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Creativity for control freaks

Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: Thank you for the music

Many of my memories of primary school are set against a background of certain songs, some of which were sung by me and the choir, while others were sung by more famous people who made better sounds and more money, although our choir could have made a better job of "Grandma, We Love You!"

Because of my musical interests, it was natural to introduce music into my classroom. Open plan bays have restricted volume, but not usage. Like most colleagues, I've used Mozart to inspire creativity and the occasional Spice Girls track to show I am as trendy as the next teacher with slacks and brown loafers.

My use of music changed when I heard how Simon used it in his classroom.

Just as our senses can be stimulated by a particular tune on the radio, so he began to give pupils particular songs and records to pin their learning on. It began when his class was looking at flight. He started the lesson with R Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly". "Can he really?" his class was asked.

As the lessons progressed, the tune was played while pupils discussed how they would explain the problem to Mr Kelly if they were ever to meet him.

This particular artist also did our geography teaching a favour by releasing a single a few years later called, "I Am a Mountain".

Since then, Simon and I have traded songs and music which can accompany new topics for our classes. A literacy unit on the adventure genre was backed by the Mission Impossible theme, work on "states of matter" by the Osbournes' "Changes" and "Rain, Beautiful Rain" by Ladysmith Black Mambazo goes alongside our water cycle studies.

There is nothing straight-faced about this. Liberties and tenuous links are all part of the glue which binds learning to these melodies. If no obvious link can be found, then music that captures the mood of the topic seems to work just as well. After all, "Drive" by the Cars, has no obvious link to famine relief, but if you were alive in 1985, that's all you think about when you hear it.

Now when songs are introduced with new topics, you can see them trying to guess both the tune and the link. Back catalogues are a great source, particularly when a little artistic licence is used. "Jolene" by Dolly Parton is easily transformed into "Scalene" and no pupils in our class will ever forget the properties of that triangle.

Children's interpretation of what they hear can sometimes be more creative than the original. A friend's four-year-old daughter, having heard "Guns don't kill, rappers do" one too many times in the car, is now singing, "Cat's don't kill, rabbits do."

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester. Write to

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