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I think I can safely say that we know from personal experience that music affects our bodies and our minds. Listening to music relaxes us, energizes us, comfort us, keeps us company, help us celebrated and even helps marks special occasions. I think I can also safely say that we know the music we like to listen to at any given time varies from person to person and situation to situation. Sometimes I like to listen to Jazz, sometimes I like to listen to The Blues and other times want to to listen to Baroque or even Country Music. It all depends on the situation, how I’m feeling and what I’m doing.

I thought I could safely say that listening to music in the classroom helps students be more productive, so I did say that in several posts that I wrote here, some dating back to September 23, 2006. There’s so much interest in this topic. It’s a really hot topic on my blog. Everyday people visit my blog to read what I’ve said about the effects of listening to music in the classroom. In fact, at this very moment as I write this post I see that someone from Englewood Ohio, someone from San Fransisco,California, someone from Hampton Virginia and someone from Augusta, Maine has dropped in to check out what I’ve said on the topic. Why all this interest? I guess now that MP3 players have come down in price so much making them more affordable, more students are bringing them to the classroom wanting to listen to their favourite music while they work on their lessons, and teachers and parents are wondering if it’s OK to let students listen to music while doing their school work.

I’ve gotten lots of feedback, and I’d like to thank people for that. How else will I know what people think, if they don’t tell me. So please keep telling me. I’ve had students tell me that listening to music helps them work. I’ve had teachers tell me that when they let their students listen to music in the classroom, the students work better. That feedback supports my experience in the classroom. It’s a good thing that people take the time to leave comments and ask questions because I also got feedback from people who say that they can’t listen to music and do their work at the same time. The music distracts them. Now, I wouldn’t have known this because I like listening to music when I work. I’ve also been asked if I had scientific research to support the contention that music facilitates learning. I’ve had to say no that I didn’t actually have scientific research to support this, just my own experience.

Given the request for scientific research to back my contention, and given the fact that listening to music in the classroom is such a hot topic, a controversial one at that, I thought that I would see what the research said. Now, I have to say up front that my search was not an exhaustive one. With all due respect, this isn’t a master’s thesis. It’s just my blog, and I’m telling you the way I see it from my vantage point of a classroom teacher. But, I was interested enough to spend several hours seeing what I could find. I did find some research that supports my contention that music facilitates learning, especially the learning of students who manifest the ADHD type symptoms of having difficulty staying focused on the task at hand, of being easily distracted, of fidgeting excessively, or having to get up frequently and move about.That was exciting. I see these behaviours in my classroom all the time. I even behave like that some times. I can’t sit for long without fidgeting or getting up out of my seat. I’m terrible when I go to the movies or to theatre. I’m forever squirming about while other people sit still as a stone. I don’t know how they do it. I have to move. I guess I’m blessed with twitchy muscles or something.

Ok, back to the research. I came across a paper by Daniel Reitz and Dr. Partricia Chiodo (May 4, 2006). They cites studies done by F. F. Cripe (1986) , L. Morton, J. Keshner and L. Seigel 1990) that conclude that music has a beneficial effect on students

music with a prominent beat stimulates an increased arousal in students which overrides the effect of environmental distractors…repetitive beat produces a reduction in muscle tension, thus reducing hyperactivity… (there was) significant reduction in distractability among students after being exposed to music. Short term memory was also beneficially affected by having to listened to music

Although Reitz and Chiodo conclude that listening to music promotes academic success , they suggest that further research is needed as these conclusions were based on the results from a study of a small number students and surveys completed by students themselves.

Nina Jackson In her article “Music and the MInd” suggests that although more research needs to be done, we can be cautiously optimistic about the potential benefits of listening to music to motivate students, improve concentration and study skills. She supports the use of music in the classroom. In fact, she calls music the new teaching tool for the 21st century. I guess her point is that any thing that’s as powerful as music, should be used to help students. She says

Music plays with your state of mind as the electrical energy generated by firing neurons creates brain waves. The music a person chooses to listen to can influence the waves’ frequency, and their state of mind. It’s not only the mind that is influenced by music, the body also responds. Musical messages travel down the spinal cord, impacting the autonomous nervous system that regulates the heart rate, blood pressure, muscular activity, metabolism, and other vital functions…

Energizing music can make your brain exercise longer and harder. It increases speed and workload capacity … music with a strong steady beat can increase endurance, boost effort level, increase motivation and distract from discomfort and agitation.

Boost effort, increase motivation and distract from comfort and agitation? That’s what I want for my students. That’s what will help them learn.

I guess Jackson who is Head of Music at a school in South Wales would see the effect of music on students all the time and would have far more anecdotal evidence than I do to support the positive effects of listening to music while learning. Although she suggests specific pieces of music to listen to for specific results, I usually just let student choose their own music. The only thing I suggest is that they listen to music that they’re very familiar with. I read this recommendation once many years ago. I’m sorry I don’t remember where or I’d share the source with you. Supposedly, listening to very familiar music isn’t distracting because you know it so well.

Now in closing, let me say this: Given the limited amount of scientific research there is about the benefits of listening to music in the classroom, I guess the most I should say about the whole thing is that I’m cautiously optimistic. But, my non scientific day to day experience with students and music in the classroom doesn’t make me want to be cautiously optimistic. It wants me to be wildly optimistic. I know that some people can’t work listening to music. They’ve told me that much. That’s OK. So here’s what I propose. Until more research is done and either proves or disproves that music facilitates learning, let’s let students decide if music helps them learn or not. They know. They can tell you. Just ask. If they think it does, then let’s encourage them to listen to music while working. If they think music doesn’t, then let’s let them pass on listening to music. We’re always looking for ways to motivate student, to engage students so if music is the way let’s go for it.

Here are some other articles I wrote on music in the classroom that you might find interesting

Listening to Music Helps Students Be More Productive in The Classroom

The music in the classroom debate continues

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Well I don’t know what happened, but this week’s post just disappeared from my WordPress files even though I know I saved it . I’m still in a state of shock as I keep trying frantically to find the post. No, my dog didn’t eat it- that’s a favourite student excuse for not handing in work. I was so pleased with what I had written. It was so good, so thorough, so everything. Today post would finally settle “the music in the classroom debate” once and for all -or so I thought until what I had written disappeared. (I wonder if there’s some kind of lesson in there for me that I will realize at a later date. Maybe it’s something about hubris and saving your work in more than one spot)

I’d decided that because there was so much interest in my articles about listening to music in the classroom that I wrote here and here some time ago that I would revisit the whole topic. Basically at that time, I argued that listening to music in the classroom increased students productivity. I got lots and lots of feedback about this both supporting what I had said and questioning it. Many students wrote to tell me that music helped them focus and wished teachers would let them listen to music while doing their work. Some teachers wrote and told me their students worked better with music. Other teachers were skeptical and wanted to see scientific research to back up my contention. Some people wrote to tell me that they couldn’t work while listening to music. That was good to know. I appreciate all the feedback and thought that I would do some research to back up what I believed that listening to music can help students be more productive in the classroom.

I found research that supported my contention that music can facilitate learning, especially the learning of students who have the ADHD behaviour characteristics of excessive fideting, being easily distracted, difficulty focusing and following instructions, daydreaming, difficulty with materials management, impulsively acting before thinking etc. Now since I’ve spent most of my teaching career supporting students like this, I was really pleased to read Daniel Reit and Dr. Patricia Chiodo’s “Implications of ADHD Research on Music Education Practices” published in 2006, Nina Jackson’s article “Music and the Mind” and Chris Boyd Brewer’s “Music and Learning: Integrating Music in the Classroom. I was really excited after reading these articles because they gave me some information that supports what I believe.

Next week, you’ll be able to read how these articles support my contention that listening to music can facilitate learning and why it does. When I first starting blogging, I used to write my articles in Word and then transfer them to WordPress. I stopped doing that some time ago and just write whatever directly into WordPress’s editor so I’ll have to go through and recompose my argument from the bits I highlighted in the printouts of the articles. At least I highlighted pertinent bits of info and have made comments in the margins in pencil so I do have something to work from. If you can’t wait for some reason or other, please go to those sites and see for yourself. The links should take you there and the articles are very accessible.

Please check back here next week and if all goes well and I don’t have any more lessons to learn, you should be able to see how these articles support my contention that listening to music in the classroom can facilitate learning.

headphones.jpgEarlier here I wrote about the value of having kids listen to music in class. Today, once again we had that discussion at school. I don’t know why it is such a contentious issue. People argue that there should be no music in the classroom because it’s against school rules. (What kind of reason is that- because it’s a rule.) Well I say, read the studies about the effect of music on performance and change the rule. Then, people can permit kids to listen and won’t be breaking the rule. Honestly, I get the sense that it’s just because it’ s a rule that people are anti music. Have it as an option. Some people work better when listening to music, others don’t. What’s the big deal!

Over the last twenty years, I have written a lot of Individual Education Plans for learning disabled kids saying that listening to music while working is an appropriate accommodation for that learning disabled student. It helps the student focus on the task at hand because it’s only one thing the student hears instead of several that will distract him. Now, if it is an accepted practice that helps learning disabled kids who can’t concentrate enough to be able to focus on the task at hand be more productive in the classroom, it doesn’t make sense not to allow other students to use music to help them focus.

I was thinking about the whole issue while booting up my laptop to check my e-mail and was pleasantly surprised to see Michelle’s comment about my earlier post. I was pleased to hear that she recognized the benefit of having her students listen to music while while they work. Listening to music with headphones is like sitting in one of those carrels that teachers put kids in so they are away from the other students. When a kid listens to his music he isolates himself from others and is not distracted by them and does not distract other.

I have outlined some guidelines for listening to music in the classroom and have found that kids are cool with the rules. The rules make sense so the kids buy into them. I believe that if you give a little, you get a lot. At least that’s been my experience with working with at-risk kids.

I was looking through Friday’s Globe And Mail (C2) when this headline caught my attention; “If music be the food of work, play on.” I read the article with interest.

Workers are more turned on by tuning in to music, a survey finds.

Nearly one-third -32 per cent- of 1,613 U.S. employees said they listen to music while working through the use of an iPod, MP3 player or similar device.

And 79 per cent of them said all that humming along improves their job satisfaction or productivity, the survey conducted by Harris Interactive for staffing company Spheron Corp. found.

The effect of music was the highest among younger workers, with 90 per cent of those 18 to 24 and 89 per cent of those 30 to 39 saying it boosted job satisfaction.

That finding didn’t surprise me one bit. As a teacher, I’ve known that for years. Listening to music helps improve productivity. Why? One reason is because music acts like white noise in the background preventing students from noticing every other little noise that usually distracts them. Some kids can’t tune out things like a pencil dropping or someone asking a question. Their brain takes everything in; consequently, they are often distracted and off task in the classroom.

Just so there is no confusion here, I want to say that I do not advocate listening to music during a lesson when I the teacher is  teaching or during class discussions. During these times students need to be attentive listeners and listen  to what is going on in the class.

Of course there have to be some guidelines for this to work effectively. I’ve learned the hard way.(Have you noticed, I seem to say that often?) After discussing using music as a tool to assist with concentration and focus, I give student these guidelines (well, they’re actually rules, but “guidelines” sound so much better. Some of my at risk students have trouble with rules. It’s all how you say it. I’ve learned that the hard way, too) These are the guidelines:

1. Listen to music that you know and love. Listening to new, unfamiliar music is distracting (your brain focuses on the new) and that defeats the purpose.

2. Listen to your own music on your own iPod, Mp3 player etc. Absolutely no sharing. Sharing wastes time and causes commotion that is distracting to other students and that defeats the purpose.

3. Listen to your music after I have taught the lesson. Listening to music while I am teaching distracts you from what I am saying and that defeats the purpose.

My students are cool about the whole music thing in class. They understand the need for guidelines and usually don’t push too often. It’s amazing to see the kids hooked up to their music and working away, doing far more while listening to their music than they would without listening to their music.
When I create an Individual Education Plan for my Learning Disabled or Behaviour students, if I believe that listening to music while working will help that student be more successful, I will include that accommodation in the I.E.P. and share that with the student’s teachers.

UPDATE
Click here for research about benefits of music in the classroom

Update- April 23, 2010- another research study about benefits of listening to music. Be sure to check out the comments, too.

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