Q&A: What’s the Tune In Your Lesson?

Do you have songs that you can recall and recite from your teen years? Does it recall a whole slew of memories from the first time you heard it, saw it played in concert, or listened to it on the radio? What if we could leverage the memory-locking ability of music to help students learn in fun new ways?
EducationalRap.com is doing just that with its Rhythm Rhyme Results (RRR) collection of hip hop and rap songs that showcase educational topics for the classroom. Some teachers report that the songs help break the ice, getting some students out of their shell to interact with the rest of the class. Others say that it livens students up from the lecture routine. Sixth grade reading and Language Arts educator Veronica Asbury at Olentangy Liberty Middle School in Powell, Ohio shares with us how she uses the tunes to get her students excited to learn. What’s more, she’s seen great results!

SC: How did you first come across Educational Rap or Rhythm Rhyme Results (RRR)? What inspired you to begin using the songs as supplemental educational tools?

VA: I first came across it by accident while looking for music for my classroom. I was looking for something educational that would get my students interested in the subject matter, such as grammar and spelling. As soon as I heard the first song, I was hooked; I knew my students would love it! I was right! That was five years ago; I’ve used it every year since!

SC: What subject areas or lesson topics do you primarily use the songs for?

VA: I use it for English topics since I only teach English. Every song fits into my curriculum! I start out with the “Nouns & Verbs” song, then use the other songs as the different topics come up. The songs are always the kick off to the unit/lessons; they inspire the students without a doubt! I use the songs whenever I can, whenever they fit, which they all do because the songs are aligned with the state mandated curriculum.

SC: What are your favorite songs?

VA: I can honestly say I don’t really have a favorite; they all serve a different purpose and the students like them all! The “Nouns & Verbs,” “Punctuation & Prefixes,” and “Suffixes & Roots” songs have the catchiest beat and seem the easiest to memorize. They are all awesome!

SC: Have you seen an increase in student learning retention with the use of the songs?

VA: Of course! I kick off the units by allowing them to listen to the songs, then they follow looking at the lyrics. We highlight all the important concepts and ideas within the songs, then sing them at least once a day/class. After we have done all of the necessary work that surrounds the topics, students are given a test or a quiz over the topic. Not only are kids excited to take a quiz/test, the results are amazing! Some kids even have asked to go into the hall to sing the song to help them on the quiz! Most of the time, kids score 100 percent on the quizzes/tests.

SC: Do you believe that music enhances our ability to comprehend and retain new information?

VA: My personal philosophy is “whatever works.” I believe music crosses all barriers and that music is universal, something every person/child can relate to in one way or another. I think music, such as the music by RRR, is not only inspiring, but fun as well. It’s funny, when we are going on a field trip or the kids are riding the bus to or from school, they often times are wanting to sing these songs and have them completely memorized. One time a student requested to sing one of the songs at our school talent show. So yes, most definitely students retain information via music!

SC: What other sort of results have you seen from using the songs (i.e. test score improvements, etc.)?

VA: From year-to-year, I’ve seen amazing results from using these songs and other music in the classroom. I think the music is catchy and students enjoy it; therefore, I think students retain the information/concepts and are able to apply it when they take classroom tests/quizzes as well as standardized tests. I also know that the kids enjoy the music so much, often times they download the songs to their ipods and listen to the songs as they would any other song on the radio. One child even gave a CD to his bus driver who plays the CD every morning to and from school. That’s what I’d call education at it finest; to and from school, that’s pretty cool!

SC: In your experience, how does the use of music in lessons change the culture of the classroom?

VA: I think because music does not really have any barriers, music draws students closer together and allows for stronger collaboration. This year was an amazing one for me. I had the most amazing collaborative classroom this year; the music only helped add to student motivation and collaboration! I have music playing when the students enter the classroom, so they are motivated and excited as soon as they enter the door!

SC: In what ways can we better engage students with current and hip culture trends for learning?

VA: Again, my philosophy is “whatever works.” I’m always racking my brain trying to come up with ways to make learning fun, engaging, and exciting. I take great pride in my creative ideas and teaching instruction/delivery. I think of myself as a middle schooler and ask myself, “How can I make this interesting and fun?” I dig deep inside myself and look for that inner child/inner silly, and develop lessons and ideas from there (of course following the state mandated curriculum).
I always get my ideas from pop/current culture and apply those ideas to my classroom. Survivor, American Idol, America’s Got Talent, and the Sing Off were current day shows that inspired me and allowed me to apply them to my own classroom. By the second week of school, I had all 100 students standing on tables, dancing, and singing songs; all of them, even the shy ones!
My classroom is one where everyone is welcome to be themselves, laugh, and be silly, and of course learn in the process! We have a ton of fun; however, my expectations are very, very high! And, every year, the kids surprise me and rise to meet those high expectations! This year in particular, the kids rose to meet my expectations and then soared even higher, nothing was unattainable for them. I made it fun and interesting, they ate it up….it was the most amazing thing as a teacher to see. This year was unlike many others; all of the kids were truly amazing!

SC: Do you believe a fun learning environment improves students’ ability and will to learn?

VA: Like I stated above, my classroom is full of fun, laughter, and high quality learning! I’ve seen amazing results both on classroom assignments as well as standardized testing. This year, 98.6 percent of our 270 sixth graders passed the Ohio Achievement Assessment; my class had 100 percent proficient or above, all 100 kids passed. In my heart, I honestly believe that the teacher and the teacher’s attitude toward the students, as well as the subject matter is so important to student success!
Year after year, I see high test scores/results (100% of the students testing proficient or above) from my students. I believe the fun, creative, exciting, and engaging classroom environment is critical to student motivation and learning! Ask any student who has had me in the past 15 years; I guarantee a large majority of them would say my class was the most fun and the one they looked forward to every day! I have numerous pages of thank you notes from students and parents about my classroom, my teaching practices, and me!

SC: Have your students developed a personal interest in discovering more educational music?

VA: I think if the music was out there, I would find it and use it! There are a few topics that I have not been able to find music for. If that’s the case, I usually make up my own or have the kids make something up! We are always composing, creating, writing music or poetry; it’s very easy to do and the students take great pride in what they create!

SC: Have your students created any multimedia videos to go with the songs they learn in your classroom? Would you be willing to share?

VA: Yes, I’ve recorded several of their songs! I wish I had a camera rolling all the time to capture the variety of things they create, sing, and perform! Of course, we’d love to share our work!
A lot of the time we have contests (or sing-offs) where the students vote (not for themselves) as to who has the best songs, lyrics, and performances. I have to say, a lot of  my classroom is interactive, hands-on type of learning. I enjoy seeing them so excited and motivated about learning. It makes my job as a teacher so easy, so fun, and a place I look forward to going every day!

SC: Have your students written any songs of their own? Would you be willing to share?

VA: Students write their own songs all year long! I pretty much have them writing songs/poems with every assignment; or else it’s an option they can choose from the various project choices! And, of course, we’d love to share our creations! I took a lot of their work samples to the National Middle School conference in Kentucky last year! We enjoy sharing our work with the general public in whatever ways we can! Students love performing their work and having others see it!

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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1 Comment

Taunia Soderquist

Wow! We are so flattered, and as always, so thankful that teachers like Veronica are using our music with such great success. Veronica is an all-star teacher, and we're happy to be associated with her and her teaching.
Many thanks to Sarah and Getting Smart for this fantastic interview as well! We're going to re-post on our blog tomorrow as well as on our social networks!

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