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Why I use music in the classroom

 – by Thomas Kivlan

Music has always been an integral part of my life.  Some of my earliest memories are of me being placed on a wooden box

Thomas Kivlan and students.
Thomas Kivlan singing with some of his students.

in my grandparents’ living room and then encouraged to dance to the rock n roll music of Elvis Presley.  I do not know if it was the melody, the rhythm or the flow of the words, but even at an early age, there was something intangible that reached out to me through music. The Chinese philosopher, Confucius once said,

‘Music produces a kind of pleasure of which human nature cannot do without.’

 I find this to be profoundly true.  Through music I have experienced a range of emotions from joy and love, to sorrow and compassion. For me, it is an avenue to communicate a powerful message. Thus, I use music in my classroom to not only help students to work on a variety of English skills, but also to build confidence and to engage students in a positive and meaningful way.

Using music in the classroom is a great tool for students to practice English, due to the simple fact that in order to sing a song they have to repeatedly listen to it. This repetition means that students, without realizing, are improving their listening skills along with their pronunciation and intonation.  I have seen on numerous occasions students’ defeatist reaction when a teacher announces that the class Oh, so that's how you sing it, is it?will do a ‘listening’ exercise.  Immediately, a handful of students will assume the attitude that ‘listening’ is too hard and they simply cannot do it.  However, using a song to practice new vocabulary and grammar structures helps to overcome this barrier because students do not fully comprehend that a song is just another ‘listening’ exercise. In addition, a song tends to stay in a student’s mind long after the lesson is done.

Music is also a great way to build the confidence of students. Jerry, one of my favorite Small Star C students, came to EF a couple of years ago as a very shy four-year-old. He would sit quietly in class and would say nothing. His parents, naturally, were concerned with his lack of progress. After a few classes of observing Jerry, I noticed that he would become more animated whenever he heard music. Thus, I started incorporating songs into more of my lessons, and the change in Jerry was amazing. He is now one of my best students and is always eager to answer questions.

I believe music engages students in a positive and meaningful way. As a teacher, I am always striving for my students to become more creative and to think outside of the box. Using music to encourage stimulating discussions, specifically in a Trail Blazer or Front Runner class, is an excellent way to achieve this goal. Through the parameters of music, older students are able to express their thoughts and feelings on a variety of topics.

In conclusion, it has been scientifically proven that music helps to create smarter students because it enhances both left and right-brain skills. Children who study music are better not only at reading, but also critical thinking and math, and they often score higher on tests. But, I think of music as more than just a tool for students to use for academic success. Instead, according to Plato, 

‘Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.’