In the background of my mind I hear the radio playing, In the jungle, the mighty jungle/The lion sleeps tonight. Squealing to a halt, a yellow bus opens its doors, allowing students to tumble out after a long day at school. Rays of sunlight shine down upon the children as they laugh with one another. For me, the music produces a vivid image of Indian summer in Minnesota. Memories of the innocence of childhood locked in the attic of my mind are ready to escape and be written down and shared.
You’re a firework/Come on, show ‘em what you’re worth. Katy Perry’s lyrics float through the air as I hum along thinking about my 5th grade students. Words set to music stimulate my creativity and drive me to prepare engaging lessons that encourage my students to aim high. If music can do that and also release long-buried moments from my youth, inspiring me to write them on paper, I believe it may motivate my students to write more meaningful personal narratives.
Unfortunately, the idea of music playing in the classroom is not supported by all teachers. Because some educators are distracted by “noise " as they work, they believe their students will suffer the same difficulty. But when using music as a prewriting strategy, you may only need to play it for a few minutes while students scribble ideas into their writing notebooks. Regrettably, some educators do not see the potential benefits of this approach on their student’s writing.
Neuroscientist Mark Jude Tramo from the Harvard Medical School, however, affirms, “Music is in the genes.” Scientists like Tramo have discovered that babies as young as 4 months wriggle and turn away when they hear discordant music, while harmonious notes cause them to smile and coo. Research at the University of California, Davis, concluded that the region of the brain where memories of our past are supported and retrieved also serves as a hub that links familiar music, memories, and emotion. Petr Janata, associate professor of psychology, who headed the investigation, claims this might be why music can create intense reactions from people with Alzheimer’s disease. “What seems to happen is that a piece of familiar music serves as a soundtrack for a mental movie that starts playing in our head. It calls back memories of a particular person or place, and you might all of a sudden see that person’s face in your mind’s eye,” Janata writes.
As a teacher, the implication is clear: Using a wide variety of music constructively in my classroom may help students generate ideas for writing.
Beginning with well-known children’s songs such as “Old MacDonald,” I plan to conduct a classroom sing-along this year. Using chart paper, I’ll elicit responses about what the song brings to mind and record these ideas, showing how one song can remind each of us of different events. Then, I’ll ask my students for examples of other common kids’ songs. Together, we will choose a song, sing it together, and then write our thoughts and ideas in our Writer’s Notebook. Finally, I’ll give students time to share their ideas.
In addition to children’s music and the classical music I currently utilize in my classroom, I plan to incorporate popular music as well. Certainly this will require a modicum of effort on my part since song lyrics often tread a slippery slope where appropriate language is concerned. Fortunately, computer technology makes this endeavor less painful. Resources like Kidz Bop CDs or School Tube, with music parodies such as “Too Late to Apologize,” which teaches the Declaration of Independence, are generally elementary school friendly. (Of course, teachers should preview videos and research the lyrics before playing songs anyway.) Because the music is relevant to the students, they may be able to retrieve memories with less effort.
I believe students should be given the opportunity to try on different strategies as they search for writing inspiration. Music is only one such strategy, but certainly worth adding to each student’s tool bag. Students often complain, “I can’t think of anything to write about.” Perhaps listening to a few bars of apt music, such as Selena Gomez’s Who says? Who says you’re not perfect?, will help them unleash some ideas and overcome their writer’s block.