Making Peace with the Pod


“Can we listen to our iPods?”

This question is one that most teachers these days will hear at one time or another. Nearly all districts have school-wide policies on most electronic devices, some condemning their use (or even possession) altogether, others offering opportunities to integrate Mp3 players into classroom instruction. I’m lucky enough to teach at a school where Mp3 player use is left up to each teacher’s classroom rules, so I get to form my own answer to this question. In my mind, there’s really only one answer here. The answer is YES. I say this because I have observed an intense boost in concentration, productivity, and even creativity among my students during music-approved classes.

Teenagers have been “tuning out” since time began. Many people feel that the addition of earbuds as yet another layer between teachers’ voices and adolescents’ ears is a recipe for disaster. But I would argue that it’s a recipe for pure harmony. Music is often a driving force in people’s lives, particularly high schoolers, who may feel like their choice of music is one of the few things that others can’t control or take away. Music can calm or energize. It plays with the brain, instigates thoughts, and helps people “get in the groove.” The idea that music aids learning is not a new one–so why do we shrink away from this technology that lets every single kid listen to what he or she prefers, all the while co-existing with a room full of others who are doing the same? It’s a miracle! It gives them another stimulus in addition to classroom activities, which actually prevents other distractions. It discourages talking with others. It creates an “auditory cubicle,” as one of my former colleages called it–a virtual private space, spun by sound, supported by the listener’s imaginings. When kids listen to music, they are mentally far, far away… and that’s ok, because it’s there that they can feel safe enough to unpack words and thoughts that might otherwise be self-censored.

Now, clearly, I don’t allow my students to be jamming out during my lectures. When I have something important to say, they are indeed required to listen! I’ve put very specific management techniques in place to facilitate the use of Mp3 players. My first rule is that Mp3 players may only be used during independent reading or independent writing time, whether in class or in the lab. I also have a ridiculous lime green magnetic sign that says “MUSIC APPROVED!” that must be posted on my board before the earbuds may emerge. Volume must be low enough that no one other than the listener can hear it, and when approached by me with a question, they must pause the beats for a moment. I have never had a kid abuse these rules. Not even once. Music is precious to them, and gives them a reason to look forward to writing. I love looking over the class, watching heads bobbing, eyes closed and squinting, fingers on one hand drumming the desk while the other scribbles furiously. They are in their own world, and when it comes to original thought, that can be the best place possible.

I may be in the minority among teachers when I say, “Hey, get those headphones on!” However, I always come back to the same conclusion… My writing always goes better with music. (Usually the louder, the better.) Why, then, would I ask my students to write in silence?

4 thoughts on “Making Peace with the Pod

  1. Dawn Hogue says:

    Even more important than the obvious truth about a virtual personal space is the fact that listening to their own music is for teens, “one of the few things that others can’t control or take away.” And when you say others, I think you mean adults. Unfortunately, school, especially high school (when adolescence gives way to young adulthood and students begin the process of separation in overt ways), is about power and control. All else is subordinate to that. As adults, we teachers may think we’ll win the power game, but we won’t, and even thinking we should play it undermines our whole purpose. So, yes, listen, but let’s also talk about when and why we listen, and even discuss the consequences of a group of people who, while sharing the same physical space are, by means of an iPod, not sharing it at all. Great post, as usual Amy!

    • Ms. H says:

      I agree–an important component of embracing musical listening in class is the students’ awareness of why and when. So far, I haven’t had any discussions of depth with my students about WHY, other than “it may help you concentrate and tune in to your own thoughts,” but further discussion might even enhance the effectiveness of this strategy. And as far as the consequences of a community of individuals who are in their own little world, I think those will emerge more and more as the “digital age” progresses, but I sometimes wonder whether we’re as detached as we’re hyped up to be… I tend to think we’re hyperconnected instead, making mental privacy all the more precious. But that’s an introvert’s opinion! 🙂

  2. Mrs. Sampson says:

    Hello, Ms. Harter! I just stopped by to read your latest two entries, and I feel inspired after reading. 🙂 First of all, I LOVE that you did reading interviews! Since my PDP goal is focused on speaking and learning, I have been doing a lot of “stuff” in regard to verbal communication in my classroom, but reading interviews hadn’t crossed my mind. What a great idea! I love it! I intend on posting soon about my observations in regard to the different “talking pieces” I’ve added to my classroom, but I am definitely inspired by the reading interviews. Secondly, I wanted to comment on this idea of music during work-time. Like you, I think this concept makes TOTAL sense. At the beginning of the semester in my Creative Writing class, I couldn’t figure out why some students refused to write in class. It seemed like they wanted to do anything BUT write creatively–some of them would even work on MATH homework! Then, a few weeks into the semester, I decided to have a big discussion with them about how they can create their ideal writing environment in my classroom. I utilized a few avid writers to get the discussion going. The handful of students who came to class with energetic hands made a not-so-shocking suggestion: “Bring your iPod to class.” It turned out to be a valuable conversation because many students didn’t know I would allow them to listen to music. After that discussion (and the purchase of two bean-bag chairs), they are doing so much better with writing time. One student even explained that without music, you can’t ignore the fact that you’re in school, but with music, it’s easier to pretend you’re in your bedroom. I can’t take that away from them (nor would I want to)! I really do like your idea about the sign that says it’s okay to listen to music. I find that sometimes I have to wait awkwardly for kids to pull their ear buds out when I’m ready to address the whole class again. 🙂 You rule!

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