Let me back up for a moment and explain why music is such a powerful classroom tool. Quickly think about how our students process information. We have visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactual/emotional learners in our rooms. As educators, we are no strangers to striving to develop well-rounded lessons that tap into all of these modalities.
Let's now use our knowledge on human brain processing to think about how rhyme, rhythm, and music come into play. Tunes automatically tap into three of the four modalities - auditory (no-brainer here), kinesthetic (it's movement based), and tactual (it elicits an emotional response). But, wait . . . we can still take down that fourth modality with one quick move. Place the lyrics in written form in front of your kiddos and, we've incorporated the whole shebang. Um . . . #winning.
I know what some of you are thinking right now . . . "DOLLING! My daily schedule is tapped out." I'm here to convince you otherwise. I had thoughts just like you at one time in my career (despite having very musical parents), but then I figured out how to seamlessly slip it in to what you are already dishin'. Yep. It actually takes only minutes a day and music definitely strengthens our lessons. With this said, stick with me on this post. Let's see if I can talk you into giving music more of a go this year :)
It's facts like the one above that truly showcase the need for tunes in the classroom. Music not only unifies cognitive function, but it also imprints instructional messages in the human brain 90% faster than any other learning strategy. Um . . . hello??!! Give me some more of this in my classroom! For more fabulous facts and studies on the human brain and music, check out Daniel Levitin's book, This Is Your Brain On Music.
Okay . . . so now that all that frontloading is out of the way, I can get down to the business of serving up some musical thoughts and strategies.
JUMP START A STANDARD
The best and easiest and best way to slip music into the mix is to find tunes that align with the standards you are teaching or will be teaching. There are so many talented songwriters out there who have dedicated livelihood to supporting student learning. My thought here is to find your favorite musician who falls into this category and start browsing through his/her song offerings. Yes. I have a definite favorite. My go-to song guy is Ron Brown from Intelli-Tunes. For those of you that don't know . . . he's my dad. Sure, I am a little biased, but he produces professionally-recorded music that you can actually stomach. It's catchy. It's trendy. It's engaging and . . . best of all . . . it's fun! #teacherwin
Why not take those tunes that you use to introduce concepts just a step further? Did you know that you can turn almost any song into a class book? Simply assign lines of the song to your students. (If you have the lyrics, cut them apart with a paper cutter . . . quick and painless). Then, give the kids a book page template (snag free copies of some ready-made pages HERE) and invite them to copy the line and illustrate. Create and laminate a cover, bind, and stick on a shelf for your babes to read. This benefits you and your crew twofold. First, you are leveraging the power of a song to get your kiddos writing. Second, you are creating a book that your class can instantly read. Yessiree. If your students know the tune, they can definitely read/sing the words when they look at in class book form. Tricky. Very tricky :)
MAKE UP YOUR OWN CHANTS/SONGS TO HELP CONCEPTS STICK
Ponder this . . . the Mad Men types (or advertisers) out there have been using catchy chants and tunes to sell products for years. How is it that we still know what's on a BIG MAC after all these years or which product is the "Best Part of Waking Up?" It's because ad campaigns understand the power of rhyme, rhythm, and music in regards to rehearsal and long-term memory storage.
So, with all this said . . . why not use these same tactics in your room this year? I have chants and stupid sing song lines for all sorts of things that I teach. Often times they come from the standards-based songs I am using. The chorus can be a great hook for kids. However, I'd say half of the time I just make these ditties up on the fly. As I am teachin' a topic, it just comes out of my fat mouth. Some have been winners . . . others not so much. But those one-liners and rhymes that have proven to be successful pop back up in my teachings year after year. I have silly chants and sing-song phrases for tens facts, the cumulative property, part of speech, remembering to put your name on your paper, how to spell sight words . . . the list is endless. If you don't feel comfy pulling these out of your bum as you spew out a live lesson, pre-prep a few of these as you weekend lesson plan.
Need a little inspiration . . . CLICK HERE to hear a few of mine. Um, I am NOT liable if your ears begin to bleed :P
USE THAT I-POD
I made the jump away from CDs last year. Yes, I still have them in my classroom. And, yes . . . I occasionally still use them. However, I made the commitment to streamline the music playing process this year. You may not be up for this yet, but it will change your life.
It is so easy to overlook music or forget what you have when they are in disk form. This, in turn, leads to us leaving it out of lessons altogether. Therefore, I spent a day during one of my weekends creating pods of songs that correlate with specific standards within subject playlists. Clear as mud with that stellar descriptor . . . sigh. Let me explain. I created a series of playlists in my i-Tunes account - math, reading, movement, alphabet, sight words, grammar, etc. I then imported songs from my CDs, relabeled/renamed the tracks in a way that made sense to me, and sorted them within these big playlists accordingly. It took a while, but I used music with my kids more than ever before last year. Not only were the tunes front of mind as I had just gone through them, but they organized in a way that made it easy to look them up when I was lesson planning. Again, it takes a bit of time, but it was SO worth it. I suggest importing all of the tunes one day and relabeling and dragging them into playlists on separate occasion (these MP3s will all be waiting in your recently added file . . . easy-peasy).
**Many of the classroom musicians you love offer items in downloadable MP3 form already. I know Intelli-Tunes does ;)
Music is the perfect way to transition in a classroom. I often put on the tunes that we have been singin' as they come in from recess, when the kids are cleaning up after an art project or free time, and when there is a small hole to fill between a special and the lesson we just completed. Not only are they revisiting and processing more in regards to that standard/concept they learned (think of it as an informal spiral review), but it also creates a fun atmosphere. The majority of the kids should know the words to the songs you are playing and most will sing along. Talk about fostering a classroom community!
Now, I don't always use the standards-based tunes as I like to mix things up and I just grab at things sometimes. I often put on tunes that showcase a variety of different genres of music. Sometimes I rock tunes that the kids know. Other times I pop on a various instrumental-type song. I have found that the newness of a tune (especially one without words) produces smiles, engages students, and elicits more "in check" behavior.
You can find songs like this on i-Tunes . . . especially in the electronic and classical departments. However, I like to offer up even more variety to my students. Therefore, I asked my musical daddy-o to come up with a bunch of short tunes that tap into oodles of different music platforms - rock, country, hip-hop, reggae, big band, etc. Well, after making countless versions over the years for use in my classroom and his workshops, he finally packaged all of his favorites into one stellar collection. This latest album, Keep It Movin', couldn't have come at a better time in the world of education (IMO). Our students, more than ever, need to get up and move, take brain breaks, and belly laugh. The standards and expectations are tougher than ever, high-stakes testing is a bear, and, let's face it . . . they are still kids after all :)
The above is what musical transitions often look like in my classroom (please excuse the gaping white hole in my decor . . . I was waiting for my TV to be installed). They are boppin', smilin', and in-check while tackling the assigned task :) In this case I was using one of my dad's tunes to break up and activity. I asked my students to trade markers halfway through the spelling task. Why not do it with a tune playing and our best manners flowing?? The possibilities with these sorts of tunes are absolutely endless.
Check out Ron's awesome new album HERE. Click on the previews to hear a few song samples. A HUGE thank you to the amazing Nikki over at Melonheadz Illustrating for the use of her cuter than cute dancing kiddie. (She makes us look so good!)
**Be sure to pop in on Mondays as this is the first post in a new series called, MUSICAL MONDAYS.