The Sound of Teaching
Professional Experience Project
As we move into the technological age it seems that app after app rushes in an attempt to outdo one another. Each app coming out with more features, more access, more connectivity, that we often overlook some of the apps that keep is simple and successful. With teachers rushing to learn how to maneuver on Adobe Connect, creating exit tickets on Socrative, and attending seminars discussing pop culture and memes we seem to forget to tap into the one resource that never falls victim to passing time, music.
Right now, and for what seems like the past billion years music has been an integral part of communities. It is often the fabric holding together nations and tribes as they story tell and preserve rich histories in the tones and rhythms of their people. We have volunteered countless hours into the research of impacts music has on the brain, knowledge preservation, IQ scores, etc. but rarely do we involve this simple aspect into the classrooms where they can be found most effective.
Today I implore you to think about the popularity of music applications, with a focus on the ever-rising Spotify app. Spotify began as a simple alternative to Apple Music and Google Music, but as it grew it extended to be an application that behaves in the same manor as a social media site might.
Spotify offers a variety of features that are enticing and can be manipulated to benefit the basic functions of the classroom, or even carry the weight of entire summative assessments. Spotify much like other music apps has access to music on demand. It also includes playlist creations that can be made private or public for others to see, share, and follow. The playlists can be named which helps with organization. Playlists can be shared with others and either made collaborative so that those who it is shared with can edit the playlist, or it can be made non-collaborative so that others can just access it. This feature makes it extremely beneficial for students who may need to work together on a project. Spotify also lets you get into popular playlists others have created meaning by merely looking up a time period or a category you can find and have access to a plethora of suggested songs, artists, playlists, and podcasts. Spotify features a variety of podcasts and artists. Spotify will also often feature music videos or short clips accompanying each song. With a majority of popular artists, they will include an “About the Artist” section or a “Behind the Lyrics” section that gives students and teachers more information about the intent of the song and who is singing it. Spotify features a variety of music languages, types, and styles.
When discussing the usability of Spotify for students it is important to note that there is a Premium version as well as a free version. The free version still includes many features such as playlist creation, but the premium includes more accessibility in sharing and ad free listening. Students have Spotify access for around $5.00 a month, but a family plan can hold up to 6 individuals for only $15 a month. One Spotify login can also be used on multiple devices. It can also be canceled at any time so if students need it to complete a project for a 6-week unit it can easily be canceled soon after. There is also a free trial month included for new customers. The possibilities with Spotify are wide open, teachers can gain so much from this small price to pay.
There are several techniques teachers have used historically to manage classrooms through music. Usually this involves some boring instrumental music they deem to be “cognitively stimulating” while also not distracting. They seem to overlook the fact that our students’ study with their own music at home, and they might find the sounds a teacher finds appealing, to be even more distracting than silence. One technique I suggest for utilizing Spotify is creating a classroom playlist. In the beginning of the year and periodically after, ask students to suggest music for a classroom playlist. These songs can be vetoed by educators because Spotify does a great job at letting you know if a song is explicit or not. After it is complied educators can use it during class time to monitor volume levels. I often will play the students playlist and inform them that if at any point I cannot hear the music we will be turning it off and moving into silent work-time. This has done wonders in our classroom for managing volume as well as behavior. It gives students a level of autonomy and choice since it is their own creation, while also maintaining some control.
Getting to know students can be made easier with music. This year when teaching I had made a goal to begin working to understand my students at a deeper level. So, I created a playlist project in which students had to select 3 songs that they felt portrayed who they really are on the inside, and an additional 3 songs for how they felt others in a public or social sphere perceived them. They then had to analyze the lyrics or tone of the song and explain to me why they made the selections they did. Activities like this were huge for students to let me as an educator know where they are at. It let me know socially where they stand, how they flourish, and where they find challenges. It really opened up the conversation with each individual student. The nature of this activity is not subject specific and can be used in any classroom. The prompt for the playlists can be changed and adapted, but the goal is similar in that it molds classroom relationships from the start.
Many projects, task forces, etc. can be hugely benefitted by music. I have found personally however that the two most benefitted core subjects are Social Studies and English. Math and Science can also use music apps like Spotify to embellish classroom activities, but it might need a little more manifesting than the other two. I have seen math classes use music in counting beats or analyzing the technical creation of music. I have seen science classes use music in analysis of human response or nature in music.
Social studies are a huge niche for music as it is often a form of storytelling. Students can learn so much about the experience of people from the lyrics in their song and the beats they follow. What emotions are connected to the experience they are narrating? In Slave Spirituals it is incredible to uncover some of the language and tone of the lyrics, in celebratory Native chants the music was produced so differently, and it meant something more. Social Studies students can use Spotify to look up and locate music from all time periods across the globe. It can also be used to create playlists or find music that students feel directly replicates social norms and trends in current time or that define their social reality. Students can explore the creation of trends and how the music industry enhances or creates them. Similarly, language arts benefits hugely through music as it is a literacy of its own. When discussing modes of communication, different genres, tone, mood, etc. all of these are directly exemplified in music making it extremely easy to integrate the two.
Though Spotify may just seem like an average music application, the power it has in a classroom is unfathomable until you do it. I urge educators to give it a try. It may not work for every single classroom, but it has done wonders in my own.
Loujain Kouider: Loujain is currently completing her Masters and Teaching Certificate in Secondary English Education at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. During this school year she has been working as a Student Teacher in a local 8th grade classroom. She may be contacted via email at: Lkouider@umich.edu