This article shows clearly why and when listening to music interferes with learning, particularly reading.
“For instance, in this study, adults who read in silence scored more than 20% higher on a quiz about that reading passage than others who listened to music with lyrics.”
I generally don’t allow students to listen to music while reading; my explanation has been that the music will interfere with their ability to discern the musicality of language, which I want them to become adept at hearing. (That explanation may be completely bunk, but I’m sticking with it for now. I’ll also tell them about the above research information.)
Sometimes I play music in the classroom during project work time; it seems to create a calming effect and serves to even out the auditory spikes that inevitably happen when one group is animatedly discussing a point.
If I play music in the classroom during project work time here’s what I’ll do:
• Choose long-playing songs (the break between songs and the introduction of a new song breaks our line of thought)
• No lyrics –“An irrelevant auditory signal may impair sublexical processing of low-frequency words during first-pass reading.” That means that if my students are working on a poetry chapbook project, and they’re trying to decide between two poems, they will likely be less adept at understanding strange words if I have lyrics playing in the background.