Learning Through Music Practical Suggestions for the Elementary Teacher

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					Learning Through Music; Practical Suggestions for the Elementary Teacher

Music has been a testimony to the journey of my life at any particular
moment. I fondly remember the songs my mom sang to me when I was ill as a
young child or the catchy tunes my teacher sang with us as we learned our
multiplication facts and our states and capitals. Of course I could never
forget learning my ABC’s to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. I
remember with crystal clear clarity the song that played on the radio
when Derek Cave finally gave me my most anticipated first kiss, and the
lyrics of the tune in the background when my future husband awkwardly
asked me out for the first time. These songs are my mental scrapbook that
allows me to remember and relive my special moments and memories.
Chris Brewer, author of Music and Learning asks, “How is it that for most
people music is such a powerful part of their personal life and yet when
we go to work or school we turn it off?” The use of music in the
classroom can create an atmosphere of learning that enhances our teaching
and learning activities. Not only with music are kids learning and
processing their thinking more effectively, but is it engaging and just
plain ole’ fun!
As an educator myself, I have experienced the power of learning with
music first hand. One year as my third graders attended to the
memorization of multiplication facts, they were without focus and
extremely unsuccessful. Although I offered my students authentic
application and hands-on experiences, the retention of facts were very
difficult for them. On a whim I decided to sing the factors of 8 to the
catchy tune of She’ll be Coming ‘Round the Mountain. At first, they
admittedly were wide eyed and curious as to why their teacher used the
floor of the classroom as somewhat of an American Idol stage, but they
had become accustomed to my quirks and just started running with it.
Eventually we found ourselves dancing and marching to the beat while
singing the factors of eight with delight and zeal. Of course the teacher
in me wanted to quickly assess this impromptu lesson. With delight they
were eager to succumb to my wishes and pulled out their math journal and
numbered to twenty without the usual groans and moans that a timed test
would produce. As I randomly called out numbers, I noticed the students
singing, although quietly, the tune and recalling their facts quickly and
correctly. They were enthralled at their success that day, and asked me
to put other multiplication factors to music. As my brain whirled with
the possibilities I decided to challenge them to their own tunes to share
with their peers. I was very pleased with the range of songs and raps my
students created to remember their facts with ease. They became the
teachers of my room of students as I facilitated their learning at a much
deeper level than the boring “drill and kill” techniques of yore.
Reflecting upon my own experiences and those of my fellow colleagues, I
have devised a list of possibilities other teachers could try in their
own classroom to make learning novel, engaging, meaningful, and fun.
Music as Transition/Classroom Management – In tradition of the “clean up”
song in pre-school, music can signal students to attend to a task in a
specific time frame. With Yakity Yak Don’t Talk Back, students are
enthusiastic while they “pick up the papers and the trash” before
transitioning to the next subject or leaving for the day. Using age
appropriate songs, students of all ages can listen to musical cues to
follow procedures in much the same way.
Music to Calm and Attend– Music can soothe, stimulate, or excite the
students in your classroom to attend to learning. Soft background
instrumentals can calm students as they enter the learning environment
after recess or as they come excited for the morning routine. Using Good
Day Sunshine by the Beatles, for instance, could energize and motivate
students who are lagging and need an extra “oomph” to start their day.
Music to Build Community – Songs can create a since of cohesiveness and
cooperation through a shared love of music. Brooke Cherry, a third grade
teacher, challenged her students to nominate and vote on a theme song for
their class. They overwhelmingly chose We are the Champions to help
motivate and encourage each other during their first experience with the
state assessment and the rigorous curriculum they felt they would
experience that year. She used their song to enhance her writing
curriculum as her students wrote about, defined, and described qualities
of a champion. As they shared these personal perspectives with each
other, they devised a class pledge to remind them to strive toward their
shared set of goals.
Music to Enhance Creativity- Music unlocks a plethora of creativity and
inspiration to students. For example, Betty Smith, a first grade teacher,
uses the song What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong to arouse her
first graders to think how they would imagine a “wonderful world.” Each
of her students was given lines of the song to mentally visualize and
then illustrate its beautiful theme through art. Fellow teachers, parents
and colleagues were impressed with the complexity of their thinking as
they show-cased their creativity and their interpretation of the song’s
message. She even used different versions of the song to demonstrate how
different artists could produce a different image and meaning to the
lyrics simply by using different rhythms and vocal styles. With the depth
of thinking in this activity, Mrs. Smith reached every level of Bloom's
Taxonomy. Powerful indeed!

Music to Support ESL Learners- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said,
“Music is the universal language of mankind.” Using music bridges the
culture gap in the classroom. Regardless of race, religion, or language
all enjoy and can relate through music. Holly Zalenski, an ESL teacher,
used Christmas Carols of different regions to introduce vocabulary and
American culture. Using the Christmas carols also enhanced her reading
instruction as the students searched for the main idea, or “the gist” as
she called it, of the song’s printed lyrics. Students repeatedly used the
printed lyrics to allow students the time to work on reading fluency
effectively. Ms. Zalenski confirmed, “Music was our common thread when
the spoken word often becomes lost in translation.”
The Chinese philosopher Confucious was reported to have said, "Music
produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without." One
can not deny the power of music. Creating a mental, musical scrapbook for
your students creates memories and life lessons that students will likely
remember for a lifetime.

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