Music and song are some of the most underused educational techniques. We know that musical intelligence is one of the eight identified intelligences of Harvard researcher Howard Gardener, but we may not appreciate the role that music and song can play in deepening student learning and promoting memory.
Music and song can help students remember information, particularly lists or unrelated content. I used to integrate song when teaching names and other minutia in history class. By putting the names to a tune, the students were not only more engaged in learning the content, but would remember it far better.
Two years after they left my class — I taught high-school sophomores — my former students would still retain much of the information, as evidenced by their ability to “visit” my new class as seniors. Some would pop in from the hallway when they heard the familiar song being sung and join right in as if it they had learned it the day before.
Of course, students with musical intelligence may see music as a career pathway and should be encouraged to explore that possibility.
Playing fitting music in the classroom can set the environment of the class room. Teachers can also introduce the subject or lesson for the day by using a song that is related to the lesson. Some music picks up pace whereas other tunes can infuse calm or create a welcoming environment.
An extreme example of this is in the southern Israeli city of Sderot. Sderot is geographically very close to Gaza. Due to its proximity, all residents are at constant threat of rocket fire from hostile neighbors and have but a few seconds to seek shelter. Such disruption and emotional stress can be hard on any person. Children in particular can be traumatized, and have a particularly difficult time returning to their studies after facing such a threat. Research conducted during a period of heavy attacks in 2009 showed that children were demonstrating signs of trauma, such as bed-wetting, nightmares and the like.
In order to reduce the tension, one Israeli teacher, Sderot teacher and art therapist Shachar Bar, composed a “code red” song. The song has helped many children deal with the barrage of hostile fire by articulating their actions and feelings in a manner that is child friendly — at least on relative terms. It also helps students return to class more readily by helping them undergo a restorative process.
In case you are curious, the (translated) lyrics are as follows:
Color Red, Color Red
Hurry, hurry, hurry, to a safe area
Hurry, hurry ’cause now it’s a bit dangerous
My heart is beating, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom
My body is shaking, doom, doom, doom, doom, doom
But I am overcoming
Cause I am a little different
Falling down – Boom
We may now stand up
Our body we shake, shake shake, shake, shake
Our legs we loosen, loosen, loosen, loosen, loosen
Breathe deep, breathe out far
Breathe deep, we can laugh
It’s all gone and I feel good it’s over – Yesssss!
Obviously, this is an extreme example. But it does bear the point that music can be used in a variety of ways to enhance the classroom environment, as well as to teach behaviors and allay personal concerns. As you consider ways by which to engage students this fall and beyond, I strongly suggest that music take on a central place in your planning.