The How and Why of Music in My Classroom

Music DoodleAbout a week ago, I was conversing on Twitter about how much I love incorporating music into my classroom, and teaching my students a song of the week. Wendy lamented that she doesn’t feel like she has enough French music with usable structures to do a song of the week. I couldn’t make any suggestions, but it definitely got me thinking about how I choose music for my students.

Side note, if you’re thinking about incorporating more music into your classroom, I can’t recommend Sharon Birch‘s blog highly enough, and Laura has some excellent posts about how she uses music, too.  Sra. Green regularly shares the Spanish songs she’s loving, and Sara-Elizabeth has posted on the topic multiple times, among many others.

First things first, how do I decide what songs to use in class? Confession time: I don’t primarily concern myself with the structures or even the vocabulary in a song (other than it being school-appropriate). My main concern is that the kids (at least some of them) will like the song I choose. I know, I can hear you now, protesting about comprehensibility and wasting time on things that don’t push proficiency, and you’re right. Those things aren’t my primary concern, but I do consider them (unless a kid has requested a specific song – if it’s at all feasible, I almost always try to work those in within a few weeks!).

I choose a different song for each level in order to maintain my own sanity, but if you only teach one prep, you could still choose two or three songs a week and rotate! I keep a running table in Google Docs so that I know what classes have done each song. I also have an ever-growing doc full of lyrics (most of them with the chorus bolded because that’s what we sing) so that they’re handy every Monday morning when I need them.

For me music is, first and foremost, a motivational tool. When kids come to Spanish class on Monday -Monday! – pumped to be there because they know they get to learn a new song, that makes it worth it. When kids are excited to go home and listen to that same song on repeat, that makes it worth it. When kids discover an artist that they love and then download whole albums of Spanish music, or tell me that their friends complain because that’s all they listen to in the car now, or their little brother loves this song, too, that makes it worth it. It’s about opening doors and motivating kids to keep doing Spanish (and experiencing enjoyable input) after they leave my room or even my school. So, no, my primary concern is not whether a song has this week’s target structures or the vocabulary we’re working with right now, and I think that’s all right.

What about comprehensibility? Well, that’s more of a concern for me, but I’m willing to use songs that are a bit above my students’ skill level if I think it’s the right song. For example, our week 2 song in Spanish 1 was La Gozadera by Gente de Zona. The lyrics go pretty fast and the first time we listened, kids did say that it was tough, but the next week when I played it during LinguaCafe, several students commented how they love that song. Worth it. Besides, the lyrics to La Gozadera aren’t that complicated, and I use it as a spring board to talk about what “latino” actually means.

All that said, I do generally choose simpler music for lower levels and save more complex stuff for upper levels, and if I have a song up my sleeve that beautifully hits a target for the week, I definitely break it out. So far this year, we’ve done Lo siento amor by Tomas the Latin Boy because lo siento, La Gozadera, Tengo tu love by Sie7e (when we actually targeted tengo), Lluvia cae by Enrique Iglesias because repetition and -mente and -ando, and next week Vivir mi vida by Marc Anthony.

Every Monday, I give the kids the lyrics and we talk a little about the artist, where they’re from, and what the song means. Then we listen every day, and the kids and I sing along on the chorus. I like the singing because it’s a totally low pressure opportunity for the kids to get their mouths around Spanish pronunciation and letter sounds while they’re looking at correct spellings. Over time, this helps with things like js, and silent hs – both things that my Spanish 1s demonstrated knowledge of last week, even though I’ve never actually mentioned it. Even if they don’t know what every word means, who cares? I don’t know about you, but I have never let being unsure of English lyrics get in the way of my enjoying a song, and I don’t lose all hope every time I encounter a word I don’t know in a book or article in any language. That’s part of real life, especially in a second language! If the music video is appropriate, and doesn’t have too much additional stuff, we watch it while we sing to increase interest, otherwise I might choose a lyric video or a fan video with pictures.

One of my long term goals is to move beyond talking about songs in English on Mondays, but for now, it’s one of the ways I’m willing to use English time – every year kids cite this as a way that they pick up lots of vocabulary. We don’t translate every word, but it does give me a chance to point out things that I want kids to notice like -o for I, -ndo for -ing, a key word or phrase, or some beautiful cultural tidbit. And maybe that’s learning instead of acquisition, but in a few weeks when I see kids use them in free writes, I really don’t care where they picked it up; after they listen to the song three hundred times, I call it a wash.

I also use music very successfully to teach kids about different accents. After four weeks of class, my Spanish 1 students can already easily identify Spaniards, and can predict what kinds of unique things they might hear from Caribbean speakers. Another confession: before I started focusing on proficiency and using music (and other authres) in class, I’ve graduated Spanish 4 students who couldn’t do that. After just one week of Spanish, multiple kids pointed out in their weekly homework (with absolutely no prompting from me because I didn’t even think about it) that they noticed how Tomas the Latin Boy slurs the words siento and amor together. What a great thing for kids to realize in their first week of class! And now, armed with that knowledge, they can start to decipher other native speakers who do the same thing, rather than being totally paralyzed when they can’t immediately determine where one word ends and the next begins.

Well that rambled a little, and I know there probably will be people who disagree with some of my points, but that’s all right! This is how music in the classroom is working for me right now. It’s not perfect, but I’m loving it and so are my students, and if you’re not totally sure how to make it work, I encourage you to give it a try! If you feel like you don’t have enough knowledge of TL music, start with your favorites and build from there – so many great teachers have made great suggestions, check out target culture music charts, and I promise, once you and your students start listening to Pandora and watching YouTube music videos in the TL, your library will grow! You only have to be one weekend ahead of your students, and lots of songs can be used in multiple levels, especially if they’re catchy!


5 Comments Add yours

  1. MRW says:

    Thank you for this post. I like this a lot. Music isn’t one of my strong suits re: Spanish curriculum, but, you have inspired me.

    1. Melanie says:

      Excellent! I’m glad that I was able to help! If have any questions or need any suggestions, please feel free to ask!

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