Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own
The first question to ask is why the children are unruly. If they are doing interesting and worthwhile activities, then the problem might be solved without recourse to music. If their behaviour is such that even gripping tasks leave them stone cold, then you may need to look for a variety of remedies.
Listening to music when working is a personal matter. It depends on the individual and the type of music. I am a "one channel" man, so I prefer to work without distractions, even though I love music. Many children, however, and not just teenagers, swear they work better with music than without. Er...yes, if you say so.
Soothing background music is indeed thought to be calming, which is presumably why it is played in restaurants with terrible food.
Mendelssohn's "Hebrides Overture" ("Fingal's Cave"), or "Morning" from Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite Number 1, are examples of classical works that can appeal to young children, though I personally would just want to sit and listen to them.
By contrast, more rhythmic music, such as Ravel's "Bolero", might get them jigging in the aisles. Songs they know, like pop tunes or nursery rhymes, usually invite them to join in and sing along, so they could get even more hyped up.
Why not try an interesting integrated activity? Tell them you are going to play some music written by someone who loved to watch the sea crashing into a big and famous cave, or who enjoyed a glorious sunrise in the morning.
Get them to paint the scene vividly as they listen to "Fingal's Cave" or "Morning". Then you can play the music thereafter during other activities.
Two problems solved: calming the unruly, and what to do in your art lesson.
Try a bit of Mozart
In the early Seventies, I noticed that infants became calmer if I played gentle pieces on the recorder at the beginning or end of a lesson. I still use this strategy, particularly when I am working with classes other than my own.
Nowadays, I mostly use recorded classical music, often pieces by Mozart, as background for independent work such as handwriting. As well as discouraging the class from chatting, it appears to aid concentration.
For variety, I occasionally play other gentle pieces, such as arrangements of film themes that are available on cheap compilation CDs (charity shops are an excellent source). And, as a reward for good work or behaviour, I ask pupils to select the music for that lesson.
Ask your head to arrange for you to have access to a tape recorder and to give you some tapes or CDs to start you off. Insist on watching a colleague who is already using music in this way.
Still apprehensive? Before you try all this out with your own "unruly" lot, put on a bit of Mozart, "Andante cantabile con espressione". Relax and feel the calming effect that your pupils are about to experience. Then, go for it. Results are guaranteed.
Sheila Provins, Harrow, Middlesex
Music helps to settle them down
I regularly use music in my classroom to help calm children or to provide a backdrop for the type of work they are doing. I used to work in a Year 56 class but have taught Year 2 for a few years now and find music most helpful in the autumn term when the children are getting used to new routines and new ways of working. I usually play Mozart quietly in the background - loud enough to hear but with the message, "If we can't hear the music then we are too loud."
I also played African drumming when we worked on a project about Botswana and Australian music while creating art based on Aboriginal art. It can be distracting but, as always in teaching, a bit of trial and error and perseverance can work wonders.
Gaynor Roberts, Flintshire