As teachers, learning styles aren’t a topic we focus on very often. They have quietly gone the way of other education trends and slipped behind what we know as well-rounded instruction and differentiation. We educators, though, still know that learning styles provide valuable insight and that we need to reach our students via their multiple intelligences.
We strive to teach students in a way that engages them and reaches their minds and souls. And this is only the start of why I sing to my students.
I sing to my students because music is an important part of me. As a child I would spin, singing, until I fell with laughter. My parents remember Teddy Ruxpin and I singing nightly before bed. In middle school, after I had developed a passion for science as well (thank you dad and Mrs. Jensen), I had a conviction that I would grow up to be an ER surgeon who would sing on Broadway during the weekends.
I’m sure many of us remember our childhood dreams and then remember letting them go. But once I became a teacher, there came a day when I realized I had a wish for the students I stood in front of daily. What if they could “hold on,” as Wilson Phillips suggested when I was a kid? What if students could apply what they knew across different mediums that interested them? What if we allowed ourselves to go back to the very beginning of how we learned — often through music — and incorporate that kind of learning to ease challenging content?
I began with these thoughts, and then it just became a matter of introducing the idea to my cool middle school students.
Before I sing, I start by sharing with them that I’m the weirdest person in the room. The rule is that you must be open to trying new things, but as long as I’m the weirdest, you don’t need to worry, since “they” will be looking at me. Secondly, I explain that kindergarten teachers are the smartest people on the planet. They use a strong pedagogical approach and can “trick” kiddos into learning content using an overlapping methodological melody that students never notice (have you?).
ABCD, baa baa black sheep, twinkle twinkle little star… It’s the SAME MELODY! Those kindergarten teachers are smart, and though some songs were silly, you know them all. It worked, and you still remember.
So now we sing. We sing the hard stuff. We sing the process of mitosis (Green Acres theme song – see the video below, starting at the 5:00 minute mark), we sing active/passive transport (Hokey Pokey anyone?), we rap the cell parts, we march the levels of taxonomy, and we dance out the type of protists.
Recently, I decided I needed some data to justify my claim that students learn and retain knowledge through singing. I asked students about the songs. They’re almost 8th graders now, and I’ve started to wonder if they’re outgrowing me and my silly singing. A student responded, “Mrs. Richard, I adore you, but I HATED the songs!”
Instantly my heart broke. What had I done? Had I strayed too far from the appropriate science instructional path laid before me? But he wasn’t done.
“Mrs. Richard, I hated them! They got stuck in my head and I’ve never forgotten them! My parents were so tired of me marching.”
Sometimes it’s hard to let students into the part of our lives that we’re passionate about. It’s hard to integrate things into our rooms that take us out of our comfort zones. But I can’t help but wonder if that’s where authentic learning begins. Everyone knows it’s important to remember what you learned in kindergarten. I think it’s also important for us to remember how we learned in kindergarten.
Remember when learning was exciting, new, and even standardized tests were a thrill because we got to be a big kid and go to school? In this final push towards summer, I remember why I love school. I remember the excitement of growing, learning, and the journey that got me to where I am today. In a time when we’re creating more authentic assessments, it’s essential — in my humble opinion — to be our most authentic selves.
In the words of Journey, “Don’t stop believing, hold onto that feeling.” And teach with a passion that is you.