Have you ever been to a concert? Not just any concert, though–like a bass-deafening, lights all over the place, fog machine cranking, wall-to-wall dancing bodies concert. Some might even use the term “rave”, but don’t get confused: I am literally talking about the amazingly produced experience that is created from the chemistry of lights, the music, and the crowd. It’s completely euphoric sensory overload. While it’s not for the faint at heart, I can guarantee you that just about anyone attending would be sure to have an incredibly memorable experience there.
Now think of a 4th grade class.
If the lights went dark and the music came to a screeching halt, you are reading exactly what you need to at just the right time.
Too many classrooms lack the type of excitement previously mentioned. There is little involved to excite our students and provide them an indelible experience, much less activate multiple senses. But it doesn’t have to be that way!
Engagement does matter.
My goal is to prove this with the help of my favorite thing in the world–dance music. I mean, I love dance music so much that my last year teaching 5th grade, every Friday in my class was Dance Party Friday. Every single day, my kids would bebop along to music while they did their independent work. It really made our room a relaxed place where kids could comfortably work and enjoy a little bit of moderate entertainment at the same time. No matter how difficult the tasks we were completing or what was going on outside our room or in our personal lives, we had music to pleasantly carry us through our daily academic tasks. But oh, Friday! On Fridays, we took a break from the calmer, more whimsical tunes that accompanied our learning throughout the week and cranked up the remixes! I introduced my kids to house, dubstep, bitpop, and techno (it’s not all techno, contrary to popular belief). It was a way to celebrate the successes of the week and finish strong, as we often had at least a couple assessments on Fridays. My kids, now new high school graduates of the class of 2018, probably can’t recall what those assessments were on, but I can guarantee that they remember dance party Fridays along with the other uber-engaging activities we did in 5th grade that year.
So back to EDM. My goal is to discuss the most important element in instructional delivery with educators through my beloved electronic dance music (this is the mainstream term associated with EDM). Take for example the song I am featuring with this inaugural blog post: ‘Is This Love’ by Alex Gaudino (2013). In this song, a few particular lyrics come to mind when thinking about student engagement. Vocalist, Jordin Sparks asks repeatedly, “Is this what I should be feeling?” I wonder how many kids actually ask that question in their classrooms in the midst of their lessons. Are they feeling excited? Are they feeling bored to tears? Are they feeling anything?! What sort of response are you getting from your students? This isn’t something that requires painstaking documentation or tireless progress monitoring–this is something that can be determined from tuning in with kiddos in the midst of the lesson. While a teacher is moving about, interacting and communicating with students while they learn, what are the conversations that are taking place? Are there connections being made to real life? Is anything sparked that makes the kids want to take their learning further? What, actually, are they feeling? Have we ever asked them? Do we care?
Also in the song, Jordin croons, “Is this love what I’ve been waiting for?” As a coach and administrator, I have been in so many classrooms that boast a rich learning target, objective, or essential question, only to leave learners waiting for true application and deep understanding of the knowledge presented. Teachers, often, can only delve so far into content without rich student engagement. Take for example the concept of Henry Ford and his assembly lines: What child is going to understand exactly how beneficial this was to industry and economy from reading about it out of a textbook or viewing a PowerPoint about it? Why not provide kids with the opportunity to make cars individually at first, and then in groups with an assembly line second? These kids would then be able to first hand explain the difference in the automobile making process: it takes less time to make cars, it creates more jobs, it drives down the cost of automobiles, it puts more cars on the road, which in turn makes more money. Then, students could think of other everyday tasks that could be made more efficient through new or refined methods. This simple objective about understanding the importance of Henry Ford’s assembly line has now been elevated to the level of analyzing current daily procedures and creating ideas to improve them. What a change to this learning that not only addresses the content, but truly gives the students something worth waiting for.
So, hopefully, my mission is clear. I want to bring about reflection on student engagement through one of the most engaging musical genres filling concert arenas and earbuds alike. Our students deserve to come to school and get that same type of sensory overload one would experience at an EDM concert. Like DJs and producers work tirelessly to entertain dancing concertgoers, we as educators are required to put in the same effort for the sake of our “fans”–our students.