Implementing Music Cues.

I’ve mentioned music cues multiple times in my posts.  Most recently, I spoke about the success I had with music cues during my second year.  Meg Craig mentioned she wanted to hear more about how the process unfolded over the year, so here it goes!

My Set Up:

My classroom was equipped with a docking station for my laptop.  The dock was wired to a projector, so I was able to show a visual as a music cue played through the built in speakers.  The audio wasn’t crystal clear, but the quality was good enough for my purpose.

Since I was starting fresh with music cues, I used cues that Matt Vaudrey included in a Google Folder from his post. Before the start of the school year, I built a SMART Notebook for a basic set of cues for classroom tasks (see images below). The slides were not flashy, but they were more about utility then aesthetics. The text or a shape on each slide played the audio file for the cue when clicked.

Implementing on the First Content Day of School:

I planned my first content day (the first day was 6th grade orientation) to introduce music cues, as well as getting students to jump into math as soon as possible.  I left a stack of papers on the front table with a slide displaying a seating chart and directive (find seat and write down name, birthday, and 3 things you want me to know about you) for students to complete when they walked in the room.  Since most 6th graders are a little frazzled the first few days of school, I had students introduce themselves after the bell.

After introductions, I told students about myself and how I wanted to help them grow up a bit this year.  I elaborated how middle school requires more responsibility of students, but we were going to start with something small to build that responsibility.  I asked students to raise a hand if they ever had to repeat themselves when talking to someone. Everyone raised a hand.  I asked students to raise a hand if they were ever told to do something they knew they had to do. Many students raised a hand.  Finally, I asked students to raise a hand if they ever had a teacher who repeated directions a lot. It was no shock that many students raised a hand.

I appealed to the responses I received by telling students that I would not repeat myself during the year (unless it was a really important idea).  I also told students I wouldn’t tell them to do something they knew they had to do or they could tell themselves to do.  This fact would also be true about directions.  I stressed that I knew students could be responsible enough to listen the first time when I spoke and tell themselves what to do when necessary.

With the stage set, I slid into describing the turn in/pick up cue.  When students heard the music, they would tell themselves to turn in/collect a paper from the table at the front of my room and do it within the time the music played.  I said students were responsible enough to do this small task by themselves in the time allotted.  The buy in was apparent when everyone completed the task when the music played.

I used a similar process to introduce the other cues I planned for the year.  For the first week of school, I provided some encouragement before I played a cue. The encouragement was meant to stress responsibility and communicate respect for my students’ time.  During the second week of school, I dropped reminders and expected students to direct themselves to complete tasks.

The Evolution of Cues:

As  the year progressed, my students and I found more tasks that benefited from music cues.  Around October, I noticed that turning in spirals for a note check was taking too long.  I introduced the I Dream of Jeannie clip for this task.  In January, a student in my second period noticed I always told students to return to seats after breaks or working around the room.  She said music would be better.  I had my classes vote on a cue for this task the next day and (of course) a clip from Can’t Touch This won.  Finally, I used homework circles from time to time to foster greater accountability for homework.  I started the year by setting a timer for this task, but students asked if I could play music during the activity.  Cue a 10 minute tropical storm.  I was surprised that students suggested tasks, but I think it all goes back to the start of the year.  I told students I did not want to repeat myself.  As much I as I upheld this expectation, some students probably noticed I was saying, “Turn in your notebook to the back beige table,” and, “Return to seats,” on a routine basis.  Students would know what to do if I played music for these tasks, so it makes sense that they were tired of hearing my directions.

Next Year:

This coming year, I might shake my cues up a bit for variety.  Most of my cues were theme songs this year, but I like the idea of changing up my cues each quarter to provide students with a brief history of pop/rock music.  For instance, maybe first quarter will be music of the late 50s, second quarter will be early 60s music, third quarter will be late 60s tunes, and fourth quarter will be 70s classics.  I was surprised at how few students recognized Can’t Buy Me Love and Oye Como Va during our estimate bellwork, until I remembered that most of these kids don’t have parents who had them listen to everything under the sun (like I did).  I also liked how students suggested tasks that could benefit from a cue, so I will start with a small number of cues again and gradually introduce more cues.  I envision directing students to complete a task a couple times, then saying, “I’m getting tired of repeating these directions every day/week.  Who wants a music cue for this task?” I’ll have students vote on a cue for the task to make it more of a communal process.



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