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.