I find it difficult to study in silence, I like some background noise in the shape of music or the television on a low volume or just people bustling about around me. I’m not sure if this came from being part of a very large family stuffed into an average sized 3 bedroomed semi where silence was hard to come by. Whatever it was, I find that if there is silence my mind starts to wander and I lose focus.
It doesn’t matter to me if the music is instrumental or if there are lyrics, I can happily sing along to something and focus on my work at the same time. OK so I’ll admit that at times I have been known to type the words to Moves Like Jagger into the middle of an essay which thankfully I have become aware of before hand in.
Recently I was having a look into Gestaltism (as some of my course mates will know) for a group presentation on learning theories and found a paper written by Michael Griffin that’s attached here: Background music in classrooms which identified key benefits (and potential pitfalls) of music in classrooms. Another useful advice leaflet has been prepared by Janet Elder phD and is available here: 1_Brain-Friendly_Classroom_Music. Another interesting perspective is contained in this Journal of Music article by Mangram and Weber (2012) which discusses the uses of music in the classroom, the type of music used and what it says about the teacher: Classroom Music
Last time I was on placement I asked my students how they felt about music while they studied, having noticed a tendancy for a number of them to plug themselves into smart phones when working on computer based assignments in class. I realised, following a non-invasive stroll around the classroom and a bit of over the shoulder reading, that those who were wired for sound were working industriously and productively.
About a third of the class, equal numbers of boys and girls, had chosen to listen to some music the others who had the technology with them said that music while studying was not for them. One student pointed out that she liked the classroom to be very quiet when she was engaged in independent study and she said from her perspective it was a good thing that the others were able to listen to music as it prevented them from chatting and making a noise which would irritate her. She felt that it was the students who talk the most who were the ones who like to listen to music. This struck a chord with me because perhaps they are like me, not wantonly disruptive, just needing some background noise to help them focus… something worth bearing in mind when dealing with classroom management issues perhaps.
I asked them if their usual teacher allowed them to listen to music and gave them license under number 9 on the Learner Standards document posted in each classroom, the one that states “Mobile phones are only to be used appropriately to support learning”. They said that it was something that nobody had ever really stopped them doing and so they felt that it must be OK, it had never been discussed it was just not something their teacher seemed to object to. I took that to mean then that it had been decided that the use of mobile phones for music was deemed to support learning appropriately and I kind of liked that.
I did become aware of the tinny sound of someone else’s earphones on one occasion but when I tracked down the culprit a tap on the shoulder, an unprompted, polite apology later and the volume was set at a less invasive level.
When I wanted to gain the attention of the whole class, a slightly raised tone sufficed to bring everyone back to focus on the classroom and music was turned off, ear phones removed with no protest or issue.
In short from my microscopic study I couldn’t see a problem with it and could see obvious benefits.
I wonder if Griffin’s suggestions are too complex and over thought. Is there really any need to go to the lengths of controlling the type of music and volume for piped music? Why not simply allow students who wish to listen to music to choose for themselves? After all whilst music might be a useful aid for some students, it could irritate others, particularly those who like to study in silence, so does piped music have a place at all?
I’m going to relate this to some learning theory now, like a good student…
Whilst the use of background music in a classroom to add to the holistic learning experience, allowing for another branch of creativity to be opened up and for care to be given to the environment of learning is arguably Gestaltist in nature, would a Humanist approach allowing students freedom to choose for themselves be more appropriate?
Does it make a difference depending on the age of the students, or their ability, or their level of engagement perhaps? Hopefully I’ll find out as my journey progresses.