Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Pump Up the Jam to Get More from Your Students

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Pump Up the Jam to Get More from Your Students

Article excerpt

Some teachers claim that music in the classroom can boost pupils' productivity

Few things have the ability to have as big an impact on an individual's emotional state of mind as music. That's why loud rock music is commonly used by the army and intelligence services to interrogate prisoners and it's also why doctor's surgeries, hospitals and dental practices pump classical music into waiting rooms to relax patients.

So, should teachers use the mood-altering power of music in lessons by playing it in the background at every given opportunity?

Some studies have found that playing music to children has a lot of upsides. For instance, in September this year, clinical psychologist Dr Emma Gray published research - which was admittedly conducted in conjunction with music streaming service Spotify - that appeared to suggest that students were more likely to perform well academically if they listened to music while studying.

Other academics, however, argue that a link between music and learning is complete tosh. They suggest the data is inconclusive, with one anonymously commenting that, so far, the research has been "a mess".

Currently, then, there is not a conclusive answer either way on the merits of background music in schools. Many teachers, however, are convinced it can improve outcomes.

One such evangelist is Jane Manzone, a primary teacher in Camden, north London. She started out playing classical music during registration and, after noticing the positive impact that it was having on the students, she decided to introduce it into her lessons.

"It calms and focuses them," says Manzone. "I would never play it during maths, but if the children are doing extended writing or art it seems to work really well. It's particularly effective if you can find a piece of music that matches what you're doing. For instance, if you're doing Halloween artwork and you played the Danse Macabre I think that would lead to more creative work."

Another advocate is Stephanie Keenan, curriculum leader for English and literacy at Ruislip High School in London, who says that music can also be a really useful teaching tool by sparking impromptu analysis.

"We can analyse lyrics, exploring what makes a song a song and a poem a poem; what creates emotion - the lyrics or the music? - and how musicians use poetic devices such as simile and metaphor in their lyrics," she explains.

In the mix

Are these benefits equally as prominent no matter what genre of music? It appears not.

Manzone swears by classical music and has even introduced a weekly feature to educate her students on different classical composers, while Keenan says that "old" music that pupils don't know the words to can be very effective.

Physics teacher Simon Porter adds that certain genres may need to be avoided.

"For my practical sessions, I tend to use cool jazz - Miles Davis, for example - or fairly light classical baroque like Goldberg variations," says Porter. "I'm an AC/DC fan myself, but I can't really think of an occasion when that would help a lesson..."

Indeed, the age appropriateness of a piece of music is another vital consideration that teachers who are considering using music in the classroom need to make. Some music is obviously for older audiences, but teachers need to be wary of the sometimes darker side of seemingly innocent sounding pop songs, says Kieran Dhunna-Halliwell, a teacher, educational writer and consultant. …

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