I love music. I belt out my favorite tunes in the car, I sing in the shower, and I hum when I'm nervous (or concentrating!) So, why not in the classroom? Today, I want to talk about how I use music in my classroom to help increase my student's ability to focus.
In my first year of teaching, I was desperately searching for ways to cut down the chatter in my classroom and increase their ability to focus on the work in front of them. It was one of my biggest hurdles. I tried a class behavior plan, but I felt that I was publicly shaming kids into being quiet. (I'm not saying that all class behavior plans do this, but the few that I tried that first year felt that way.)
I also tried class rewards for working quietly. I tried stickers, tolken systems, and student coupons, but they all left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Why should students be rewarded for EXPECTED behavior? It just wasn't for me. I had to keep thinking!
In the dead of winter that first year, we had quite a few days in a row of indoor recess. (Winter's in New England can be pretty brutal!) I decided to let my students play some quiet games at their tables, and I thought I'd put on a little music. I used my classroom computer and quickly searched for a calming classical piece. I had been a serious pianist since I was five, so I had a few in my head that came to mind. I chose Bach's Suite for Solo Cello: Prelude. I found it on YouTube, and played it on loop for the entire block. I was SHOCKED by how quietly my students were playing together. That was the first time I played music in my classroom, and I haven't stopped since.
Over the years, I have upgraded my stereo and put together a variety of different playlists for my classroom. I will be honest… there were a few times when I played a song, and then realized a lyric or two that would probably have been better left out of the classroom. Picking a playlist is diligent work, especially when you have to account for lyrics, volume, tone, tempo and other things that can affect the mood you are trying to create in your classroom.
Here are some quick tips to picking songs for your classroom:
- Make sure it is on the quiet side- ALL OF IT (a lot of songs fool you by starting off quiet, but then you are left with a loud clatter that can be very distracting for your students. Always listen to the whole song first!)
- Check the lyrics- Don't only watch out for specific words, but also listen for phrases that you don't want your kids going home and singing. For example, F.U.N.'s We Are Young contains the lyrics, "my friends are in the bathroom getting higher than the Empire State." I love that song, but I don't want my students singing that to their folks at home!
- Pick a slow tempo- It has been my experience that the slower the tempo, the calmer the class.
- Give a mix- Make sure that you give a mix of artists genres to engage all of your kiddos. It also helps keep the kids on their toes as they listen.
- Have different playlists for different times of your day! It helps you control the volume of your students, and it provides consistency for them. (for more info, see below)
After a few years of trying to perfect this system, I have created 3 main playlists that I use in my classroom: Classical, Wordless and Pop/Rock. I like to use them depending on the task that I am asking my students to complete.
For more quiet times during the day (Writer's Workshop, Journal Writing…etc.) I typically use my Pop/Rock playlist. I find that it motivates students, and they write as their heads bob up and down to their favorite songs. I also think that they appreciate how the lyrics fill the silence while they are expected to work quietly. Here are some of my favorite songs from my Pop & Rock playlist:
During more collaborative learning periods of our day (literacy centers, math centers, science observations…etc.) my go-to tunes are found on my Wordless playlist. These songs still have a bit of funk to them that my students enjoy, but there aren't words to distract them. It also means that these songs can be played at a lower volume because they don't have to be able to make out the lyrics. I find that if you put the music on low, their volume lowers so they can hear the music better. It's as good as magic! Here are some of my Wordless favorites:
We have all had those moments when your students get wound up, and it feels like NOTHING you say will calm them down. Well, a quick dose of my classical playlist is usually all I need to mellow them out and help them regroup. Some days I can tell when they walk in the door that it's going to be a "Classical Playlist" kind of day. My top classical pieces include:
I love having my playlists grouped this way, because I really feel that it gives me power over the volume in my classroom. I can select the playlist that best meets our needs, and I can always change it if I feel we need it to be calmer, or if I feel we can handle a bit more. The best part? We get to listen to music ALL DAY! I'm not gonna lie… it's pretty awesome! If you have any songs you think should make these lists, please let me know! I'm always looking!