Music - Tool of Engagement or Weapon of Mass Distraction? - Tech Learning

Music - Tool of Engagement or Weapon of Mass Distraction?

To be or not to be? That is the question for many teachers when it comes to allowing music in the classroom.
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To be or not to be? That is the question for many teachers when it comes to allowing music in the classroom. Many see it as a distraction, but young people often disagree. Innovative educators know that students own the learning, but at the same time, the educators are responsible for the success of their students. Therefore it is in everyone's best interest to turn to the research and find out if music can indeed support student success.

Fortunately, I combed through more than a dozen articles and studies (several listed at the end of this post) so you won't have to. Here is what I've found.

The research says...

The research shows that music can be terrific for helping set a tone. The right music can be calming, help reduce stress and anxiety, support someone in being happy, and get people in the mood for physical activity or competition. It can also be a great tool to support productivity and concentration and what teacher wouldn't want that for their students?

However that's not the whole story. Some music can also lead to students becoming distracted, less productive, agitated, and depressed.

The verdict: It depends.

Letting your students listen to the music can be great for you and them, but not just any music. And, the music that is right for one person, may not be right for another because of a variety of factors related to enjoyment of the music, personality type, and goals an outcomes. 

Choosing the right music

Here are some overarching concepts to keep in mind.

Focus and productivity can increase with music that the listener finds enjoyable, is familiar, does not have lyrics.

Mood can be enhanced and energy level brought up with music that is upbeat and familiar. 

Getting started

1) Discover customized music

Wouldn't it be great if there was a way you could find the perfect music aligned to each unique student? Cool Cat Teacher, Vicki Davis, suggested trying Focus at Will to #NYCSchoolsTech educators and staff discussing the topic. In her blog, Vicki explains that the app claims to use science to design the music that puts you in “the zone” of productivity. It works for her and her son who swears by it. She bought a subscription which she uses it in her classroom, although she shares that sometimes kids want music with words in which case she uses another platform. Here is what it looks like after taking the quiz:

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 The quiz takes a few minutes. You can do it as a class activity or have students do it with their parents for homework. Once you have the results, chart how your students did so students can see one another's type. 

2) Discuss music types

Share with students some of the research about the effects of music and how different music helps them increase focus and productivity. Ask students to group together by results of the music survey. Let them listen to the sample track and share what they notice and challenge them to find other music that might fit in that genre. 

3) Create playlists

Encourage students to work in groups to create a playlist that incorporates what they have learned. Work with students to set expectations and limitations i.e. no profanity, limited lyrics. Once each group has their playlist have them present it to you for sign off. You may want them to have a family member review and sign off as well. Students should also sign a contract committing to listening to the songs agreed to on the playlist and agree to consequences if this is not followed i.e. lose privileges for a week, month, semester. 

Is it worth it?

Doing a study productivity, focus, and music, will take some time up front that will provide your students with skills, strategies, and an awareness that will last a lifetime. Need help convincing administrators? Let them know that doing this is helping students become empowered learners who know how to customize their learning environments in ways that support the learning process. Not only is that important for students, but it is also the International Society for Technology Educators standard 1B.

Further reading and research

Articles citing studies of the effect of music on students:

Articles citing studies of the benefits of music at work:

HT to innovative educator Eileen Lennon for getting the conversation going. 

Lisa Nielsen writes for and speaks to audiences across the globe about learning innovatively and is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Passion (not data) Driven Learning,” "Thinking Outside the Ban" to harness the power of technology for learning, and using the power of social media to provide a voice to educators and students. Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities to support learning in real and innovative ways that will prepare students for success. In addition to her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator, Ms. Nielsen’s writing is featured in places such as Huffington Post, Tech & Learning, ISTE Connects, ASCD Wholechild, MindShift, Leading & Learning, The Unplugged Mom, and is the author the book Teaching Generation Text.

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.

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