Let the Music Play

on Thursday, 11 March 2010
I've always wondered how it was like to include songs into your lesson.

All the time when I studied in UPSI, the songs that we include into the lessons are either:

#1 A part of the lesson i.e. during the preparation stage or enrichment stage. Sometimes, just the induction set.

#2 A suggestopedic function. For those unfamiliar with this TESL jargon, it just means that it is something played in the background to make the learning environment soothing and conducive. For example, playing nice Mozart music while teaching. Of course, playing it softly in the background like how some high-end cafes play their background music.

Now I try to fit these 2 functions I've learned into my school environment.

#1 is going to be very difficult. If I were to introduce a song into the classroom, the song has to be very slow to begin with i.e. probably less than 60 words per minute. It would be slightly redundant to introduce a song that is already very popular among the students though I still think it's OK because most of the time, students only have heard of the song, knows the tune, but doesn't really know the lyrics to the song. Introducing lyrics and discussing about it's content would be very beneficial if students are very interested with a popular song but have no access to the lyrics.

I personally feel that it then demands a lot of time in the classroom. Sometimes, the song has to be played 3 times for students to fill in the missing words that I've blanked out in the lyrics sheet. Even when some of the words are common words, a common song would easily be more than 60 words per minute. Examples of popular songs that even my students will have heard are:

Black Eyed Peas - Where is the Love?
Jason Mraz - I'm Yours

These songs although very popular and students obviously know the chorus in and out, are very quick and rap-like in their verses. Students who have very poor English listening skills and vocabulary will find it extremely difficult to catch it in just 2 rounds. Even suggested words at the side do not really register when there is a sheet of lyrics with a lot of words. They just can't keep up with the speed. Their thought process would be broken down like this:

1) Catch the tune and lyrics word per word
2) See an empty slot, prepare to look at word suggestions
3) Listen to the missing word
4) Try to remember the sound of the word (sometimes, it's a completely new word)
5) Find the word from the suggestion box
6) Write it down
7) Listen to where the song is at right now (now that it has passed a little bit)
8) Try to catch the word being sung and try to match the words by sight in the lyrics.

This is obviously going to be very difficult if you play a song that is more than 60 words per minute and going at a steady pace i.e. Where is the Love?

To me, the song can also be thought in the classroom as a lesson by itself. Teaching them how to sing 1 verse, getting them to remember the chorus' jingle and getting them to sing in unison. It would be a real miracle if I can get them to remember 1 verse of I'm Yours and get them to sing 1 verse and 1 chorus in unison.

Therefore, in contrary to what I've learned from UPSI, the song doesn't become part of the lesson. Teaching the song is the lesson. It can be. Students love singing and when they love the song, they will memorise it as much as they can. It's in English. 1-0 to Mr. Adrian Tan.

Trust me. You may try, but teaching a song in an 80 minute classroom allocating just 15-20 minutes for it is just insane based on my experience. Judging by the students' level of course.

Let's look at #2 now.

Does song playing for suggestopedia purposes help in the classroom? Does it help make your students less stressed? Does it make your students more intuitive in learning or help them feel like learning becomes more enjoyable?

After 2 periods of Physical Education, 2 periods of Bahasa Melayu, 2 periods of Maths, 2 periods of Chemistry, and 1 period of Civics... Mozart really sounds like sleep therapy.

I'm not condemning song-playing as a tool for suggestopedia but I just have yet to find out the benefits of it's utilisation. Logically, if it were to indeed calm students down a lot, if it were to really make students happier when studying, why don't I see teachers using this brilliant idea? I've yet to use it for suggestopedia purposes personally but here's what you have to do to play some music in a typical classroom in my school.

1. Bring a radio to the classroom.
2. Oops, I mean, find a radio first, then bring it to the classroom.
3. Get a Mozart CD albeit burn it from your laptop. No way you'll find the CD The Greatest Composers - Mozart selling anywhere within an 80km radius of Kinabatangan... on second thought, make it a 100km radius.
4. Get the longest extension wire you can find from the school.
5. Bring it into the classroom and get the wires connected.
6. Answer all the bombardment of questions i.e. "Sir, why got radio??" "We listen music ka?" "Lagu apa sir?" "Lagu Bunkface? Lagu Bunkface la, sir, very good sir!"
7. Shut them up first. Tell them it's Mozart.
8. Explain that Mozart isn't something you can eat.
9. Tell them that the music will be played in the classroom while the lesson is going on.
10. Play the CD. Being tech-savvy, I'm not worried about technical problems at all (are you the same? Jump straight to step 14). If you're not tech-savvy, refer to step 11-13.
11. Stare at the small orange LCD display and find out why the information doesn't add up. Please remember to turn on the main switch and your Power toggle is turned ON, seriously.
12. Make sure the CD is in and in the right position. Make sure you actually got the right CD. Not some Slipknot CD you've been listening to at night before you sleep.
13. Depending on a case by case basis, control the level of strength when you tap or hit the radio to get it kick-started.
14. Begin the classroom.

All these just for a nice conducive environment.

Suggestopedia anyone?


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