iPods In A Classroom: My Observation

I had an interesting learning experience today while I observed/evaluated one of my preservice students teach a senior level highschool math class. Direct instruction was utilized as students observed the teacher, followed along and wrote down any derived formulas. It was classic chalk-and-talk. And, the students were mostly well-behaved, and although a few chattered among themselves, it appeared that the majority paid attention.

Then I noticed a couple of the students in the class fiddle with their iPods as they followed the instruction. Both students were using only a single ear bud, while directing the rest of their attention toward their teacher. These students still took notes, yet once in a while, stopped long enough to navigate to another song.

I asked the supervising teacher if this behaviour was usual, or if iPods were even allowed in the classroom. He opened his gradebook, and noted that these students were two of the highest achievers in the math classroom. Their averages were well into the 90’s.

Then it occurred to me, or at least, this is what I have surmised. It seems that these students use their iPods to:
a) keep from being bored when there is downtime in the classroom;
b) keep from being distracted from the chatter of other students; and,
c) maintain a one-to-one relationship with the teacher.

Yes, I’m talking about direct instruction, and one-to-one teaching/learning relationships. And I’m talking about teaching and learning that doesn’t involve networks of learners, or the Internet, or even simple forms of collaborative learning. Yes, it’s direct instruction, and I’m talking about it here.

But in many schools, and in many classrooms, this is the way that learning still occurs. And in this very real situation, I was both happy and surprised to see that the use of the iPod actually seemed to make this learning relationship just a bit better.

81 thoughts on “iPods In A Classroom: My Observation

  1. Some interesting observations there, Alec. You sound almost apologetic that you are mentioning, perhaps even advocating, direct instruction. Direct instruction is remarkably effective as a teaching strategy if it is done properly and if the content is well suited to it – a math class is an excellent context for direct instruction. One great advantage of direct instruction, in my experience, is that it conducive to development of strong interpersonal relationships between the teacher and the students. The downside of this, which the constructivist approach is quick to point out, is that it tends to create students who are cognitively dependent on the teacher. This makes more sense in the younger grades, but one would hope that as students move through into high school (and post-secondary, if that’s where they end up) that students will have more exposure to teaching styles that encourage cognitive independence.

  2. Oh yeah, I almost forgot my second point about the iPods. Again, I’m not surprised – I see a fair number of students who use iPods or similar devices as a way to block out distractions, especially the chatter of those who are not so concerned about working, while they are working. I’ve also seen students with ADD or ADHD become remarkably focused if they are able to have an iPod with them. I think it probably helps to give them control over the amount of sensory stimulation.

  3. I allow students to listen to music both in the classroom and in the computer lab. I have a ‘one ear open’ rule. The students that are using mp3 players or similar devices are the quickest to look up and pay attention when I need the attention of the class (maybe it is the threat that no one will be allowed to bring them in if they don’t?). It is also, as Rob mentioned, a great way for students to block out any distracting noises. Most students (and me too!) listen to music at home while they are doing their homework. They claim, and I am inclined to believe, that it is very hard for them to focus without some type of background noise.

    Something that was brought up at a SACE conference workshop when this discussion item came up was whether or not teachers monitored the type of music students were listening to. I have never checked to see if the music was ‘school appropriate’ nor have I told the students the music must be. It has not been a problem so far. (I teach grades 10 – 12)

  4. This is a very interesting Blog Alec. After being thrown into teaching Grade 10 math, my students and I both need to listen to music to work lately. It seems that in my school (very high needs students) my students BEHAVE better when music is on. It seems to calm them enough to get them to actually sit and work for 40 minutes!

    As for school appropriate music, well I guess I have learned that you pick your battles, in this case it is either my students work or I groan over the music styles…

  5. I am a high school student, and right now, the school I am attending is in the process of trying to ban mp3 players at my school. I am highly opposed to this action for several reasons, mainly those reasons listed above, but others as well. I don’t want to seem overly critical of my school because I’m greatful for the education it provides, but my school does seem to have a problem with adapting to the changes of society and it’s youth. Case in point being iPods and other mp3 players in classrooms. The panel in charge of making district policy doesn’t seem to be able to embrace new technolgy and use it to their advantage. Alec seems to understand that there is a use for music in the class. From personal experience, I know that listening to music can distract me from other distractions. Also, it is much easier for me to concentrate on my work when I can’t hear everyone around me. I can zone in and concentrate. The people at my school opposed to allowing mp3 players in the class constitute the minority at my school. I can’t give exact figures, but i can say that over half the teachers at my school are willing to let studints have there music in class. But the others are the ones who yell the loudest and push the hardest. Right now, I am writing a proposal to the school board, asking them to change their views on policy regarding mp3 players and allow teachers to decide whether or not music will be allowed in their classrooms. In my opinion, the decision of whether or not music should be allowed in the class should be left to the teacher. Blanket policies like the one the school board panel is trying to enact only takes away a teachers ability to govern their classroom.

  6. Pingback: Couros Blog » Blog Archive » Digital MP3 Players In The Classroom: A Thought From A HighSchool Student

  7. This year we have a committee where I work (Charter School) to investigate the use of Ipods or other such devices for classroom use.
    As a campus where attendance is optional, since we combine that with home school, we are very much interested in this technology.
    It would be nice to see more information from educators who are successfully using this technology.

  8. i think we should have mp3 players in school because they are good to listen too when your bord and done with your work in study hall and in any class!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. I’m doing a project and i need to know what school actually let their students listen to their ipod and mp3 players.

  10. I have to agree, an iPod in the classroom can help the student. They are distracted, but if you have a ‘one ear open’ rule (like one person stated above) then the student still hears the teacher well enough, and they’re paying more attention than they probably would normally. I’m a student myself, and I have to say that I really wish my school did this. Last year, I had a teacher that had a day where we brought in iPods or mp3’s and had to choose phrases and such out of songs for our project that time around. It was meant to teach us about ballads, and all the students turned in their work, contrary to the half that usually turn their work in.
    Either way, the iPod can be used in the classroom for work, very easily. But some boards in some districts ARE too caught up in boring ways to teach, and therefore half the stuends aren’t doing their work and failing. If district school boards WERE to incorporate iPods instead of banning them without a second thought, test scores COULD come up.

  11. I just finished my student teaching in an Art classroom and a constant issue was the radio and what station to listen to and who got to choose it. Before I arrived at that school the teacher enforced no ROCK 108 which I enforced while I was there. I brought up once about allowing students in class to use their iPods or mp3 players that way each student could listen to his or her own choice of music. I was shot down by both the teacher and my adviser for this idea, the reasoning was I “they” could not monitor what the students were listening to and the students would be listening to rap and songs with profanity that they could not prevent. In my defense I explained as long as I don’t hear it, the person next to them doesn’t hear it and its not a distraction I don’t care and would allow it, they listen to it anyways. They then argue that parents would be upset if they knew their child was listing to profanity in school. I once again got shot down with my reasoning of its the parents responsibility to know what their child listens to and that is something they should monitor and not allow them to have if they are against them listing to it. This is a big issue for me because I am all for allowing Mp3 player and iPods in the classroom and was criticized for even considering it. Is knowing and monitoring what students listen to in the classroom important or something to try to prevent? As long as they are quite and productive I really don’t care what they listen to.

  12. okaay….so you havent had any comments in quite a while
    but im doing research in my debate class at school about this.
    Rob Wall,
    he was only observing and stating his opinon. though your argument was good and percise, it wont change an opinion.

  13. I go to a school that doesnt not allow students to listen to thire ipods durring class, only ‘speacial’ days the students get to listent o thier ipods. i have found out that if i listen to my Mp3 player in class, i can focas and i get better grades. so why cant the teachers let us listent o our Mp3’s if thast is the case?!

  14. I also must agree. I’m currently attending a high school here in Arizona, and they don’t allow them to be listened to anytime during school hours including lunch and gym. I feel that if students aren’t distracted and not completely listening to music over the teacher/use the “one ear open” rule, then they should be able to listen to them. Music seems to be very calming atleast to me and statistics show that iPods help you focus. If the students aren’t hurting anyone by listening to their iPods then why can’t they? Listening to my iPod and simply music in general helps me get the job done,

  15. the high schools i have been attending here in Vermont don’t allow ipods or mp3 players to all, only to high achievers, which doesn’t make any sense, back when i was in 2nd grade and all i had was a crappy Walkman i had music going while i was in school and doing homework at home, I’m 17 now and since i was in about eighth grade every teacher i have had has been entirely opposed to it, always saying it was a distraction and that they couldn’t get the attention of their class, but in all reality, i always payed more attention and got my work done back then, but since i couldn’t use them i’ve started failing and not doing a lot, the days i do bring one in and hide the bud under my hair i do great and my teachers always ask why

  16. I am a just graduated my high school in 2008 and at my old high school they banned the idea of ipods or other musical devices. But one teacher fought for us to have them in his class. He is the art teacher there and is all for music in the classroom. He argues that when he is working on his art he listens to music and it helps him. The school gave approved his request but said if we have our music outside that room the school will take it. he aloud it at all times( but the one ear rule when he gave notes). Students respected him more and no one ever acted out in his class. I have A.D.D. and need music. I am very musically inclined and it helps me with anything. He knew this about me and told me if i worked on my art for at least half the class he didnt mind if i did other homework for other classes the other half. Ipods in school is something schools should strongly look into, it not only allows students to focus more it gives us more reason to behave. As far as the music they listen to and if its appropriate or not thats not the schools place to tell students what to listen to. Its the parents to know what their student listens too. As long as students keep their music to themselves I see no problem.

  17. I am in the 8th grade and yes, i do think that having music in my ears while im doing my work helps me get my work done faster. Also I wont be so bored.

  18. I allow my 7th period to use their IPods in class. It has really minimized my behavior problems in this class. I did this because many of the kids are used to working with music. And they were bored and causing problems. If they don’t want to listen to me . . .I tell them it is their loss of instruction. As a result of your post, I’ll consider letting all classes do this. Thanks for posting this.

    • i wish i had you for4 7th piriode lol dat does help me get my work done fasyer and smarter way

  19. Im doing a school project an i was wondering if there were any statistics for the people who would like to be able to listen to their ipods during class using the “one ear only” rule.

    Please respond.
    thanks ((;

  20. I work at an urban high school in NJ which forbids the use of ipods. The policy is, if they are seen, they will be confiscated. I have always thought this was an idiotic policy and am glad to see that my opinion has support. Just yesterday, I was giving a calculus test – these are good kids and excellent students, and I let them listen to their ipods during the test. Well it happens that the principal and my supervisor came in during the test and I had to defend my position, but was overruled. I’m glad to see other people have allowed ipods in the classroom and the world has not come to an end. I think it helps with focus, keeping out distractions, combatting math anxiety, and letting the students know that you trust them to find what works best for them. The Nazis I work for disagree.

  21. I am an elementary teacher from ontario, Canada. I have a “one ear only” IPOD / MP3 policty during seatwork. It’s been quite successful, aside from the occasional student who “accidentally” turns it up for everyone to hear.

  22. i think you should be able to listen to music during class when the teacher isnt giving a lesson, like during independent work time or quiet time. It has came to my conclusion that students are more concentrated and do better when they listen to music. If the teacher isnt talking, then it shouldnt be an issue. SO YES IT SHOULDNT MATTER:)!!!!!!!!

  23. I agree – I believe it helps with focus, drowning out random background noise and with issues like math anxiety and test anxiety.

  24. I am enthused by what I have read here! I was informed at the close of school that Central Office will issue Ipods for my ESL (English as a Second Language) students this Fall.
    If anyone has further suggestions from your own experience, implementation or websites I would welcome it.
    I have no idea as to the number I will receive; I anticipate 6- 20 per teacher. We are 2 and have 175 students. This would be typical, so I hope we’re surprised.

  25. I am all for using ipods/mp3 players in the classroom for educational purposes however I have a number of concerns, some of which have already been raised such as monitoring of appropriate music. I have massive issues with this as I recently listened to a song by soldja boy (ya bitch ya), which a yr 9 student was listening to in class. I know this is not what all students listen to but how can we tell? Perhaps the class can make a playlist of a couple of songs each and it can be played at an appropriate level in the background after all instructions have been given and when social interaction is not necessary. I can’t stand talking to people who have earphone/s in, I think it’s really rude. I listen to my ipod and love music but It’s only when I’m on public transport or exercising. I don’t need constant noise, I think some students are scared of silence as it gives them time to think! The headphones have also become a fashion accessory. What does this do for students who don’t have one? I also detest sharing an earpiece each (eeew ear jam!), and as the year level coordinator I hate dealing with theft!

    If students “need” to listen to music to block out other distractions then perhaps we need to manage our classroom better and remove those distractions rather than make compensations for them. If students say that they can’t concentrate without music, how will they perform in an exam situation when music is not allowed? If students are listening to music can they really absorb all of the information they require from the lesson or are they too busy finding songs/movies and being distracted? I know I can’t read from a text and listen to an ipod effectively, the info just doesn’t get processed and stored correctly. In some cases for example art/maths this doesn’t apply. I also think that students should have their ipods out until instructed that they may listen to them by the teacher rather than entering the class with them and having to be asked to remove them for instruction time. I’m sick of arguing and being the “bad guy” when I ask for them to be removed. I don’t mind what other teachers do in their class, it’s up to them but it does make it difficult when there are so many different rules in different classes but that’s an old issue that has nothing to do with ipods. They even try to listen to ipods in PE and during assemblies!

    We are also trying to prepare students for a work environment, I don’t think too many workplaces would be happy for their employees to be listening to an ipod whilst serving customers. There is also the safety aspect both at school and in the workplace. One of the most important things about school is building relationships and providing positive social interactions. I think this is hard to do with an earpiece in.

    Enough of my negative ramblings, I need to upload a podcast for my yr 11 PE class.

  26. Wow, I wish I could use my iPod in school.. they’re banned. It does help me at home though. I get a detention and the iPod taken away if I use mine.

  27. hi im doing a writing project for english we have to write a paper on a subject fighting for some thing so im doing ipods and other music devices And seeing what you all have wrote helps me alot on what the other people would be fighting for to but i need to find some one whos against it so i can use there arguement as the 2cd person in this report but thanks for the help cuz im also for it i have a heard time paying attention i get destracted but music keeps me on task and i work well in class

  28. I disagree with everybody.
    I am a student and I cannot concentrate with music in my ears.
    I find it a huge distraction to have something in my head other than my original thoughts.
    Although everybody has a convincing argument, I think that constantly listening to headphones cannot benefit academic performance.

  29. I agree, I am a middle school student, soon to be in high school. I also have a one other reason, besides the ones above. Listening to music helps students remember a certain fact that goes along with there music, for example, I always listens to my MP3s in class and sometimes a certain fact reminds me of the song causing me to remember it when they play the song again at home. I hope sometime that my school will let us listen to music in class.

  30. Well ima student and i have some thoughts the statistics show mp3’s help improve work ethics, i have also read that it blocks out distractions. It does not apply to all people though and i have tested this theory and it proves to be right. In cases it is most likely this could improve all school productivity so i believe it is a good idea.

  31. jay and atarah
    February 20th, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    i think we should have mp3 players in school because they are good to listen “too” when “your” “bord” and done with your work in study hall and in any class.


  32. I am for the use of any kind of device that will improve our learning environment. I think that kids who support this are great. However, if you are going to support and protest, at least say something intelligent. You just look stupid when you screw up all the time.

    Why would an school administrator consider this if the kids who support can’t even do simple grammar and spelling!?!?!?

  33. I am for the use of any kind of device that will improve our learning environment. I think that kids who support this are great. However, if you are going to support and protest, at least say something intelligent. You just look stupid when you screw up all the time.

    Why would any school administrator consider this if the kids who support can’t even do simple grammar and spelling!?!?!?

  34. I love my phone.If they dont want us to use them, why dont they make reaserch papers like we do?

  35. i think ipod are very good to have in class it really helps me focus on my work. so far we are aloud to use ipod or mp3s in our school but i think they might be changing it soon, i think it would make more people not do work if they get there ipods banned from school. im lisening to one right now while in comp class researching if ipods are good in class. i agree with the one person thatp osted earlier about the one ear rule. ive seen many people get there work done and on in time and they listen to ipods all the time. there is the odd person who just sits there playing games and not getting any work done. i think ipods are a very good gadget to have with you when sitting in class working.

  36. I have a student with severe anxiety. I have seen this student retching in class more than once, and the students tell me it’s a common occurrence with him. He gets so nervous, he literally makes himself sick – and the fear of puking in class in front of the other kids just makes it worse. Last week we had our midterm exams, and I told the students they could listen to their ipods if it helped them. (I said it to everyone, but I really wanted to help the kid w/ the anxiety problem). I could physically see this boy’s body just relax in relief. If my supervisor or principal had walked in, I would’ve gotten a lecture for sure, but isn’t our aim to do what’s best for the kids?

  37. We are having a debate, and I REALLY hope we can have iPods. You could use them for solo work! That is a very smart observation. Music gets you going! Gets your brain in the mood. :)

  38. we r also having a debate about having ipods in class and i really want them we can have all r school work on it.and a calculator and a note book.

  39. I love my ipod and i still get a 3.7 so i see no reason why others like me cant listen to ipods, but it could be because the other kids (ones who get bad grades
    ) act as they want because they dnt care if they have ipods or not so that is what consequently escolades into no ues of ipods in school…:( which sucks!!!!

  40. I cannot believe what I am reading. It sounds as if you can’t control your pupils. Switch the ipods off and get on with some real teaching. Next you will be telling me that pupils should have ipods in their final exams.

  41. I am a middle school teacher who works in a school district that has a “no electronic music devices” policy. I too think that this policy is outdated and should be left to the teacher’s discretion. The only problem I can forsee with the use of mp3 players is that some of them can communicate with other students’ devices. This could pose some problems during testing situations where students could (and most likely would) try to cheat. However, I see no reason to ban them completely. During independent work, with a few ground rules for their use, mp3 players could be a great tool for inspiration, focus, and motivation. One rule to eliminate the problem of “inappropriate music” is to not have students share with other students. A parent should be responsible for what is on their own child’s ipod, but they are not able to monitor what their child’s friend is listening to. There could be a form sent home at the start of the school year which provides guidelines students are expected to follow, and students and parents could sign it and return it along with the other 50 forms they have to sign and return at the start of the year. Having students use mp3 players in class is not an issue of having or not having control. It is a matter of changing with the times and embracing something that can be a motivator for students to become more successful in the classroom.

  42. Not so much in exams but teachers have to see our side of the situation as well. I’m not near a bad student or a troublemaker but when other children in my class are acting out of line and are loud and rude I like to clear them out my outing on headphones. Which this is not a problem during exams because there is no talking in a final exam! So you would have nothing to cancel out such as other kids! So in conclusion there is not a single reason why students should not have iPods that os backed up by any proof, so there should be no problem with them in a learning enviornment to help with concentration! (sorry spellings alittle off :)…)

  43. Zack
    I appologise if my comments seem a little insensitive but I have been teaching for a long time and I see pupils in my school eating, drinking and using ipods in class. When they come to my room they sometimes forget that I don’t allow it. This gets the lesson off to a bad start. The problem with using ipods as a way of keeping bad sudents quiet is it has a knock on effect all over the school. You must have many experienced teachers who can keep good order in the conventional way. They will be constantly reminding pupil that ipods should be put away. I firmly believe that teachers should have high expectations of pupils. In turn, pupils will meet them.

  44. we should be able to listion to i-pods in class because when im listioning to music…i consentrate. :)

  45. I-pods should be aloud in class because it helps us concintrate during work I strongly disagree with people who think ipods should not be aloud in calss it is very stupid if you dont agree.

  46. Wow. Three different ways to misspell “concentrate” in a row. Sorry, kids, you’re not helping your argument.

  47. Let me get this right. Are the school pupils who are advocating the use of ipods in class simply doing so to impove discipline? i.e. drowning out the badly behaved pupils. If so, I feel so sorry for them. I wish you could attend my school. Karen, are you an English teacher?

  48. I-pods should be aloud!!!!!

    i am going to do a presentation in the next G.N.A with Peter ad if you lauryn and sarah want to present it with us then that is fine with me and peter :) :D

  49. me and matt will be doing a presitaition on why ipods should be alould in class if you want to give us some ideas send a message to my email. her it is. shebapeter@hotmail.com. please ggive some ideas for why ipods should be alould in class send them to shebapeter@hotmail.com we need ideas for the presintaition we might do it in front of the whole school (: (;

  50. I believe teachers use Ipods to help keep the class under control. I hear teachers often say “but they don’t use them when I am addressing the class” well what about the learning that students do listening to each other. School is a social environment and I see tuning out as anti-social behaviour. Even if other noises or kids anoy you it is an important lesson to try to live in a class together in harmony & the teacher plays a vital role in this problem solving – this can only happen when everyone is present not in their own preferred space.

  51. I believe iPods should be allowd in classes is because there are many possibilities of having them. Teachers can record lectures and give them to the students to listen to, they can go home and copy it onto their iPods then come back the next day and they can listen to it to help with studies or something. The students can also play speeches from famous people from history for the class, look at things the teacher taught them on their iPod if they are sturggling, or help with concentration. There are endless posssibilities with having the iPod in class. So yes, iPods should be allowed in classrooms.

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  53. im doing the same thing ;) i think ipods should be allowed in class, not just cause theyre fun but because it helps lots of ppl concentrate, if u think tht it might cause destraction for other students then i say “why do u think we have ear phones?”

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  55. I totally agree with every one who is trying to get ipods unbanned in schools. They are very helpful for 99% of my grade 8 peers. My teacher did a study of ipod vs. no ipod school work. 85% of the students scored 75%-90% while listening to their ipods, while with no ipods they scored 60%-80%.

  56. I listen to my ipod in class almost everyday in secret.
    In fact, im doing it right now. Although we are in the computer room, when back in the class I understood everything perfectly clear and me im a persone that gets distracted very easily, so i use my ipod as a tool to help me stay focus so my grades stay high……

  57. i love listening to music and it helps me concentrate there for mp3’s and ipods should be allowed at school, (“:

  58. If you’re looking for a reason for the banning; here is my take on it: Schools and educators feel students will abuse such a privilege, and take it too far. Most schools do not just ban ipods, they bann ALL ELECTRONIC DEVICES. They feel that a kid could argue, that they are allowed an Ipod, but not a camera, and a cell phone.The kids could also use the ipods at poor times, and a teacher can not monitor every student. I think in general, they want to keep a strict and learning-focused atmosphere, which includes taking any POSSIBLE distractions out of the classroom, most schools even go to the extreme of banning food or drink as well. MY OPINION:ALLOW IPODS, I kind of disagree with the board’s perspective, and I agree with all the above reasons.

  59. Alec, I love these stories and observations; they show what many of us instinctively believe to be true. I always studied with music -and not in only one ear. I see kids in public places reading and doing homework with focused attention in situations that most would find difficult. It baffles me that schools and districts ban them outright calling them a distraction.

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  61. Honestly, how do any of you expect to be taken seriously when your spelling and grammar are so ridiculously atrocious? The absolute irony of you arguing that iPods and help you to be a better student while you make blaring mistakes in simple writing just astounds me.

    I don’t allow eating, drinking, or electronic devices in my classroom. It has nothing to do with distractions, and everything to do with the fact that munching food, slurping soda, texting, and plugging one’s ears with earphones are all rude behaviors in an environment designed for people to listen, work, and interact.

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