Music & Sounds Page 2 link

line break

My friend and I teach middle school. We both use the Mission Impossible theme song from the CD that came with the book, Eight Great Ideas. In my room it means, "It's now time to pack up to leave." In her room--nodding toward her friend--it means, "Please begin the independent work" which constitutes their opening activity and is already written on the board for them. Is it going to cause problems for our students--many of which are in both classrooms--that the same song means two different things?

Mostly likely. The beauty of using right-brain cues--sounds or songs--is that there is an automatic response to the auditory stimulus. In my room, the stimuli and their corresponding responses are:

  • desk bell = send someone from your team to request materials from Mr. Morris
  • dog squeak toy = stop, look, and listen
  • train whistle = stand up, slide your chairs under your desks, and line up outside in two lines.
  • Pick-A-Student = Mr. Morris is about to select a helper

And those are just some of the sounds we use. We also use a number of songs, each with its own distinct message.

A song that sends two different messages is going to cause confusion and hesitancy. Lost will be the automaticity of the response, which is one of the primary benefits of using right-brain cues. In its place will be uncertainty as the child has to process which class he's in and what the song means in that specific class. Uncertainty, as I've been saying for the past few months, produces student conflict. Student conflict leads to teacher stress.

As much as I hate to say, "One size fits all," I think, in this situation, it applies. The teachers--and their students--would be better served if the song meant either "Pack up" or "Get to work." Which one doesn't matter. What does matter, though, is that both teachers provide a uniform message.

The only issue then becomes what other song are you going to use to send the other message? That's not a big deal since there are hundreds and hundreds of TV and cartoon theme songs available on-line. One of the best resources, and the site I used for the theme songs on the CD that comes with Eight Great Ideas, is For a $3.00 monthly fee--which you can cancel whenever you wish--you'll have access to a boatload of music. And with so many choices available, why not play a variety of songs and ask the students which one they'd like to use? Could be fun.

line break

I saw you use the overhead spinner and the musical playlists to select music during the break. My question is about the section of the spinner that is labeled "Student Choice." When the spinner ends up pointing to "Student Choice," do the students get to choose any music or does it have to be one of the other three choices showing on the playlists?


I'm sorry I wasn't clear about that during the seminar. It was clear in my head what to do. Unfortunately, I didn't explain it clearly to the teachers in the group. Mea culpa.

It would probably be best if you were to limit the students to choosing from the remaining three sections of the playlist. I'm not saying you have to do it this way; however, it will probably eliminate a lot of wasted time--and energy-sapping conflict--if you do. Like every situation, though, there are a number of options from which to choose.

  1. You could draw a card from your deck of Class Cards and have that student make the choice.
  2. You could shake the jar of numbered tokens (Pick-A-Student) and call upon one of the students whose number is showing.
  3. You could have your Student of the Day select the song. (That's assuming, of course, that you have such a thing.)

As always, it's up to you and your students. The fact that you are allowing them to choose--in which ever manner you decide--helps to fill that all-important need for freedom.

August, 2009 update: I finally decided to replace"Student Choice" with "90's" on the playlist I use at seminars. Since it's almost always the playlist I use at the first break, I thought it made more sense if I removed the uncertainty of Student Choice.

line break

In Monterey we have already completed three weeks of school. I have applied a number of your techniques, but I need some advice. The music was great at first, but now that the kids are getting more comfortable, the songs--clean up, clean your desks, and transition--are getting them wound up.

Why is this happening? Did I slip? Are 2nd graders too young for this? I want my class to be fun, but not hyper.

I feel as if part of the problem is the songs make them RUSH, and when they do that, there seems to be an out-of-control energy that builds on itself. If I can't rein it in, I might have to discontinue, and I don't want to do that!

A couple of thoughts:

You said, " that the kids are getting more comfortable, the songs...are getting them wound up." This is a very telling phrase. It says, among other things, that you're a kind and loving teacher who wants to try ideas. It also says that your students have learned if they don't do what's right, they're not going to get punished for it. (Punishment is not limited to just consequences. It can be about a teacher's slowly building anger and frustration. It can be about a raised voice and a threatening manner. It can be some form of emotional blackmail. Whatever form it takes, these teacher behaviors violate the students' need for safety.) Obviously, though, your students feel very safe around you, and that's a good thing. What's not good, of course, is that they're taking advantage of this safety. Which leads to the second thought:

Kids being kids, they're always looking to get out of control--which fills the limbic brain's needs for freedom and fun--and the music is providing them with an opportunity (excuse, if you will) to do just that.

Two suggestions:

1. When they get too wound up, pause the music. Don't say a thing but look for the students who do stop and look at you. Give them a nod to show that looking at you is the correct response whenever the music stops. For those who don't stop right away, jot down their names. When you finally have everyone's attention, let them know that their energy level is not appropriate. Before putting the music back on, call to you the students whose names you wrote down. While everyone else is back on the prescribed task, let the non-compliers know that when the music stops, they should look your way. Since they didn't, you wrote their names down. Then tell them that the reason you had to pause the music was because some students were getting out of control. Let them know that this is not okay. ("Not okay" was an expression I used to use to show my displeasure at inappropriate student behavior that needed to cease. It was safe language but got the point across.) Include in your discussion the fact that you will remove anyone from the procedure who does not stay under control. Finish up with, "What are you going to do the next time music is interrupted?" (Pitiful student response goes here.) "And what about if you get wild during the procedure?" (More sniveling and pleas for mercy.) When you're done, release them to join the others in the task. That's assuming, of course, that the music hasn't ended yet. If it has, oh well. Maybe they'll do it right the next time.

2. The problem with suggestion one is that everyone has to stop, even the students who are abiding by your established procedure. So, an alternate idea is to remove any students who are too wild and isolate them in a "time out" area. A section of the carpet, a reading group table, or a corner of the room would work. This enables you to focus on just the non-compliers while leaving the others to go about their business. You could then engage in the dialog mentioned above to just the small group of limit-testers.

Whatever you do, it's going to take some action on your part to make a change in their behavior. Words alone won't do it.

line break

My students didn't pay attention to me when I used the dog clicker. I thought I was supposed to click it two times to get their attention and then click it two more times after a brief pause. No matter how many times I clicked it, they wouldn't stop talking and pay attention.

The problem is not the clicker but the number of times it's being clicked. Once or twice is sufficient. Anything more than that betrays a lack of resolve on the teacher's part for holding student's accountable for their behavior. Because, quite simply, the effectiveness of any procedure is based on the teacher's ability to hold the students accountable for complying.

And maybe that's the problem. Students who don't respond correctly and not being called on it. (By called on it, I don't mean a verbal reprimand. I'm talking about some kind of action to back up the teacher's previously stated expectations regarding the clicker.) The very fact that the teacher is clicking multiple times implies that a number of students are not coming to attention at the sound of the clicker. Thus, the additional clicking.

Clicking it more than two times just confuses your intended message. The message multiple clicks sends is, "I'm not sure how to deal with students who don't stop talking and pay attention, so I'm going to attempt to click you all into submission." The unfortunate byproduct of too much clicking is the need for more clicking which, in a circularly reinforcing fashion, weakens the effectiveness of using the clicker in the first place.

Click it once.
Wait for compliance.
Jot down the names of students who don't give you their attention.
Meet with these students at a later time to talk about consequences.

line break

Is music without lyrics preferable to music with lyrics?

Well, that depends. I would think that for quiet activities such as independent reading or independent work on an assignment, using instrumental music might be better. This might be especially true at the beginning of the year when everyone in your room is getting used to having any kind of music playing.

After a brief period of adjustment, though, I'm thinking that you should be able to play just about anything and it won't be a distraction. (By anything, of course, I mean music that is appropriate for the classroom. Rap and heavy metal should probably be kept at home and away from the kiddies.)

I remember playing a live concert of the three tenors one year. As much as I don't really dig opera, the more I listened to it--and we played the piece at least once a week--the more I came to enjoy it.

That's my opinion. You're welcome to your own.



Main Page

Behavior CODES

Class Cards

Clip Chart








Secondary Classrooms

Sign Language

Student Numbers