Using TEACHROCK in the Classroom

Stephanie Arnell

The Balanced Mind Conference, Molloy College November 7, 2017


On November 7, 2017, I had the opportunity to bring the TeachRock curriculum to life as I presented at The Balanced Mind Conference at Molloy College in Rockville Center, New York.  The Balanced Mind conference offers arts educators professional development to enhance content knowledge, address Common Core connections, and promote a culture of professional inquiry.  The conference provided the perfect aesthetic environment to discuss the TeachRock curriculum and how it integrates disciplines across the board.  

Two years ago, our school district implemented English Language Arts (ELA) modules that focus on reading, writing, listening, and speaking in response to high-quality texts into the curriculum.  As a music educator, I was also asked to incorporate some of the themes into my classroom.  I started by infusing my human rights module with lessons from TeachRock.  I found that students were captivated and connected to the music and engaged in high-level discussions related to Common Core Learning Standards.  Students were making personal connections that motivated them to think critically and relate material to historical events and current times.  My students listened to songs with enthusiasm that I have never seen before. I began to find the historical perspective of music sparked student curiosity because they encountered something new that challenged previous understanding and created new questioning.  At this point I knew I needed to use more TeachRock lessons in my curriculum!

One of the lessons highlighted at my session was “How to Study Rock and Roll.”  By analyzing and deconstructing lyrics and music, you’re intentionally articulating the elements that make up a song and see what elements make the song great.  Students can contextualize the music in relation to the world it was made.  As music educators, this lesson provides the perfect teaching moment to use domain specific vocabulary, analyze chord structure and the musical elements of different genres of music.  

Another TeachRock lesson that I found motivated students to share personal connections was “Rock and Roll and the American Dream”.  The demographics in the Freeport Public Schools are made up of approximately 65% students of Latino descent.  Many of our students are SIFE (Students with Interrupted Formal Education) and are new to the U.S. They encounter challenges such as language and culture barriers daily. Many of these students were able to make meaningful connections and explore the concept of “The American Dream.”  Students voiced that many of their families moved to America for a fuller, richer life with opportunities, regardless of social class.  Their conversations centered around whether their “American Dream” is simply a quest for a better life along with how and why the dream has changed over time.  Students were able to envision the life of Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley while embodying their road to success based on personal experience.  When asked to write song lyrics about the metaphor of Cash as the “Man in Black” one student wrote “I was born hopeless, hungry and on the wrong side of the track, Cash remembered this by always wearing black.  His music gave him wealth and fame, but his roots he always kept the same.  One day I wanna be just like him, but my dream is gonna come from within.  Hard times I know that i’ll endure, music will keep me going for sure!”  

TeachRock provides lessons with different perspectives, lessons that raise ethical questions and address civil liberties that directly affect students’ lives.  Music is the perfect medium to motivate students in discovering content and connections and engage them in critical thinking around specific issues.  With interactive media, live musical performances, interviews with artists and historical figures and footage we can ask the right questions to get students to dive deeper into the content to make it meaningful in their lives.  As educators, we strive for the “ah-ha” moments in our teaching practices and through the power of music and discovery our students will get there.  Tom Petty once said “Music is probably the only real magic I have encountered in my life.  There’s not some trick involved with it.  It’s pure and it’s real.  It moves, it heals, it communicates and does all these incredible things”.  Use the magic of music in your classroom and let your students soar to new heights!