Music is part of our everyday routine. When it comes to education, the integration of music can be viewed either as distraction, or as a valuable learning tool. Studies show that music – when used appropriately – is a powerful tool that enhances student learning and memorization. Introducing music into your classroom community has a valuable impact on student affect, engagement, and motivation, adding an element of fun into an otherwise monotonous school day. Songs can be used to help teach students about material that may seem inaccessible or “boring,” or to help students remember important facts for an upcoming test. In today’s educational climate, where state tests and memorization are of the utmost importance, using music and song to deliver factual knowledge makes learning fun for the whole class.
Using educational rhymes and songs is a creative approach to helping students learn and memorize important information. Having trouble teaching your students about the United States and it’s history? Songs like “Fifty Nifty United States” teach students about the thirteen colonies and the 50 states through a fun (if not catchy) tune. Music can also be used to teach difficult math topics. Joelle Andres, a Special Education teacher in Brooklyn, created a parody of PSY’s song “Gangam Style,” appropriately titled “Long Division Style,” to teach her students about the facts of long division with decimals. Teaching students through songs that are both funny and informative allows students to understand difficult information in a way that is accessible. Resources like Songs for Teaching provide teachers with a database of music and songs to use across the curriculum, regardless of age and grade level.
While the addition of music into your lesson plan(s) is an effective teaching method, allowing your students to create their own content acts as a valuable assessment of students’ learning and comprehension. Creating an accurate and creative means of student assessment ensures that your class will enjoy completing the assignment. Assigning projects that incorporate music is an unique and effective way for students to strengthen their critical thinking skills and creativity. Assign projects where students have to write a rap song about the phases of matter, or put on a play as a modern interpretation of your assigned reading novel. Bringing unique assessment strategies into your classroom will peak student motivation and engagement. Plus, you’ll have a lot more fun when it’s time to start grading. Resources like Education World provide classroom strategies for teaching with music, such as using the Opera to teach students about language and culture.
Rebecca Spitz is a 10th-12th grade English teacher at Banana Kelly High School in the Bronx, NY. Ms. Spitz, a strong advocate for using music in the classroom, utilizes rap, hip-hop, and R&B music into her lesson plans as a way to engage students while teaching them about grammar and syntax. “I use music a lot. I try to use a lot of rap and hip-hop music because that’s what my students are interested in. It keeps things relevant.” A large portion of Ms. Spitz’s students are not native English speakers; She explains how using music that they’re familiar with keeps them engaged with the lesson and helps them understand new content. Ms. Spitz also uses songs when introducing a new text. Before the class’s reading of Girl by Jamaica Kincaid, Ms. Spitz used the song “New Day” by Kanye West to draw comparisons between their main themes. The class created a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the overlying themes within the two works.
To teach her class about formal language, Ms. Spitz used the song “Started at the Bottom” by Drake, using song verses to highlight usage of sentence fragments and slang. She notes that her favorite use of music, especially rap, is to bring attention to certain grammatical errors. Doing so allows her to address errors found in student work without using their writing as the example.
In a time where educators are searching for ways to keep their students actively engaged in the material, utilizing music and song is an invaluable resource. At the end of the day, listening to your students rap about Romeo and Juliet will prove to be more rewarding (to both you and your classroom) than grading 30 pop quizzes.
What are some ways that you incorporate music and song into your classroom? Comment below!