Sadly, listening to music in the classroom using the latest portable media players has become a distraction for my students. I’ve always believed that for some students listening to music in the classroom while they do seat work helps them focus on the task at hand. I’ve written about it here, here and here. The idea being that the music my students listen to will create a type of white noise for them that will drown out distracting noises in the classroom like pencils dropping or other students talking. Unfortunately,  listening to music on the new portable media players does not reduce distractions and help students focus on their work. On the contrary, the new more sophisticated portable media players have introduced a host of new distractions that lure students away from the task at hand.  For example, students who have an ipod touch , can and do  surf the web in class, send email, play games, update their Facebook status and text one another as well as listen to music. Less sophisticated portable media players like the ipod shuffle that only play music seem not to be as distracting, but many of my students prefer to use players that let them do more, let them do it all- surf the web, text, play games etc.  In September, I’m only allowing my students to use media players that only play music.  I found that these players worked well in the past to help my students stay on task.

Let me just say here that I am well aware of the controversy surrounding the claim that listening to music in the classroom helps students better concentrate on their work. More research definitely needs to be done.  I can only go by what I see happening in my classrooms.  I see students who get distracted easily in class focus better on their work when listening to music.  I see students do more work when they listen to music. I agree with  Mathew (see post comments) who noted

I’m willing to concede that music does not increase concentration. However, I know that when I have a task to do that I don’t want to do (like cleaning my desk, correcting papers, doing the dishes, etc.) music can wake me up and help me to work faster.

When my students are bored or unmotivated, I find that sometimes music wakes them up and gets them to work for short periods of time.

I too have students who at times are bored and unmotivated- imagine that :). For example, not all my students have a passion for algebra. If listening to music while completing their algebra assignments helps make algebra bearable and they stay on track and complete the algebra assignments, then I’m all for listening to music while doing algebra. I’d rather they complete their assignments than not complete their assignments. If however, my students become  distracted from completing their assignments because  their media players enable them to do all kinds of other things they prefer over algebra like surfing the web, texting, or playing games then I’m all for banning those  devices from my classroom. I want listening to music to help students complete their work. I don’t want the devices students use to listen to music to introduce more distractions into the classroom.

photo thanks to amyvdh

Enjoyed reading this post? Subscribe to Teachers at Risk.


17 Responses to “Sadly listening to music in the classroom using the latest portable media players no longer helps my students focus”

  1. Mathew on June 20th, 2010 8:58 pm

    Yes. It’s a difficult issue to deal with. I do choose the music that my students listen to rather than letting them pick whatever. I find that instrumental music works best with my students though mine are younger than yours.

  2. jim gerl on June 22nd, 2010 5:00 pm


    Congrats on making the Top 40 special education blogs
    Please check out my special education law blog at:


    jim gerl´s last blog post ..Free Ning – the Demise of a Special Education Law Based Social Group

  3. kontan on June 29th, 2010 10:05 am

    I too found it developed into a distraction rather than a tool for focus. Unfortunately, for some students it is a tool and they are the losers if the privilege is taken away. I need to rethink the policy for my next classroom.
    kontan´s last blog post ..Manic Monday…another try

  4. Carla Beth on June 29th, 2010 3:27 pm

    When I was student teaching in 2008, my mentor teacher allowed her students to listen to music, but they were required to have one ear “free” to the classroom. Apparently this helped keep maintain awareness of their surroundings. The problem I observed was that some students didn’t have portable players, and some became obsessed with their music, distracting others. Although I would probably support this technology in my own classroom for older students, my students would need to enter into an agreement with me. But should I end up having to share a classroom with another teacher, as my mentor did (two resource teachers with their individual caseloads in one classroom), we would have to be in agreement with the use of this technology. My mentor and the other teacher were not in agreement, and boy did this create a lot of problems. I could go on and on, but my bottom line is that I do feel portable players can benefit the students with guidelines in place.

  5. Elona Hartjes on June 29th, 2010 5:27 pm

    I’m going to tell my students they can dig out their old mp3 players and use them. I expect resistance.

  6. Elona Hartjes on June 29th, 2010 5:31 pm

    I think that even with guidelines in place there may be problems. Policing the guidelines takes up a ot of my time and energy, time and energy that I could spend on my students. There’s never an easy answer.

  7. Dan on August 15th, 2010 11:11 pm

    Please, add a comma after “Sadly”. Otherwise, thanks for the informative post!

  8. Elona Hartjes on August 16th, 2010 1:52 pm

    Thanks for pointing out I neglected to put a comma after sadly.

  9. Colten Pighin on November 22nd, 2010 2:05 pm

    I first have to thank you, Ms./Mrs. Hartjes, for providing sources on your previous posts on this topic as it helped me to build my argument for a persuasive essay that I’m currently finishing up.

    As a secondary student finishing grade 12 myself, I have always argued that I work ten times better when I am listening to music than when I am not – I even conducted my one little research on myself and found this statement to be true. Music has always been a wide part of my life and it will continue to do so, as I use it to wake myself up in the morning and concentrate on whatever task I am working on. I am kind of outraged that the majority of secondary schools here in British Columbia, Canada, will not let their students listen to their choice of music. They wonder why some kids’ grades are so poor!

    I agree that with the advancing technology that is being publicly made in today’s society is becoming more distracting, what with cell phones that you can easily access networking sites and iPod Touch’s that can do it all–surf the web, download music and chat with friends on an IM app. I was almost disheartened to read this blog post as I only have an iPod Classic, so all of the things that an iPod Touch can do, mine can’t and I’m perfectly happy with that as I’m already easily distracted as it is!

    But doesn’t anyone else think that if you simply limit students to creating a playlist of songs they want to listen to during classes would help to prevent the problem of these devices being a distraction?

    Granted, some students may try to cause problems and react rebelliously but I’ve always known that if you made it an obligation to them, such as “If anyone has an iPod Touch or an iPhone and they’re surfing the web, I will disallow the use of MP3 players”, they tend to stay within the strict limitation because they don’t want something that’s already “golden” to be taken away from them. I know that whenever a class was put in a situation like that, I’ve observed that they react pretty well.

    Does anybody else agree with my point of view?
    Colten Pighin´s last blog post ..Exciting News

  10. Heide Levine on February 2nd, 2011 2:45 pm

    Here’s what I have found distracting and challenging with students and music…

    You have those that listen to hard core rock, some rap, some religious only, some even classical, or jazz…

    When the music is open and audible? The students who object to that music resent the teacher for ‘subjecting’ them to that music.

    When it is mp3 and they sit close, those that do not have mp3 players or any other form resent having to hear it at a low volume, that it’s distracting low volume sound coming from everywhere.

    It’s never going to please everyone, you have different learner types that do not see any point in respecting or accepting any other learning type because they don’t relate to it.

    Let’s not forget the parent who wants to make it into a federal case because their child is left out, or excluded by being poor and unable to have an mp3.

    This is a slippery slope that I can’t stand, but it doesn’t mean I don’t do it…

  11. Elona Hartjes on February 2nd, 2011 2:57 pm

    Nothing’s perfect. I do not let two kids share music at the same time. I do not let the kids play music without ear phones. I certainly don’t want to hear it.

    I have found that kids work it out amongst themselves. They share their mp3 players. It really isn’t a problem any more. I especially like the older mp3 players that don’t have internet access- fewer distractions. Kids also plug into the class computers. In one of my classrooms I have 8 computers in the other classroom I have none.

  12. Peter Hanson on April 13th, 2011 11:05 pm

    I am a kid with ADHD and a iPod touch just wearing the headphones doesnt help and on days i forget my medicane iand i listen to music i work just as i would with my meds andi would think as long as the Ipod is visable and you accully see them writing you sould let them use them and sometimes it helps jog my memory but i havent been able to test much but when subs come in that let u listne to music it has worked everytime so please let kids try it as long as you keep a eye on the Ipod at almost all time and with headphones today you can almost hear nothing besides the music too so that a positive and a negitave both times so you might need to start jumping up and down once in awhile to get their atteion but it works

  13. Megan Shepherd on May 24th, 2011 11:13 am

    I am doing research for my Business English class about how music can help in the classroom. I find this information very helpful and I want to thank you for taking the time to write this. I have ADD and depression. I find music helps me focus on my work and distracts me from my depression.

  14. La musique et la concentration « Entre les branches on June 7th, 2012 12:09 pm

    […] à Internet, envoyer des textos et jouer des jeux.  Ainsi, ces appareils risquent de  distraire  l’élève au lieu de l’aider à se concentrer. Je ne suis pas contre les appareils […]

  15. Lydia on December 13th, 2012 9:39 am

    I am a student at a small school in a small town in indiana. I am doing a research paper over this topic. I have found that your blogs have been really helpful. I have even cited you has a source. I would just like to say that when I work I prefer to listen to music. It helps me concentrate and I get my work done faster.

  16. Leanne on January 12th, 2013 8:28 pm

    I have been allowing my students to use their mp3 players or apple products to listen to music in class. I teach a group of high risk students. I found the distractions in class to be huge. Every little sound distracted at least half the class. 4 students out of 12 would be working consistently. Before the Christmas break I started allowing them to listen to their music as long as they didn’t waste time choosing songs and as long as I couldn’t hear it. If they don’t work then they lose the right to their device the next class. I confiscate their devices but return them at the end of the class. I monitor what they are doing (working, not working, etc.) and they have responded well to the ‘guidelines’ of using them in class. I now have 10 out of 12 who work consistently. Only problem is finding some studies that I can present to my vice-principal because electronic devices are forbidden in classrooms as written in the school rules in their student agendas.

  17. Elona Hartjes on January 14th, 2013 10:13 pm

    Leanne, perhaps you can suggest that listening to music in class is an accommodation that helps your reluctant student engage so they can do their best. Teachers are encouraged to find and use strategies that help students be as successful as they can. Allowing them to listen to music while working to drown out distracting noises help students stay on task. Perhaps you can invite the principal in to see that the strategy works or your students could write a letter or opinion paragraphs stating that listening to music while working helps. Students with learning difficulties are entitled to accommodations. Listening to music is a simple accommodation. I include listening to music while working as an accommodation in students’IEPs. Sit down and talk to your principal about the value of listening to music while working. Our school used to ban digital devices but now leaves it up to the teacher. Let me know how things go.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

 Subscribe to stay up to date. Teachers at Risk is informative. It's free.

  • apple144
  • Meta

  • Archives