Lunch period has just ended and my computer lab is about to be filled with 7th grade students. I fire up the classroom management software to lock down computer input controls and greet my class as they come in the door. By now, they know the routine. Each person moves to their usual computer and waits for instruction. Some fiddle with the keyboard before remembering that the computer will not respond until I unlock them. The entire class is full of energy; lunch seems to always have this effect on students. One of the boys raises his hand and asks, “are we going to have music today?”
While this may seem an odd question in a computer lab setting, my students have come to expect music during their learning sessions. I have set up a system where the students know that if they are working on-task, I will stream music to the classroom. They also know that if they are struggling or off-task that the music stops. I have found that this is an excellent motivator for my class and that it helps to lower the students’ affective filter. Even some of the most behavior challenging students seem to respond to this little addition to the classroom. Now I’m not one to implement a pedagogical practice without research to support it. For those of you interested I recommend reading the entire research article:The effects of background music on primary school pupils’ task performance by: Susan Hallman, John Price, and Georgia Katsarou. They found that “ in schools, appropriately selected [background] music could be used to create an optimum environment for children to undertake individual work” (p. 120). The key here is finding “appropriately selected music”.
Enter the Slacker
When it comes to music software I’m sure most are willing to jump right into iTunes and setup a playlist for use in their class. I’ve used this method and it works rather well, however constantly monitoring and updating a playlist can be a lot of work. As a teacher, my time is centered around planning lessons, giving instruction, and assessing students; extra time is a luxury that I believe should not be frivolously tossed aside to monitor playlists. What then is a teacher to do? Enter the world of the slacker.
Now, when I was in High School I had a reputation for being a slacker. Basically, I had the talent and skill to accomplish academic goals, but I lacked the motivation. I find it ironic that today I turn to a tool named “slacker radio” to help me motivate students within my classroom. Slacker is a streaming radio broadcaster on the Internet. Slacker allows me to create radio stations based upon an artist, song, or genre of music. It also has a great feature that allows me to turn explicit content off. This allows me to effectively filter the music that I stream to my classroom. The controls allow me to fine-tune a station by banning artist or songs and by making an artist or song a “favorite” this helps the station become better as time goes on. One of the great things about using this method is that students quickly pick up that it is a radio station that the teacher cannot control. After two class sessions, the usual question of “can you play this song, or that song” stops. They know all I can do is click to a new song that is selected by the station itself.
I’ve had minimal downtime with Slacker and the selection of songs is always something interesting. When the students are working really well and have a concept fully mastered I can play songs that are more pop related. When they need to concentrate, I move to classical. Sometimes I use blues and jazz to help bolster student mood while in the classroom. I am always amazed when a student comes to me at the end of class and says “thank you” for exposing them to music they would not have otherwise listened to. The great thing about Slacker is that it is free (warning there will be commercials). However, for a small subscription fee (which I gladly pay) you can get uninterrupted radio without commercials.
So what are you waiting for? Stop being a slacker and start using Slacker. Its available here: slacker.com. I’m interested in your thoughts and experiences using background music in the classroom. Have you found it to be helpful or distracting? What other streaming media have you found to be effective for use in the classroom? I know there’s Pandora and Sirius/XM radio, have you used these? Please share your experiences. Happy listening!
References: Hallam, S., Price, J., & Katsarou, G. (2002). The effects of background music on primary school pupils’ task performance. Educational Studies, 28(2).