“If there is one thing that is constant in this world, it is the power of music” – Josh Groban
There is no doubting the power of music, especially in its ability to bring people together. Whether it’s reminiscing about favorite childhood songs through social media, checking out a live show with friends or belting out some car style karaoke with family, music has a way of making us feel connected. So it’s no wonder that creating a shared playlist in your classroom can have the same effect.
I had the pleasure earlier this year of collaborating on a unit with Kevin Billingslea, a 6th grade science teacher. While Kevin is new to the classroom, he builds classroom community like a well seasoned veteran. He jokes effortlessly as students walk in, has a genuine and endearing rapport, and has built in some amazing classroom routines that are deliberate yet smooth and natural. While there are several things I have taken from him and added to my own repertoire, building a classroom music playlist on Spotify is my favorite.
Why a Class Playlist
Having students come together to generate a class playlist builds community and creates a collective learning environment. Each student gets a say. Each student is represented. When the moment is right, listening to music brings everyone together into a shared space. Instead of having 23 students isolated with headphones, you have one class jamming out to the same tune. While not everyone will love, or even like each song, the students still retain a collective ownership over the playlist. There’s no complaining (at least not the type that carries any weight) if they don’t like what’s currently on play.
Having a collective playlist also creates a comfortable learning environment and at the same time cuts down on switch-tasking. One of the biggest problems with listening to music while working is stopping to skip over and find which song to listen to next. I’ve seen students swipe back-and-forth between their work and Spotify dozens of times in a single class period. Each time they break their concentration and reduce the overall quality of their learning. With a shared playlist, students don’t have to think about what’s next but instead can stay focused on the learning task at hand.
How to Build a Class Playlist
At the beginning of the year have students suggest songs to add to the class playlist. This is a great opportunity to connect with students and have students connect with each other. Tell the students when you love a song also or go and give one of their favorite artists a listen during your lunch break. Taking that extra time to connect with your students creates a meaningful bond you can leverage all year!
Of course, set some general rules on which songs are appropriate and which ones don’t belong in the classroom. Be open with your students and ask them to brainstorm general song guidelines. This is a great time to bring up quality study habits and teach students about brain research and learning. Also, create a variety of playlists for different class scenarios. Have an upbeat list when students are doing digital design projects or building a prototype during a design process unit. Create an instrumental list to play in the background as students work quietly in groups. As the year continues on, ask students to add to the list to keep it fresh.
What to Consider About Creating a Class Playlist
The first thing to consider is the learning task taking place. If your students are working on a close reading activity listening to music is not a great idea. You also don’t want Drake bumping in the background during a socratic seminar. Find which times are appropriate for music and when some well timed tunes can add a nice boost to your class.
You also want to consider the students who are distracted or don’t like listening to music in class. Keep the volume to a reasonable level and make sure to keep the playlist on pause from time-to-time. I find that students aren’t always open to vocalizing their desire for quiet, especially not publicly in front of their peers. Play close attention to your students or consider creating an anonymous survey so students can safely voice their opinions.
What’s your take on music in the classroom? Have you created class playlists before? Share your ideas in the comments below and add to our community conversation!