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Music Makes It Stick

Musical notesSusan Banman Sileci, Everybody Up co-author, has a confession to make…

I have a confession to make: I forget to use music in my classroom. And then something happens that reminds me that using music to teach – not just to kids but to teenagers and adults, too – is one of the best ways to help them learn. It seems obvious, but I forget all the time. I use flashcards. I play games. I teach culture and history and I tell stories. But I forget to use music. Crazy, isn’t it?

Part of the problem is that I teach teenagers, between 12 and 16 years old. My eight students are children who live in one of the poorest areas of São Paulo, Brazil: Campo Limpo. They’re part of a special educational program that removed them from their overcrowded and undisciplined public schools and put them in a private school. I teach them once a week. Our classroom is in one of their homes, on a long table made of wooden planks set upon boxes, and the room’s one electrical outlet is on the other side of the room. The book we use, Oxford University Press’s Engage, is great. But Engage, like most books for teenagers, doesn’t come with a music program. As a result, I often forget how much these kids love music and how effective music can be.

I’m one of the authors of Everybody Up. This is a primary series which comes with an incredible music program and is entering the second year of its outstanding and award-winning Global Sing-Along. You wouldn’t think I’d need reminders to use music! But I do. Here’s a story for you.

Before the books were ready, I received a sample CD of some of the music. I had the CD in my car and was giving several of my teenage students a ride to school after our class. My students love Beyoncé and laugh at Justin Bieber (although they won’t let me change the radio station when he’s on), and one listens to Guns N’ Roses in preparation for his career as a rock star. Instead of turning on the radio, I decided to keep listening to my new CD. A song for the Starter level, Boys and Girls, came on. The music was obviously for very young children.

And my ‘too cool’ teenage students learned the words the first time, divided themselves into boys and girls and sang the song repeatedly. We drove through Campo Limpo with the windows down – past lines of laundry, small shacks and a large trash heap, through a park known for its drug dealers, over speed bumps and in front of the brick homes of one of their family members. ‘There’s my cousin,’ Camila laughed, and shouted, ‘Hi boy!’ out the window. The boy waved.

So, are we really too cool?

With these teenagers, I can use Everybody Up songs and they’re happy to learn them. They laugh. It’s kiddie music, but they always listen carefully, learn, and leave the class singing the song. I also like to use songs from the radio. We recently listened to Katy Perry’s Firework. It’s a song they know but never understood. They’re beginner students so I use a variety of techniques with songs, especially with complicated, non-ELT songs:

  • I don’t expect them to learn the entire song. That can be difficult, requires a lot of L1, and is certainly hard to remember five minutes after class is over.
  • I pick out a grammar point or a set of vocabulary. I pre-teach that language and give them the lyrics printed out with those parts missing. They listen, sometimes several times, to fill in the blanks with pre-taught material.
  • We talk about the general message of the song and listen one more time.
  • We talk about the cultural differences the song exposes. Elvis’s Blue Christmas surprised my students because something blue in Portuguese is happy. Thayza refused to believe me that ‘blue’ meant sad, but she’s beginning to accept the concept!
  • If there’s time, they can do post-listening activities like inventing dance routines, researching the singer or the song, or finding other songs with similar lyrics or messages.

I’ve made a personal goal of using a song – any song – at least once a month. I’m learning that if a song meets a need, students, no matter their age, don’t care if it’s a song for children, for Elvis fans, or for future rock musicians. There’s always something to be learned, and music makes it stick.

What about you? What’s your experience with mixing music styles in the classroom?

Visit our site for more information on Everybody Up and the Everybody Up Global Sing-along 2013.

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Teaching values is nothing new!

Having given us some tips for teaching values in the classroom, Susan Banman Sileci, co-author of the new Primary course Everybody Up, now considers whether this is a new phenomenon or not.

EFL teachers, especially those who teach young learners, know instinctively that they’re standing in front of a group of kids teaching more than English. One of those things is values – how to behave at school, at home and out in the community.

I recently spent some time online preparing for a presentation on teaching values and found a few sites expressing worry about this generation of children “The world is on the verge of collapse,” the sites suggest. “What will become of the world with kids like these in it?” Some sites say the biggest problem is video games. Others say it’s divorce. Others blame today’s social woes on bad teachers, rap music, reality TV, the Internet, cell phones and political corruption. If you believe those sites, we’re in trouble.

But then I look back on my childhood in the 1960s and 1970s in the United States. I remember a lot of talk from the adults around me about how terrible my generation would turn out. There were drugs everywhere. There were rock festivals, disco music, political scandals, race riots, girls wearing boys’ clothes and guys with long hair. Every night we watched the Vietnam War on the news and mourned the assassination of our leaders, from President Kennedy to Martin Luther King, Jr. It wasn’t an easy time either.

I asked my mother about her generation. For kids of the 1950s, listening to Elvis Presley was the end of the world to the adults around her. Before that, moving from the farm to the city was trouble. Even Plato and Socrates worried about their own disrespectful kids and teenagers.

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Tips for Teaching Values in the Primary Classroom

 

I was a child who very much cared about pleasing my parents, and my earliest memories seem to involve the stressful or surprising moments when I did not please them. For example, I must have been around four years old and my family was at a restaurant having lunch. A child at another table was talking loudly and waving his arms. My response was to stare at that child, and I lifted my arm to point at him and asked my parents to look too. To my surprise, I was told clearly not to point at anyone and to stop looking at the child. The direct message was, “It’s not polite,” and I was not supposed to stare and point here or anywhere else.

Were my parents teaching me values? At the time, they would probably have said no, they were teaching me to be polite and to behave in a way that was acceptable in American society. They were teaching me basic etiquette and good manners. But through etiquette and manners, they were also teaching me values. In this case, they wanted to teach me to respect the privacy of others and to mind my own business.

Every year, I hear more and more about teaching values in the classroom. Some governments suggest that teachers do it. Some schools enrol students by telling parents that their teachers do it. Some parents specifically ask teachers to help them out by teaching values.

It might seem like you’re being asked to do too much when, on top of teaching English, you have to teach students to be kind, helpful, fair, polite and careful while learning about recycling, caring for the environment and respecting the world around them. You might shake your head and say, “It just can’t be done.”

I suggest it can and, chances are, you’re already doing it.

When a student throws trash on the floor, you probably ask the student to pick it up. It’s basic manners to clear up our own mess, but you’re also teaching about the value of respect for ourselves, others, the school, and the environment by asking a student to pick up some paper they left on the floor. You’re teaching values.

You ask a student to lend you a pen or to demonstrate an activity and as you ask, you say “Please.” You then say “Thank you” when it’s done. And you ask students to use those same terms with you and their classmates in similar situations. You’re teaching manners and basic etiquette, but you’re also teaching gratitude and respect for things others give or do. You’re teaching values.

These values start small. We can’t and don’t expect that picking up one piece of paper will cause a student to become an advocate for a neighbourhood recycling program. We can’t expect that saying “Thank you” one time will cause a child to be more respectful of another person’s time and energy. But it’s a beginning.

More importantly, just as I needed to be told not to stare and point at another child in a restaurant, our students need direct and clear coaching in what society expects of them. Yes, of course, children absorb values from what they see around them. If everyone in the car puts a seat belt on, a child will one day learn that people wear seat belts in the car and probably do it too. But asking a child to please put his seat belt on might be the first step. And parents might have to remind the child several times, if not hundreds of times before a child remembers.

Our job as teachers (among many other things!) is to reinforce what children learn at home and help create citizens of the world who are not only polite but who respect others, who care for their environments, and who care for themselves. And particularly in primary classes, we don’t start with bigger issues like climate change, immigration, sexual identity, or hate crimes. We start by asking students to say “Please,” to clean up their messes, and remember to wait for their turn. These small values grow and build on one another until students begin to understand the bigger picture.

There are lots of manners and values to work on, but teachers can start by reinforcing them slowly and individually. For example, have Please and Thank You Week. During this week (or month, depending on your schedule), suggest that everyone remember to say please and thank you. In the classroom, they can do this in English. And they can do it in their native language outside the classroom – in other classes, in their communities and at home. To wrap up, spend a few minutes practising the different situations where students might say please and thank you.

For children, learning explicit values can be lots of fun. They enjoy helping one another remember this week’s value and really enjoy seeing me, the teacher, occasionally forget to use it (we’re all learning together!). At the beginning of the next class, I can ask students if they used their polite words yesterday. Did they use them with other teachers, or friends, or their families? I’d ask students to volunteer success stories and ask the class to act out that story in English. We might even make a poster and at the end of the week, we can celebrate by drawing a big star to show that we’ve mastered please and thank you.

By breaking values into small, meaningful chunks, stating our expectations, following up during the week and rewarding students for good behaviour, teaching values becomes not only manageable, but also incredibly helpful to your image as a teacher. Imagine being a mother whose child suddenly starts saying please or sharing with his little sister? If that mother finds out it’s because his English teacher suggested it (and she will), you’re a star!

So here’s a challenge: Besides Please and Thank You Week, what other “values weeks” could we plan? I’ve made a poster, stuck it to the wall beside my computer and will write your suggestions on it. Get yourself a star and share your ideas!


Turn your students into citizens! I’m running a free webinar on teaching values on 15th and 16th May, so if you want to find out more please do join me! Click the button below to register. 


Teachers play an important role in a child’s awareness of politeness, kindness, sharing etc. Susan Banman Sileci, co-author of the new Primary course, Everybody Up, shares some of her ideas on how to bring values into the classroom.

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