Orchestrating Learning

From Soundtracks for Learning, Practice and Perform: Activate Learning

We learn through seeing, hearing, moving, and doing. We make connections by working things out in our minds and interacting with others. Art, movement, music, language, games, student interaction, personal reflection, and critical thinking are all strategies that help activate our learning.

The Orchestrating Learning activations offer students the chance to personally experience information and then express what they know using a variety of creative strategies.  Each activation exercise includes sound suggestions that enhance the activity, as well as a description of general music characteristics.

Most teachers have favorite activities they have found help students learn. Soundtracks for Learning provides a number of ways to activate learning. A few are shown here with general suggestions for using background soundtracks to enhance effectiveness. Check out the Sound Suggestions section for more specific ideas about which music to use!

Why Use Music?

Music can help bring listeners into the place that creativity expert Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow” (1996). In this engaging, reflective state, we are fully involved in the task at hand, time seems to disappear, and our personal exploration and expression are enhanced. Not only can music help our students stay focused in this creative state, but it also seems to encourage the Aha! spark of insight.

Music can also help us energize, concentrate and feel more comfortable with our interactions.

Music can also be used as a sound cue, a great classroom management tool for letting students know when to start or stop an activity,

Orchestrated Writing

Different kinds of writing tasks require a slightly different ‘mode’ of thinking. Different styles of music–with distinct tempos, harmonies and rhythms– can be selected to match and encourage a particular thinking mode. Here are a just three examples from Soundtracks for Learning:

  • Orchestrated Organizing
    Play structured Baroque-era music when students are writing outlines or plans for a project or when they are working on assignments.
  • Resonating with Reports
    Writing reports can take a lot of time. To help students stay attentive and keep their energy levels up, use music for focusing or energizing while they are writing. See Sound Advice.
  • Getting an Earful
    Have students write their opinion about a controversial topic, a historical event, or a social studies issue. Play music that is related to the topic or that has a dynamic, focused energy. See Sound Advice for specific selections.

 Other ways to use music in Orchestrated Writing, found in Soundtracks for Learning, include:

  • Sounding out Summaries
  • Poetic Processing
  • Musically Motivating Goal-Setting
Orchestrated Art

Drawing images and symbols creates a mental image in the artists imagination. When art is used as an activation of subject matter (history, math, language arts, social studies!), it can help students learn the material. Students will remember their images and can use them to help recall the information later.

In addition, spatial-temporal skills, used and developed through art and music, may prove useful in strengthening thinking skills needed for other subjects, such as pattern recognition important to math.

A soundtrack can support art in many ways. For example, music can encourage a state of flow, enhancing the creative process. It can also help to reduce anxiety about drawing and encourage free expression. While most young students are excited about drawing, many older students feel inhibited by it. Music can help them feel more comfortable about participating. In more interactive drawing experiences, music can be used to set a playful, engaging mood

  •  Quick Draw
    Provide students with a set of index cards, on each of which you have written an essential element or vocabulary term. Ask students to pick a card and communicate what it is written on it to a partner using only drawn images. Play music as a sound cue to let students know when their ‘time is up’
  • Learning Impressions
    Let students make an impressionistic drawing of the subject matter, such as the sea, desert, or other ecological system; a story setting; or an imaginative rendition of key elements like planets, subatomic particles, or cell structures. Play music of the Impressionism era (such as Debussy’s Nuages) or contemporary ‘Atmospheric’ music.
  • Sculpture Studies
    Instead of drawing, have students make clay models of subject matter either as individuals or in small groups: create an ecosystem, depict a historical setting, model the parts of a plant, make a spider and label its parts. The possibilities are endless. Play background music related to the topic or music that assists in focusing, like slow Baroque-era music or other selections in the Sound Suggestions Focus and Concentration category.

Other ways to activate learning with orchestrated art include:

  • Eye Organize
  • A Symbol Speaks a Thousand Words
  • Picture This
  • Selling the Subject
  • Opinionated Art
Tuning into Games

Games are highly effective learning tools, yet they are so little used! If we realized the high-level thinking required and the degree of brain activation involved in games, we would play them daily. Games allow us to think, respond, and interact with information, and they allow us to experience it kinesthetically, visually, and intellectually. They encourage participation, build quick response time, and provide opportunities for interaction. Playful activities further bond information into our memory through the release of dopamine and other neurotransmitters that stimulate pleasure (Hannaford 2005).

Soundtracks, such as familiar upbeat tunes, game-show theme songs, high-energy tempos, and unusual sounds, add fun, humor, and interest to games. They also provide structure by setting musical guidelines for action, such as starting and ending times.

Orchestrated Treasure Hunt
Give students a handout with content-related questions and have them go on a treasure hunt to get as many questions answered by other students as possible within the allotted time. Play music during the hunt and use a sound cue to mark when it’s time to end.

Stop and Go!
Create a set of Element cards using large index cards. On each one, write one of the main elements in the unit of study your game will be about. Then make a set of Elaboration cards by writing something that defines—or elaborates on—one of the Element cards. To play the game, tape all the Element cards in a row on the board or wall. Then hold an Elaboration card under one of them. If the information is related to that element, ask students to tell you to “Stop!” If the information is not related, ask students to tell you to “Go!” When students correctly match the two, tape the Elaboration card below it’s related Element card. When the Elaboration card is not a descriptor for the Element card, move to the next Element card until students correctly tell you to stop. Continue until all the Elements and their Elaborations are correctly matched.

Play upbeat music during the game. You can also use a sound cue to indicate when students have answered correctly.

Other ways to activate learning with orchestrated are include:

  • Content Concentration
  • Who Wants to Learn Like a Millionaire
  • Jeopardy
  • Top Ten
  • Race to Knowledge




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