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Why do students with learning disabilities excel in opera?

05/31/2013 12:24 EDT | Updated 07/31/2013 05:12 EDT
Researchers at UBC are studying why learning-disabled students in the university's demanding opera program excel.

The study Libretti of Learning followed a group of eight students over two years to examine opera's effects.

Nancy Hermiston, study co-author and opera chair at UBC, says the art helped gifted students living with attention deficit disorder and dyslexia concentrate.

"Many of these gifted learning-disabled students, they tend to excel on the stage because they work best when they really have something that makes them concentrate, and really makes them focus," she said.

“When you're singing, you're acting, you may be dancing as well, you have to follow a conductor, you have to make it all look easy — all of this multi-tasking demands that kind of concentration."

Study co-author and education professor Marion Porath says students with learning challenges can benefit from complex learning that requires full concentration.

By figuring out why opera helps learning-disabled students, the researchers hope to help improve education for learning-disabled students in any field.

“It is possible to have a learning disability and be immensely gifted,” Porath said.

“Our early findings suggest that students’ passion carries them through many of the challenges they face and gives them the drive and determination to succeed. But they also need to be understood and supported in areas where they’re challenged.”

Hermaston says more studies are needed to find out how the brain reacts to opera.

"And if it is a neurological change or some kind of change that we can find to help them at a very early age then this would be great,” she said. “It's also fun for the kids being in a show.”

The study will be presented at Congress, a national gathering of 7,000 researchers, which starts June 1 in Victoria.

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