An investigation of the effects of music on two emotionally disturbed students’ writing motivations and writing skills.

Kariuki, P. & Honeycutt, C. (1998). An investigation of the effects of music on two emotionally disturbed students’ writing motivations and writing skills. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Mid-South Research Association, New Orleans, LA, November 4-6, 1998.1

Abstract:

Researchers conducted a case study of two fourth-grade boys in a special education class of students classified as “emotionally disturbed” to determine whether music listening could motivate these boys to improve in writing. Both students improved their writing skill by two letter grades when listening to music. Students wrote more words when listening to music. Students also felt more positive about writing when listening to music, and observations suggested they were more focused when writing to music than when writing without music. Students reported that the music made the writing exciting and helped them stay focused.

Key Findings:

Both students improved their writing skill by two letter grades when listening to music. Unfortunately, however, the grades were not broken down by creativity vs. technical skill. Students wrote more words when listening to music. For instance, one student increased his word count from five to 40; the other increased his count from nine to 92. Students also felt more positive about writing when listening to music, and observations suggested they were more focused when writing to music than when writing without music. Students reported that the music made the writing exciting and helped them stay focused.

Significance of the Findings:

This study employed a design valuable for the study of effects of music listening in the context of language arts activities. It is of value to see that music listening heightened by various activities can contribute to the quantity and quality of the written work of students classified as emotionally disturbed. The use of music listening as an effective tool for improving children’s attitude toward writing suggests that music may allow children to focus on tasks rather than serve as a distraction to the writing process itself.

Methodology:

Researchers conducted a case study of two fourth-grade boys in a special education class of students classified as emotionally disturbed to determine whether music listening could motivate these boys to improve in writing. The study consisted of four time periods, each lasting about four weeks. In the first and third periods, the boys completed weekly writing assignments without listening to music. During the second and fourth periods, students completed weekly writing assignments while listening to music (through headphones) in a wide range of styles. The writing assignments in the music sessions were related to the type of music heard. Researchers scored the writing for technical skills, creativity, and volume. Researchers also observed the students while writing and interviewed them about their reactions to the assignments. Students completed a questionnaire about their attitude about each assignment.

Limitations of the Research:

It is not clear who scored the students’ writing, nor if the scorers knew whether the writing they were scoring was carried out with or without music. Moreover, when writing to music, students were asked to write in reaction to the music, but when writing in silence, students had no outside stimulus to react to. It is possible that the improved writing during music listening was due to having a stimulus to react to, rather than due to music. This report is missing additional important details that would help readers understand its significance. For example, we do not know what the qualitative differences look like in the writing samples. Nor do we know what was taken as evidence of the “more creative” writing.

Questions to Guide New Research:

What are the interconnections among music, writing, and such constructs as motivation and self-efficacy?

How might this research be replicated with larger samples and the use of controlled methods?

1The text of this summary is adapted from the Arts Education Partnership’s 2002 research compendium: Deasy, R. J. (Ed.). (2002). Critical links: Learning in the arts and student academic and social development. Washington, DC: Arts Education Partnership.