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My family would tell you, that I informed them at a very young age that I would be a teacher someday. I actually had two career goals in mind at that time, I wanted to be either a teacher or a Rock Star. While I may not have released any platinum records just yet, in time, I came to discover that being a teacher is like being a Rock Star in many ways.
I’ve found ways to incorporate my own love of music into my curriculum as a means of engaging students. I actually began teaching in Kindergarten. For those of you that have been or are kindergarten teachers, first thank you and bless you because I will tell anyone that there is no exhaustion like Kindergarten teacher exhaustion. Young students embarking on their first year of school need teachers to find ways to get them moving. Transitions have to happen frequently during the day as a means to hold their attention. What I found with my students was that they thrived on music. One of the first things I came across while researching music for the littles were “Dr. Jean” and “Greg and Steve” songs. My students loved them and were learning all sorts of things. Once I realized the power and affect that music had on them, I found other ways to incorporate it. For example, we learned the months of the year to the Macarena and the days of the week to the Adams Family theme. After lunch, we’d skip count to different songs and count around the room with various movements. We might ice skate by twos, and swim by threes and so on. Students were able to get their energy out and practice their learning at the same time.
After two years in Kindergarten, I moved down the hallway to teach a 2/3 split and ultimately ended up in third grade, which for me is the perfect place to be. Now, the kids are a little older on that end of the hallway, and I honestly questioned if they would enjoy my random integration of music as much as my kindergarten students. What I discovered was not only did they enjoy having music as part of their daily routine, but I was able to find even more ways to incorporate it. I am a huge supporter of the Daily 5 and Café reading strategies. I teach multiple strategies during the year and students become experts on these strategies. Over time, I’ve found or created songs to go along with each reading strategy. Not only do these songs get stuck in all of our heads quickly, but they help students learn. If you teach or are a parent, you know that kids pick up on songs very quickly. So why not use this as a way to teach and review?If you were like me, you probably made chants or songs to help you remember things when you were in school. Even as adults we have so many memories that are connected to music. You can hear a song and it takes you right back to a specific moment in your life. Think about the companies that have songs or rhymes that lead customers to remember them. For example, if you’d continue to fill in the next line of each of these…
I don’t wanna grow up …
Give me a break … Give me a break …
And finally, for all of use educators … Conjunction junction …
Okay you get my point. Clearly, these people know the power of music!
Even as we get older, our ability to remember songs is undeniable. My own grandfather had Alzheimer’s, which is such a devastating disease. In the last years of his life, he struggled to remember family members’ names or even what he’d eaten or done five minutes prior to a conversation. Yet remarkably, if he heard a familiar tune or someone singing it, he would join in and know every single word. I have two sisters that are nurses. In the medical field, it’s often suggested that families play music for their loved ones, even when they are unconscious because sometimes they can still hear and connect to it. Our ability to retain and make connections through music is a wonderful gift and should be utilized as much as possible.
For children, music and song encourage creativity and can foster a positive attitude towards school. When someone walks into my classroom they might find me reading to the class, or teaching math strategies. Then again, they might also see me up with the kids singing reading songs, doing various chants, or even exercising to our multiplication facts. Using music in my classroom has given me a way to energize our environment. It has also increased efficiency, helped students make connections, and helped lock in information, which in turn has led to higher test scores.
Music and movement also serve as a means of decreasing stress for the kids, and for me. I often play instrumental music while students are working quietly. Your special needs students and your behavioral challenges, (who I refer to as dominoes because they can set everyone else off) tend to do exceptionally well when music and movement are part of their day. Students who may not connect with a book or subject in class might be able to make that connection, when you make a popular song they are familiar with part of your instruction. Over the years, I’ve discovered that one way to engage almost every student, even those who are reluctant readers, writers, and mathematicians is through song.We as teachers often struggle to find ways to engage all learners and differentiate to meet the needs of all students. Yet, through music I am able to engage, educate, differentiate and increase understanding and retention by simply using something students already connect with.
I do always worry at the beginning of each year, that maybe I’ll have that child that just isn’t into music and doesn’t want to sing and dance with the rest of us. Yet, in over ten years, I haven’t come across that student. At first, some may be a bit reserved about the whole situation. Yet, when they see me up dancing and singing right along with them, they always tend to come around. I think that’s one of the keys to being an effective teacher. We have to not only think outside of the box, but find ways to connect with our students. They need to know that we are human too. There’s nothing wrong with having fun with your students through teaching. They are encouraged by you and your actions. One of my kids this year is new to our school. He came up to me a few weeks into the school year and asked, “Have I told you that you’re the best teacher ever?” I said he hadn’t mentioned this, and then asked what I had done to already earn that award. He looked up at me and replied, “Well, I’ve never had a teacher that gets up and dances and sings with us.” I thanked him for the compliment and then informed him that’d I’d be here all year and we were just getting started!
Over the years, I have found so many ways to incorporate music into my classroom. Students have written their own reading strategy songs to the tune of a popular song. One made a compare and contrast song to Bippity Boppity Boo. They’ve written a song to help promote the Walk-for-Wishes that we take part in each year. Another group wrote one for Jump Rope for heart.
One particular student had a true talent for changing the lyrics of popular songs. I was always amazed at what she was coming up with and happened to bring it up to her mom at conferences. Mom smiled at me and said, “Well, it’s kind of hereditary. Has she ever mentioned who her grandpa was?” Of course she hadn’t. I just knew she was an amazing song writer in third grade. Mom went on to tell me that her dad was one of the original members of the Four Tops and had written several popular Motown songs. This was a remarkable learning moment for me. Neither this child’s mom, nor I knew she had that kind of talent already in third grade. Yet, given the opportunity, she shared her passion and inspired us all. Though her grandpa had passed, I’m sure he would have been very proud!
Children are born dancers, musicians, writers, and storytellers. We just have to provide the music, the necessary materials, and the engaging and supportive environment. As teachers, we have the opportunity to set the stage in our classrooms for originality, learning and fun. We can use what comes naturally to our students and infuse it into our teaching with amazing outcomes. I encourage you try to find ways to incorporate music in your classrooms. You don’t have to write your own songs like I often do. That’s truly just one of my own passions and I definitely don’t just use my own songs. So many educators have already shared materials online for others to use in their classroom. My students love Flocabulary for example, which has songs to connect with topics across the curriculum. Multiplication mash-up is on YouTube and allows students to learn their math facts through popular songs. Go Noodle is great for brain breaks and learning songs. Really, you can Google just about any topic and find a song parody for it. Recently, I found a “Verb Rap” on YouTube. The students loved it so much that they sometimes ask to sing that instead of going out for recess. I was amazed when that moment first occurred on a sunny day. I often also hear them singing it during math time. They will be working on multiplication yet singing quietly, “A verb is a verb. It’s an action word. If you can do it, you should do it because you know that it’s a verb.” You can even challenge your kids to create learning songs. This may even help them grasp a greater understanding of the topic, comprehend it, and connect that information to the real world, which is our goal as teachers.
At the end of the day, even if you prefer not to use music in your classroom, I encourage you to find a way to connect with your students. Maybe you’d prefer to use sports, games, comedy, pop culture, themed stories, drama, science, experiments, or art. Whatever it is that you’re passionate about, share it through your teaching and encourage your students to share their passions too. Be the kind of teacher you looked up to as a kid. Those were the teachers that stepped outside of the box to creatively teach and inspire their students. You have the ability to be a Rock Star to your kids each and every day and to help them feel like Rock Stars in their learning too.
Kristina Price is a third grade teacher at Trillium Academy located in Taylor, MI, and was named the 2018 Michigan Charter School Teacher of the Year. This is a transcript of Kristina’s talk at the 2018 Michigan Charter School Symposium on December 5, 2018 at the general session. Her students ended her talk with a memorable performance to show the audience just how well music has impacted their learning.