Have you ever had trouble choosing songs for your classes?

It is true that our classes are filled with differences but we tend to focus only on the level of English of each student, and placement tests are there to prove it as an attempt to group people in somewhat the same level. But it is not how much grammar and vocabulary they know that shows how different they are, but who they are.

Thinking about diversity, something I am reflecting on this week because of my studies for the new B.A I am taking (Computer Science for education), I decided to discover how a group of students in their third semester of English differ in their taste for music.

In a group of 9, 8 listens to music on a daily basis. One of them listens to songs in Portuguese more than in English and most of them seems to listen only to songs in English. I decided to do the following as a way to find out their music preferences to help me decide which song we would be using in our next class. I’m not a very musical person, so music doesn’t visit my classes very often as a teaching tool. But here is the thing. If students matter and in order to learn something, they have to be engaged, their preferences need to be taken into account. Okay! I haven’t done that when it comes to music mainly because I find it hard to really bring songs that will engage everyone. Another problem is that music is used as a language learning tool by just a few of them. Most of them just like listening to it without bothering to learn the language.

Now, I know that handing this to students choice and not mine is like entering in a mining field. I might get a song that some wouldn’t think it would be appropriated. But songs reflect who they are and how they feel about the world around them. It also reflects their doubts and frustrations as well as their expectations and dreams. How I am going to prepare the tasks and deal with the song that comes up is problem for me as an educator to solve. IMHO there is no such a thing as bad music or good music as music reflects more than just music, it reflects one’s culture.

I asked students to line up one beside the other and told them:

If you like the song, one step forward.

If you don’t, one step backward.

If you can’t decide, stay where you are.

This was a group of students with a year of studying in English. So, I kept instructions simple and modeled for them moving myself forward and backward and asked them to repeat the instruction while moving or not after me.

I sat back on my desk and played this video.

I took notes of the songs and number of people who stepped forward. Among 50 songs only one made to the common list and supported by only 8 of the 9 students.

The winner is:

They loved getting out of their desks, being able to give their opinion on something while listening to music. Three words come to my mind when I think of the system and why we have so much trouble engaging students in regular schools.

too static


one size fits all

I’ve been there and I’ve done that myself. I know.

3 thoughts on “Have you ever had trouble choosing songs for your classes?

  1. Dear Rose, I love the activity you came up with and I’m not surprised that your students responded well to it. I found the same thing in my classes – my students loved having choices in the material we use. You wrote: “If students matter and in order to learn something, they have to be engaged, their preferences need to be taken into account.” I completely agree and I love how you considered not only their love of music, but also their preference of which song to use. Very cool! Good luck in the mine field. Out of curiosity, what parts of the song they chose are taboo for a classroom?

    Liked by 1 person

    • HI, Anne! Good to be back to this space. I missed this interaction where we think things further. Thanks for the question.

      It’s not what I, Rose, think it is a taboo but what is considered by most teachers. To answer your question, here are the parts:
      When I’m fucked up
      I only fuck you
      I just fucked two bitches ‘fore I saw you

      The last part of the video would be seen as not appropriate too.

      I don’t swear, but I see swearing as part of the culture with its communicative purpose and it doesn’t always mean using it to be aggressive towards someone. In fact, you can be mean by using nice words and patronizing others which makes me sick to my stomach. Hearing someone using the word Fuck doesn’t shock or affect me. I work from the perspective of feelings. How our words might reflect our intentions/feelings. Not the feelings that others assume you are having, but the ones you need to figure out for yourself. Not saying we can’t have them either. We are humans and we are going to be frustrated and angry sometimes. But we can choose to react in one way or another. Violence in Brazil is increasing. It scares me to death that children can’t sort things out in a more rational way, and the fact that they use verbal to hurt each other instead of their fists now. When a kid hit another, it was easy to spot and deal with it.

      I personally think the song has a lot of potential as a material for discussion and reflection as well as language learning/practice. They listen to this on a daily basis, avoid using what they are used to in real life is to choose material that has no meaning to them. But I need to figure out what is really worth focusing on here. Not sure yet.

      🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting… and of course making me think.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Follow-up post to THE HILLS song | ROSE BARD – Teaching Journal

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