Thursday, September 05, 2013

Music and Writing

It occurred to me while I was reading a stack of essays written by students I didn't know (as part of a course assessment) that there are a great number of students who don't "listen" to the sound of what they write. They let subject-verb agreement mistakes fall where they may, and they jump from subject to subject without much consideration for the sentences that might happen to share a paragraph (and that's when they bother to try to write in paragraphs at all).

My overtaxed and distracted mind began to travel back to when our children were young and first learning about language. They sang all the time. They sang the songs they heard on the television and on their records and tapes. They made up songs. Their friends did too. Singing helps kids to make sense out of the language that is all around them. Kids do it joyfully and willingly.

It seems that everyone sings in the early grades of elementary school, whether they are "interested" in music or not, but by the time kids get to middle school, singing is pretty much reserved for the people who choose to do it. Music class can be many things, and often it's not singing. The kids that didn't sing in middle school continue not to sing in high school. They certainly listen to music (and many understand the cultural significance of one "kind" of music or another), and some young people might even sing along with recordings, but that is an activity that a person (or a teenager) can do with half a mind. Writing well and singing songs by yourself or with friends are both activities that require lots of attention.

I wonder if the kids who continued to sing through middle school and high school are better writers in early adulthood than the kids who stopped singing? I wonder if anyone has attempted to do some kind of a study about this. I wonder if there might be a musical answer that would put an end to the low quality we see in college student writing?

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