What’s the first thing you do when you come home at the end of the day?
Turn on the TV? Take a shower? Pet the cat? Untangle your children from a roll of duct tape?
Many people put music on. It sets the tone, creates a certain kind of space: relaxing or energized, comforting or upbeat.
Each class period is a “space.” One class is fun, one is silly, one is energized, one is noisy. Sometimes this is due to the lesson plan, sometimes it’s related to what the students bring into the room. Students can bring an exhausted mood into a room or a chattery, distracted mood. They can bring frustration from whatever happened the block before, or anxiety. The mood students bring into the room can support student learning, or it can undermine it.
I use music to set the tone in the room. I use upbeat (but not frenetic) music — picking tracks that many students might not know but which they may enjoy.
Students know that when the music is playing, it’s not a good time to come ask me questions or distract me with questions about my weekend. All this must wait until “housekeeping.” While the music is playing, it’s time for students to find their seats, to look at the lesson plan (posted online or on the board), to see who their work partner will be, and to begin working on First Thing Work.
While the music plays, I take attendance, prepare my notes, check in with students with emergencies, and so on.
When it’s time for quiet, I begin counting down from ten and drop the music. When I hit zero, the music is silent…and so are the students. No shushing, no noise.
The mood is positive, and if I choose good music, the classroom feels like a great place to be.
- Have a playlist ready on your iPod or laptop, so if a song ends, another, appropriate song will begin, and so you don’t have to think about what to play.
- Avoid ultrapopular (or worse, waning-in-popularity) music that might provoke a distracting reaction.
Consider playing quiet music during quiet work or partner-work time. I find that some classrooms enjoy mellow jazz or classical music in the background. It’s not necessarily distracting, as long as it’s quiet, and in some cases, it actually helps maintain focus, especially if, for example, two students are working together out loud while others work silently; the music will help the quiet workers not to be distracted by the students working aloud.
- When you finish class, consider playing music as the students leave! Why not send them on their way with something upbeat?
- Invest in a 25 dollar micro-speaker which lives in your briefcase, backpack, etc. When you walk into class, turn it on, plug it into your iPod, hit play, and the beat is on! (I suggest a “Curve” by Cambridge Sound Works, an X Mini ii, or an iHome mini speaker.(The former is a little pricier and sounds better, but is a bit bigger. The latter two are cheaper and smaller and, for me, plenty loud for their purpose.
- Once in a while, I like to slip a song onto the mix that I know a certain student likes (I look at what T-shirts the students wear or which concerts they talk about). This gives you a chance to bond over music; what better way to build rapport? But don’t fake it. Students know when you’re being phony.
- Sometimes, the student will make a positive comment about your choice of song. After class, ask the student for more suggestions, ask about the concert, or, if you are already a fan, yourself, start a conversation on music. Many of these informal chats have built rapport with a student who I previously had trouble connecting with.
Where to Begin? Music/Musician/Genre Suggestions:
- Anything by Dave Brubeck (Jazz) or Modern Jazz Quartet
- Pandora stations: Rocksteady, Salsa, Frank Sinatra
- Graceland – by Paul Simon
- Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
- Andrew Bird
- Sufjan Stevens
- Thomas Mapfumo (If you haven’t listened to him, do it now. Seriously.)
- The Shins
- Vampire Weekend
Just is just for starters. If you find a “magic album,” comment below and tell us about it!