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Music to his ears

magazine article | Published in TES Newspaper on 4 March, 2005 | By: Jason Todd

Tune in to my lessons, and learn, says Jason Todd

The combination of teenagers and music is usually one which the teacher/adult should avoid. It can leave the uninitiated dazed and confused as they're ridiculed for not knowing that D12 is not a vitamin and for thinking that because U2 got to the top of the album chart they're still in. Last week's in is next week's out.

I like my music - whether it's considered in or out - and use every opportunity to "educate" my charges by exposing them to the joys of David Bowie or the funk of James Brown. I have decided that my record collection is something of value rather than something to be lamented.

Music can be used to frame the lesson. Initially, a three-minute tune, which allows everyone time to enter class, set out their equipment, stop chatting to their mate about Rachel's new boyfriend and be ready for the register and, therefore, the lesson. At the end, to pack away, I use Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" before the plenary.

To fine-tune this, as a history teacher, I have used themed pieces. For work on Britain 1750-1900, for example, I decided the theme was change, so the entry music was Bowie's "Changes", this helps signify the content.

Other times it can help create mood, such as Roman marching music, or "Greensleeves" for the Tudors. It also readies the pupils for the lesson.

I have used music to time tasks, for short bursts "Countdown" is excellent, while Penguin Cafe Orchestra has pieces of different length and tempo.

I have based whole lessons around music. For example, with a Year 9 class that has been studying the Atlantic slave trade and evaluating its economic heritage, I also wanted them to look at the cultural legacy of the slave trade, not to efface the tragedy but to explore its continuing resonance.

Pupils analysed European music customs through listening to Hildegard of Bingen (for an example of religious music), as well as West African traditions. They then went on to look at how these customs were reflected in music created in the Caribbean, such as ska; music from the southern American states, such as Cajun; and salsa, music created in South America.

And, finally, by looking at the traditions of contemporary rap and hip-hop created in this country by the likes of Goldie and Dizzy Rascal.

My pupils have a broad range of special needs and I find these musical devices serve to engage them, and help them remember aspects of lessons by acting as an aural mnemonic. This can provide contextual cues to remind them where they are and to improve recall.

Jason Todd is an AST working at St Giles special school in Croydon, supporting inclusion and history teaching in the borough


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