In the last few weeks I seem to have been on creative overdrive. I have been running a Singing and MFL project in a Derbyshire Primary school, working with all yr 3/4/5/6 groups over a 4 week period. With their class teacher, TAs and their French teacher present in the lessons we have been looking at how the use of rhythm and song can become far more integrated into lessons and support learning.
In addition to that, I have just started a new PPA position in a Derby school where I definitely feel I have stepped into a foreign culture as 95% of the pupils are from non-English speaking backgrounds. I have been trying out some of these singing and rhythmic ideas here as well.
The whole experience has honestly been some of the best teaching, with the most fun and greatest positive response I have had in my career. It reinforces my opinion that if language teachers could become more confident leading singing in their lessons, understanding how to do it, what music to use, how to make use of backing tracks to support pupils' learning of new vocabulary and structures, it would be a significant boost in colleagues' own levels of enjoyment whilst also boosting pupil performance and motivation.
I am going to share a couple of tracks that I use to illustrate my point. My overiding reason for doing this work is that a child's first exposure to learning a language should be about fun, about picking up the 'sound' of the language above and, in my opinion, beyond a mere acquistion of vocab. Good pronunciation, a willingness and confidence to 'have go', the creation of a safe environment to do so, are all critical in this first phase of language acquisition. All of this is easily achieved by using music to support learning a language.
There a lot of things I have learnt as I have worked with the national Sing Up campaign in this process.
I have learnt that singing lesson starters are a great way to focus the children, to get them following your lead, to get them cooperating and acting with one voice in response to your lead.
I have learnt how to teach a song properly, breaking it down into manageable chunks. I have learnt what kind of material appeals to children and have been inspired to make use of some material others have produced as well as writing quite a bit of my own.
I have learnt how to source backing tracks from websites that I can, with a bit of work, add lyrics to in order to teach a topic. All of this requires some time and application to learn and apply but the rewards in terms of pupil response are so much fun and rewarding that I heartily recommend it to all language teaching colleagues.
I have learnt how, by using simple audio editing software, Audacity or my own favourite, NCH's Wavepad software, you can clip extracts of favourite tunes, change their pitch, slow them down, speed them up, gradually building your own library of music that you know pupils will feel inspired and lifted by. Muisc and rhythm turn what can be a difficult, boring, repetitive, intellectually challenging process, into one that sparkles and engages.
With colleagues in the Secondary school sector in particular, increasingly pressurised to produce results and justify their place on the curriculum, there is a danger that MFL lessons become a bit too serious. Inject music and rhythm into the diet and the whole atmosphere of what you are doing lifts. I believe what the pupils learn is also achieved more quickly and with greater good will in their part.
At the primary level, I know that the same techniques can be applied to any curriculum area, not simply in language lessons. Most primary teachers are aware of the power of a good song in helping to deliver content, they are perhaps less confident in applying this in another language. Learning to do so will not only help their pupils, it will also allow them the time and space to practise good pronunciation along with their classes as they master the songs.
Here are a couple of websites I use with a couple of tracks that I know work. I can't offer them for download as I would be breaking copyright but you can buy them very cheaply yourselves.
1) I use a site called Audionetwork. They are a production music library whose composers sell their tracks to film and TV companies. You will recognise some of their tunes from programs particularly on Channel 4. The musical content is therefore of a very high order. Thecost of the licence you purchase with each track is proprtionate to the use you will make of it. The Educational licence per track is £.85p. Choose tracks with a strong rhythmic element.
This rap track is called Mischief and pupils love practising dialogues to this tune. It has a slight Eminem feel to it. If you are not very good at singing and want a track to 'speak' to rhythmically, I recommend it.
This track is some boogie woogie piano I picked up from somewhere whose origins escape me. However you can easily pick up something similar on ITunes or from Amazon mp3. Tracks you download can be adjusted using the audio editing software mentioned above until you have something at a speed you feel comfortable using. I use this as a warm up track to practise parts of the body or do Call and Response work with vocab we have been covering (eg: Quel age as-tu? J'ai 8 ans etc) It is difficult for anyone who might feel miserable at the beginning of your lesson (including you!) to feel miserable after a couple of minutes of a track like this!
2) Another site that I collect backing tracks from is karaoke-version.com. This site gives you performance and backing tracks for a vast array of golden oldies to current hit songs. If you click on the country flag at the bottom you can also find a selection of current French, German, Spanish songs.
I have clipped well known tunes from this site and added my own lyrics. Here is an example where I took a section of a track by the Killers called "All these things I have done". This is the original section
I downloaded the Karaoke version, clipped the section I wanted to use in Wavepad, and imported the mp3 into Mac Garageband to add the new lyrics.
For many this last step may be further than you feel able to go. If so, simply use the backing track and hand the rest of the process over to the pupils, get them to write suitable lyrics and see if you can't link up with the Music Department to get the reworked song recorded.
I hope this has given you a taster of what is possible. I am not a professional musician or singer and could never be either. But anyone can develop these skills sufficiently to enable you to add this to your repertoire of elements that will help create language lessons that engage and inspire.
On another post I will share some of the other work covered in the primary project where we have been putting simple vocab to well known tunes, using a song I wrote to teach the 'ch' phoneme to children with 1 year of French, using 4 different styles of tunes from Audionetwork as a basis for singing 4 different versions of the same lyrics on the the topic of 'House' and the same 4 tunes to teach 4 different versions of the same lyrics for the topic of "Town'.
Both 'house' and 'town' are topics that usually leave me feeling somewhat uninspired. These 4 tunes have proved to be a great way of repeating core vocab whilst also adding a bit more colloquial colour to the lyrics.