If the classroom’s a rockin’, don’t bother knockin’! Just come on in

I love playing music during class. I use music in a variety of ways in my lesson planning.

I love playing music during class. I use music in a variety of ways in my lesson planning.

Timing

Like a lot of teachers, I have a warm-up question and a learning target on the board for my students to copy and answer as soon as the bell rings.  The Learning Target lets my kids know what we are going to do today, and let them know what skills or knowledge they are going to have once they leave at the end of the day.  I used to have a count-down timer ticking down, to let them know how long they have to complete the warm up.  Three years ago, I switched to playing a song as the timer.

I usually play something that my kids will recognize and enjoy.  Sometimes it is some current pop hit or a country hit, currently on the radio.  Other times, it’s a Motown or 80’s hit that my kids parents or perhaps a movie might have exposed them too.  I always get a laugh when my kids in 2014 start jamming and singing along to “My Girl.”

Using music to time the warm-up activity not only let’s my kids know how long they have to complete the task, it’s proven to be a great way to get their energy up and ready for some learning.

Similarly, at the end of the period each day, we play the cleanup song. When I was in elementary school, whether we were at the spiral-graph or the play-doh, when we heard Blue Swede start singing about being “Hooked on a Feeling,” we knew, it was time to clean up.  That holds true for my classes today.  I like a clean and orderly room before I let my children go, so about 3 minutes before the bell rings for dismissal, I play the cleanup song.  As soon they hear, “Ooga-Chaka Ooga-Ooga, Ooga-Chaka Ooga-Ooga,” my students start packing up their computers and looking on the floor to pick up any stray paper.

Background noise

I know that some of my colleagues like a silent classroom, but not me.  I start off my school year playing games with my students, giving them lots of time to talk to one another and to me, simply states, building relationships.

I think that learning involved reading, writing, thinking, and talking.  That’s why my kids are organized into table-teams for their essay projects.  As my kids read the primary sources about Roanoke, or the trial of Captain Thomas Preston they need to talk to each other and figure out together what these documents are saying and how they might be able to use the documents as evidence in their essays.  My students are far smarter together than any one of them is alone.

While they work and talk, I like to play some background music..  Like the Journal of Consumer Affairs found in a series of scientific studies, I’ve found, anecdotally, that a low level of background noise is beneficial to my students’ productivity and learning.

Typically, I play classical for my classes while they work.  According to Dr. Emma Gray, classical “Music in this range (60-70 beats per minute) induces a state of relaxation where the mind is calm but alert, the imagination is stimulated and concentration is heightened (similar to a meditative state). And this is thought to be the best for learning.’”  She going on in the article to suggest that even modern pop music can help young minds learn and remember information.

For me, however, I skip modern pop while my kids are working.  I’ve found that any music with lyrics can become a distraction.  While it’s cute to see them sing along during the warm-up when the activity isn’t very important, it’s less so for me when they are reading and talking about the complex documents I require them to read.  EMed Expert supports my position on this, saying, “For learning or memory performance, it’s important that music doesn’t have a vocal component; otherwise you’re more likely to remember the words of the background song than what you’re supposed to be recalling.”

Bonus

Aside from the learning benefit, music does indeed “soothe the savage beast,” or, in my anecdotal experience, the not-so-savage teen.  Numerous studies support what we’ve know for a long time: calm music calms.  I find that it works for me as much as it work for them.

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