Category: Learning Environment

10 Ways Music Makes Your Class Rock

Looking for an easy way to connect with students early in the school year and a fascinating cultural study? Initiate a conversation about music—best concert of the summer, new artists to watch, last song heard before school. When students have earbuds in, ask what song is playing. Every year, my students learn to have their favorite playlists available for reference (and should be added to their list of school supplies). Pop culture references to song titles, artists, and music lyrics are common in lessons. Favorite brain breaks involve students sharing what song they will play at their next opportunity to plug in. Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, iTunes, and YouTube are some of the most used apps in room A15. Is this class led by a teacher or a DJ?

When Joy Kirr, author of Shift This (CH4: Learning Environment) asked, “How can I incorporate music into my lessons?” I could not resist creating a list of my favorite uses of music in the classroom. Tune in for ten ways to make your classes rock!

1. The Musical Hook

I love having music cued up and playing when students enter the classroom. Typically, the song has something to do with the day’s lesson. I’m always entertained when a student makes the connection midway through the period. As more students catch on, they make a conscious effort to be the first to identify the purpose of the song. Of course, some days I’m simply in the mood for a song.

2. The Walk-up Song

As a baseball fan and music lover, I’m intrigued by batters’ walk-up songs. My varsity baseball players spend the entire off-season in search of the perfect walk-up song—30 seconds of attention-capturing entrance, with catchy beats and just enough of the lyrics to inspire greatness upon stepping into the batter’s box. My family laughs at some of the selections that play at random times on our iPod, but my children can still name the player associated with the song years later.

The walk-up song also works in the classroom. On a big day—especially before a presentation—nothing alleviates anxiety and pumps up the presenter and audience like a song. The song delivers confidence. It’s time to own the moment. Playing selected songs on birthdays is another ideal opportunity to celebrate each student. In the first days of the school year, I have students design a slide to begin creating learner profiles and add it to a class presentation for future use. It is a great activity to get everyone engaged, without traumatizing introverts with in-your-face icebreakers. While students are working, they initiate natural conversations with peers (particularly with choice of walk-up song—possibly the most challenging commitment of their lives to this point).

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Warning: Be prepared with your own songs. Kids will ask. My personal walk-up songs vary based on situation (more about the music than the lyrics), but before I present, I will be rocking “Clint Eastwood” by The Gorillaz , “Bulls on Parade” by Rage Against the Machine (radio edit version!), “The Adventure” by Angels and Airwaves, or “Dammit” by Blink 182 (again, edited).

3. Background Music

Music enhances the classroom work environment. When students are working in groups, music can reduce the drone of many voices. It can also create a relaxed atmosphere during reading or writing time. As an incentive, I offer learners a choice of music or allow individuals to serve as class DJ for a day.

4. Countdown Timer

One of the more practical uses of music is as a classroom timer. Rather than field questions about how long a journal entry or on written response should be, present the prompt saying, “You have until the end of these two songs to complete your response.” Short songs are also ideal for transition or clean-up time. Like musical chairs, students should be ready for the next action by the time the music ends.

5. Theme Songs with Cultural Connections

Musicians record our history and their songs tell stories of generations. Songs help us relate to topics, concepts, time periods, and literary themes. Connecting music to cultural themes is an entry point for critical thinking in any unit of study. Teachers can create YouTube playlists or challenge students to make their own. Many students already have Spotify playlists that match their moods

6. Interpretation as Argument

Interpreting song meanings is something listeners do naturally, so I leverage it’s potential as one of the most academic uses of music in class. Through the study of lyrics, students can practice developing arguments about an artist’s message. After stating their interpretation as a claim, students should provide an explanation and use lyrics as evidence to support their argument. As additional points of emphasis, writers may focus on quote integration, sentence fluency, and proper citation.

7. Music as Poetry

By studying lyrics, readers can develop an eye for the craft of writing. As a complex text, music can be analyzed for rhetorical devices, diction, syntax, and tone. The majority of learners are less intimidated by music than poetry. Lyrical analysis is a path to appreciating poetry. Invite students to pick a song and close read the lyrics as poetry. Then, challenge the class to determine which song writers show the most poetry in their lyrics

8. Creative Outcomes Through Music

Show evidence of learning (any content) through song lyrics or an original piece. Musicians may compose an instrumental accompaniment for the text. Mash up song lyrics from multiple songs/artists to tell a story in its new form (much like found poetry). What song would best express a character’s thoughts or capture a moment in the plot? The possibilities are endless. One of my favorite writing assignments of all time is the Soundtrack of My Life prompt. I had seniors reflect on this:

Hollywood has decided to make a movie highlighting your life. You get to determine if the film will focus on one particular stage (ie. middle school) or span a larger portion of your entire lifetime. What would a movie of your life be about? What songs would make up the soundtrack?

I have since modified the prompt for freshmen:

A movie version of the novel you are reading is currently being produced. What would be the most appropriate song(s) to feature on the soundtrack? Convince the movie producers to use the song(s) you select. Refer to song lyrics and the novel to support your response.

9. Music as self-expression

Whether it be writing a song or performing music, we need a creative outlet to express ourselves. Student performances and original works provide highlight moments in the school year. Nothing is more memorable than students sharing original pieces. And nothing takes more courage than performing for their peers.

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10. The Healing Power of Music

The raw emotion in music connects humans to one another. It empathizes. In times when mental health or well-being is challenged, we may find answers in an artist’s lyrics. Songwriters have a way of reaching out at our most desperate times. 

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The Lumineers “Stubborn Love”

How many times do we seek the perfect words to lift others from moments of darkness but our voices fail?

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Please share examples of how you use music in the classroom. I hope your class rocks this year!

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Welcome to Durstopia!

The month of May on the school calendar represents grueling tests of will, perseverance, and endurance… and I’m just speaking for educators. If it is this great a struggle for adults, imagine what wanders through the young, developing minds of our students?

In my ninth grade Visions in Literature and Composition courses, May presents the final stage of freshman training. In attempt to maintain the attention of students (and the teacher), I save the popular dystopian literature unit for the end of the year. And traditionally, it delivers.

Last year’s freshmen were treated to a different approach to close the school year. I gamified the entire dystopian literature unit and presented the ultimate challenge: Escape from Durstopia! They were hooked from the outset, but when they began discovering new missions with links to next steps for success, they were locked in. I communicated from the InfoTech Hub (Google Classroom) and added slides to a shared Google presentation.

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Teams formed when necessary and individuals raced to conquer challenges. Students were slipping side quests to me before anyone else recognized the opportunities to learn or create. A group comprised of students from both classes even joined forces and stayed for hours after school to stump their peers with a coded scavenger hunt. Impressive. My students were doing more work and producing greater outcomes than I would ever consider assigning. Learners were not merely invested; they were immersed in our gamified literary universe.

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So why would I save this level of engagement for the final month when I have an entire school year to plan? Why not start the year in game mode and see where it leads?

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With a final pep talk from Michael Matera (I urge you to read Explore Like a Pirate and follow the action of #XPLAP on Twitter), Tisha Richmond, Adam Bold, Nick Davis, and Carrie Baughcam in June, I left University School’s Summer Spark with the vision and motivation necessary to construct my story for freshman English. Thus, Durstopia expanded from a single unit concept to a year-long experience. Plans are currently underway in my imagination and on dry erase boards in my office.

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The transition in planning is an invigorating challenge after years of teaching the freshman curriculum. I am restructuring the order of our department units (with common standards, learning targets, and assessments)—units I have helped create throughout the last two decades—to tell a learning story within the theme. Here’s what it looks like at this point in midsummer form (questions, suggestions, and brilliant insights are always welcome!).
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Create Learning PERMANENCE Through Reassessment

Like many educators, I want to create a learning environment around a mindset that teaches students to be patient, trust the learning process (and the teacher), and celebrate growth. But there is a powerful force that challenges such conditions. We live in a culture that continues to reward, rank, and emphasize grades over learning, points over progress, and recall over creation. 

It’s time to reassess our culture of learning. By acknowledging and acting on the following truths, educators live up to their professional title and create learning permanence.

All students can learn.
Always return to this central truth as foremost in education.

Learning is a messy process; consequently, teaching all students to learn is challenging work. Continue reading

Visions, Voices, Creative Choices: Preparing Learners for the Future

What a week. By the end of an emotionally-draining, anxiety-ridden election week, many find themselves struggling to breathe, smothering under the weight of an insecure future. Each breath as shallow as the destructive rhetoric of intolerance forcing American voters to choose a side—a blade that cuts deeper than partisan politics. With respect to our right to have a voice in the democratic process, what message did adults express to a generation of impressionable children?

Rather than answer that question, I ended the week in the most comforting place I know—with my family. As the father of two compassionate, open-minded, respectful children, I maintain hope for the future. While I cannot protect them from all the realities they will encounter, I will continue to model empathy, encourage dialogue about their questions, and equip them with knowledge and courage to overcome ignorance.

Raising children to become critical thinkers and selfless citizens feels overwhelming at times, but parents are not alone. They have a support system and powerful ally in education. Together, we send a message of hope built on trust, protected by knowledge, and secured by an understanding that all lives matter.

Before closing the week by spending a quiet Friday night watching movies with my family, I attended a two-day conference: The 7th Annual National Convening on Personalized Learning. This year, The Institute for Personalized Learning focused on Preparing Learners for the Future, “to produce learners that work independently, are able to drive their own learning, and want to learn out of curiosity.” From one presenter to the next, all conversations challenged traditional thinking about the way we do school. In fact, every speaker inspired an audience of educators to rethink their vision of school. Breakout sessions shared models of success and struggle to personalize learning, while reinforcing the fact that personalization is not a pre-packaged educational program, initiative, or buzzword. It is a culture-shifting philosophy that puts learning at the center of all decisions, leverages student voice and choice, and empowers every student, every day.

Here are my notes and greatest takeaways from two days of rich dialogue, challenging thoughts, and memorable conversations with passionate educators… Continue reading

Personalized Learning: Where to Begin?

 

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Leading change. Launching new initiatives. Driving improvement. Shifting a mindset. These phrases inspire some to turn visions into purposeful actions, but leave others with anxiety and trepidation. Typically, leaders present ideas, committees are formed, and plans are set. Responses are mixed, investment levels varied, but here we go…

Then what happens to slow progress or impede growth? After defining what we are trying to become, even the most well-intended contributors get caught in the reality trap. How can we make change happen? Voices of the “yeah but’s” emerge from the crowd and collect followers. Doubt infects momentum. Leaders expend more energy justifying actions with research and rationalizing intent through models of success. Unfortunately, the result is often greater distance from the intended outcome—retreating to the security of old habits and traditional practices. How do we escape this cycle in education? Continue reading

A Personalized Classroom Tour

On the eve of another school year’s opening day, I captured several images of the personalized learning environment students will enter in the morning. Welcome back to The Clubhouse!

Learners will immediately face choices and be challenged to determine where they will learn best each day. Those searching for an uncomfortable, cumbersome, Industrial Age desk are out of luck in room A15–I ditched the last three desks during this year’s back-to-school renovation. However, there are plenty of excellent work spaces available.

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Clipboards and Conversations: PD with Purpose

I recently had the rare opportunity (and pleasure) to observe my colleagues’ classrooms throughout two school days. In total, I entered twenty-four classrooms and, after reflective collaboration with the rest of the leadership team, enjoyed conversations about nearly fifty observational rounds. While out on tour, my purpose was to collect data about the amount of differentiation and level of rigor our students experience in a typical day of high school to provide direction for future staff development. What I recorded on a clipboard may prove valuable; but what I experienced has already made a significant impact.

My greatest take-away is the need for all stakeholders to increase innovative thought in our vision of school–by students, teachers, and administrators. Students should spend more time creating, not simply doing, in a school day. Teachers should be coaching more than instructing. Administrators should attack the status quo, think big and ask, “why not?” All leaders should empower others by asking more questions than providing answers. We can make significant improvements to what we do and how we do it. So what holds us back? Continue reading