Creating Classroom Playlists

Regular readers of the blog will know just how much I love music. Previously I have written about how I listen to calming music when grading student work, when changing the state of the room (inspired by Mike Kuczala), when introducing a new topic in class and when riding my Peloton. I’ve added awesome Spotify playlists to many of my blog posts, such as this post on expressing gratitude, and I guest wrote for Justin Schleider‘s Slowchatpe site on using music when exploring different ways of moving in a physical education setting.

Recently the wonderful people at Teacher2Teacher, an account that amplifies creative ideas from teachers, picked up on a simple, but effective activity that I do with my students to help me make connections with them.

In a blog post that I wrote for Joey Feith‘s site, I shared some of my beliefs that influence how I plan my lessons, deliver my material, work together with my students, and assess my students, making my classroom as student-centered as possible. One of these beliefs was that student should leave a legacy behind once they have left our classroom.

I teach with the view that each class must leave something behind that I can save and share. In this era of measuring teacher quality and student achievement we become better teachers when we can prove how we enhance the learning experience for our students. By recording and showcasing their growth, sharing it with administrators, the community and other teachers we can be confident in our ability to provide effective teaching and learning that benefits all students in our program.

I frequently alter my PBL projects and my summative assessments so that the end product is a different, shareable artifact. Classes have left behind iMovies, podcasts, essays, posters and collated lists of crowd-sourced teen-specific health resources.

If I keep examples of outstanding work and share it with future students, the best I’ve ever seen becomes the only thing the new students have seen. This great work actually becomes their baseline as they strive to better the example that I have shared with them, which in turn increases the quality of future work.

Teaching with Legacy in Mind

At the time of writing for Joey, I hadn’t utilized the power of creating shared music playlists with my students, but having seen the power of doing so, this is something that I will continue to use in my classroom.

As an early connection activity I tell students that previous classes have helped my create a music playlist and that I want to do the same with my new cohort of students. I task the students from each of my health classes to contribute one song, and tell me briefly why they chose that particular song. I tell the students the theme of our playlist, and set it as an exit ticket, or task to complete before the next time we meet. To date we have created ‘feel good’ playlists, ‘chill out’ playlists, and ‘pump up’ playlists.

I go through each submission, check out the song, and add it to a Spotify playlist. I project the final product on my whiteboard and share the link with each of my classes. Approximately 100 students, sharing 100 songs. Awesome.

Do some students share an ‘inappropriate’ song? Yes, but I try and find a ‘clean’ version of the song before letting the student know that I checked out their suggestion but that it couldn’t make the final cut, for obvious reasons.

Do some students say that they couldn’t think of a song to add to the playlist? Sure, but this is an opportunity to ask about that next time we meet. Do they simply not listen to music that fits into the theme of our playlist? If not, what other strategies do they have to help them ‘chill out’ or get ‘pumped up’.

Do some students run away with this idea and share multiple tracks with passionate writing about what each song means to them? 100%, and what a great connection. As long as it doesn’t dominate the playlist, I’ll add multiple songs from that students suggestions if appropriate.

Once this playlist exists, I can play it as students are arriving to class, or when they are working…or when I simply need to hear some new music. I love it when I’m playing a song and a student hears it and asks if that was their suggestion. I love it when I hear a song and it reminds me of the student who shared that title with me…even if I hear that song in a different setting – on the radio, shopping at Target, the walk up song for the next batter etc.

Another REALLY cool way in which music playlists can be woven into my 85 minute classroom periods is when our student alliance groups create playlists to coincide with monthly observances that my school is acknowledging. Throughout Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month, each of my classes started with music playing from this outstanding, student-created playlist. (My school shares a comprehensive toolkit of resources for each of the monthly observances that we recognize throughout the year!)

I love how varied the song suggestions from my students are. There is music from artists I’ve never heard of, there’s music from different cultures, soundtracks from computer games, and then music that reminds me that some of my students are old souls at heart – Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Queen, Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone etc.

Here’s my favorite playlist from last year. This one is so good that I once walked into a classroom at school to find the teacher projecting this one on the whiteboard while playing it in their room. I titled the playlist ‘North Shore Chill’ because our school is situated on the north shore, and (of course) I created the playlist artwork using Canva.

If you’re interested in what I’m listening to right now, here’s my 2022 playlist of songs that have caught my eye/ear this year to date. I start a new playlist each year and add tracks that I hear for the first time, or ones that are a blast from the past. I stop adding songs at the end of December and each playlist exists as a reminder of where I was at musically for that particular year.

Listen, and enjoy!

Consider pairing this blog post with recent popular posts.

Conversation Starters – great ideas to get the conversation going in your classroom.

ROPES – my go-to activity for co-constructing classroom expectations with students that never fails.

I’ve Seen The Future – the writing prompt that allows me to tailor my teaching to the aspirations of my student.

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