Most teachers are old in comparison to their students. And because most teachers choose materials for their class, this often means that the materials they use are old. And by old, I mean stuck in the past and out of date.
When a TEFL teacher decides to use music in the classroom it inevitably means dredging up music from the past – the Beatles in particular seem to be an old favorite and despite the excuse that it’s “timeless” and “still popular” the fact that it’s about 50 years old simply means it’s half a century out of date.
To me this disobeys one of the very first rules of teaching: the Needs Analysis.
(In case you are wondering, a Needs Analysis is a good look at your students before the course begins. You need to establish their level and reason for learning English – for pleasure, exam purposes or business, etc. And one major part of a Needs Analysis is finding out what your students are interested in which can include what music they listen to. Knowing this allows you to tailor your lessons to make them relevant and exciting for the class.)
I guarantee that if you ask your students who they listen to virtually none will mention the Beatles unless they are over 40 years old. In fact, the chances are that with a typical teenage class you’ll hear typical current artists: One Direction, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, the current X-Factor/American Idol winner*… in fact if you check the Spotify or MTV top lists you’ll be hard pressed to find any artist or band from outside the last 5 years or so.
As teachers our job is to educate students. In TEFL this means getting English across in an accessible and relevant way to the students. Music, especially amongst teenagers, evokes passion and passion can help learning. Making a class listen to music which they cannot connect to means taking away that passion and reducing the learning power of the song.
So that means if you don’t recognize the band in the picture, or if you think they are rubbish, then most of your teenage class will probably love them.
Remember when you were young and you had your own music to rebel against your parents? You’d rather bury your head in sand than listen to your mother sing some ancient dirge from half a century before. Well now you’re like your mother by asking your class to listen to old-fashioned music which you think is timeless but which they probably think belongs in a retirement home.
So this is a plea to update your music. When you want to connect to your class with relevant music chuck out the Beatles and other “classics” and look directly at what your students are into. You wouldn’t give your class a magazine article from 50 years ago to read, so why give them music from 50 years ago to listen to?
* music being music, this list is probably out of date by now!
Needs Analysis – a very useful tool worth knowing
Music in the TEFL Classroom – tips on ‘how to’