I simply cannot teach or live without music! Neither should you. Music gets each day off to an encouraging start, leads students calmly through transition times, minimizes classroom disruptions, and gives all who hear it a sense of well-being. Bringing the right kind of music into your classroom can alleviate at least 50 percent of your classroom management concerns because it can make the hyperactive student less hyper and the angry student less angry.
In perusing the research on the power of music to affect the brain, you will find three major concepts. First, there tends to be a correlation between a person’s ability to solve problems, particularly in mathematics, and his or her ability to play a musical instrument. The second advantage of music lies in the fact that music helps you remember. If you don’t believe that music facilitates memory, you will not be able to complete this phrase. I bet you can do it! Fill in the blank: Conjunction junction, ____________. If you answered, What’s your function?, then you are like the millions of people who were taught by the cartoon characters and catchy tunes of Schoolhouse Rock. I learned more English and history watching that show on Saturday mornings than I learned in my elementary and high school classes. Music is still being used today to teach students to remember content and is one of the best strategies that I have identified as correlating with the way brains learn best.
However, the best use of music for classroom management is for calming students down and getting their brains in a state for learning. The old saying “music has charms to soothe a savage beast” is not only true, but it is pervasive. I have experienced many classrooms, at all grade levels, in which students enter each morning or every period to some type of calming music playing softly in the background. Calming music includes some forms of classical, jazz, new age, Celtic, or spiritual, such as Native American flute music. Students can be taught that, if their voices can be heard over the music, then they are talking too loudly.
What the Research Says
When a teacher is doing direct instruction, music (calming or otherwise) should be turned off so that the teacher doesn’t have to compete with the music (Allen & Wood, 2013).
Turning music on and off can be a signal to students that they should be ready for what is happening next in class (Sprenger, 2010).
Music can reduce stress, stimulate thinking, reduce behavior problems, and align the energy of the group (Jensen, 2008).
Make It Happen
- Begin a collection of music of a variety of genres (Baroque, jazz, Celtic, salsa, big band, country, positive rap, etc.). CDs with collections of music from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s are particularly effective because the tunes are catchy and the majority of the lyrics are not objectionable.
- Use music to assist you in setting time limits on assigned activities. For example, students must complete an activity by the time a specific song ends. Watch how motivated students become when trying to beat the music!
- Allow students to work individually or with peers to create a song, rhyme, rap, or poem that demonstrates their understanding of content. This is an engaging way to have students mentally rehearse what has been taught and uses one of the highest-level thinking skills – synthesis.
- If you do not wish to be charged with the responsibility of turning on the music daily, assign this task to a student whose sole job is to be your disc jockey for the week. Students could take turns with this task and may even wish to bring in appropriate music for the class to hear.
For more examples of how to use music for classroom management, consult the 2nd edition of my best-selling book, Shouting Won’t Grow Dendrites.