Opinion
Education Opinion

Music Magic

By Hanne Denney — November 25, 2006 3 min read

I received tremendous response to my last posting about using manipulatives in secondary English and Social Studies classes. The posting was really about teacher fatigue, and trying out new ideas. Or maybe it was about burn-out, for both teachers and students, and how to combat it. I know this is a theme running throughout the professional lives of many teachers. We work really hard and sometimes feel burned-out and fatigued. But when we find new ideas or learn something new, we get back up and try again.

I received many emails requesting my booklet, and I am happy to share my ideas with my colleagues. Both experienced and new teachers shared their ideas with me. What a professional community we have! From California to Texas, Connecticut to Florida, and Australia to Mexico, responses have flown into my e-mailbox. I’ve enjoyed hearing from all of you, and hope this exchange continues. If you didn’t request my notes on using manipulatives before, you can by email to hdenney@aacps.org

So I’ve been thinking about another idea, prompted by reader comments. One teacher suggested that music could be an educational manipulative because it’s tangible and involves the senses. I agree. I have often used music in my lesson plans for both social studies and English classes. I’ve also used music as a classroom management tool. I have a portable CD player, which I often lend to other teachers. I’m thinking of purchasing new music electronics. Wonder if I can get a grant for that? Here are some specific ideas on using music in the classroom:

Music for Management – Classical music does focus the mind and stimulate creativity. How do I know? Because I’ve seen it in my room. I often play classical music as students enter the room. It sets a certain tone. Classical guitar music is excellent for testing situations. Students hear it, but don’t notice it much. It helps to isolate them by helping them focus on what’s in front of them. Testing is smoother (less distractions, inappropriate conversations, student movement) when I use this type of music. Gregorian Chant is great for quieting a room – but play it too long and students go to sleep. I used it during nap time with my preschool children! Lively, exciting music is great to wake students up, or to signal a transition from one activity to another.

Music for Instruction - I also use music in history lessons. You can’t teach the Harlem Renaissance (Caged Bird) without jazz, or World War I (nationalism) without Wagner. Justine Philyaw wrote that she uses music and art with her students because “creating a context for students builds motivation as well as strengthens understanding.” When I teach Gandhi, we listen to Indian music while contemplating important quotations. For world exploration, YoYo Ma’s Silk Road Project is perfect. Music in English class reinforces ideas about language. During Beowulf I found some early Celtic music and now I’m playing English Renaissance music for Canterbury Tales. This year we played Carrie Underwood in English 9 to introduce a discussion of revenge, and Johnny Cash for themes of personal journeys. I’ve invited a very creative student to create a soundtrack for her life for a project on autobiographies – her learning style is not word-based. I’ve used musical instruments as transition tools, or for cultural experience, or for teaching the importance of teamwork. When I incorporate music into my lesson it always gives me “bonus points” on my observations. Sometimes students say “Oh no, Mrs. Denney has music again!” But they always listen, because they’re curious. And curiosity is the first step towards learning.

Music for Pleasure – sometimes music is just for enjoyment. During independent work time I’ve played Disney themes, blues, and contemporary music just because it sounds good. Students are invited to contribute music to listen to. But I’m careful about what I play. I have a 40-minute ride each way to school – so I have car time to review a CD lent by a student before using it in class. That also builds a relationship between the student and myself. I also scout the public library’s collection for new material.

I may be older, but I like lots of music, and students appreciate that I am curious, too. I am still learning. Learning keeps me from burning out! Gets me up with excitement for the day ahead.

The opinions expressed in Ready or Not are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.