. This FMRI scan from Harvard shows how cognitive activity increases as the brain anticipates the next movement in a piece of music. However, in addition to suggesting they play some Mozart (not Eminem!) during their revision, it is certainly worth exploring some of the approaches employed by young people when they commit lyrics to memory and looking to harness these as they prepare for their summer exams. They may not be able to recite an essay at 4.28 words per second, but if we are to get them anywhere close to the amount of knowledge retrieval required for the new curriculum then the research around memory for learning is a good place to start.

Want to go deeper? Check out the EEF’s meta-analysis of Neuroscience and Education’ for an excellent review of pedagogies informed by our current understanding of how the brain builds and retains memories.

More from the Kingsbridge Research School

Show all news

This website collects a number of cookies from its users for improving your overall experience of the site.Read more