Music: The Ultimate Tool
Written by Ava   

Music is an everlasting weapon--a tool that when you master, will certainly take you places.

Playing and teaching it requires practice, discipline, time, and skill.

Now there's something else that requires the same kind of focus and effort. This something requires, like learning music, requires focus and practice, but it's something where simply listening to music will help you along the way. 

That is: learning a new language. Larry Ferlazzo understands all of these similarities and uses them to his advantage when he teaches English as a Second Language.  He makes sure music is readily available with his students because as they use those same skills used to learn a language (practice, discipline, time, and skill) they can also use listening to the music they love as a weapon to pick up that language.

Put two and two together and you have something that is completely and utterly rewarding.  

Larry Ferlazzo, an ESL teacher at the Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento and creator of a website and blog that offers amazing tips and suggestions on how to learn English effectively,  already knows how and he's teaching his students and now, teaching us.  Let's see what he has to say. 

Not all ESL teachers start off as ESL teachers.  Did you begin teaching English as a second language right away or it’s something you fell into later on?

I specifically came to Luther Burbank High School because I was interested in teaching English Language Learners.  I grew up in an immigrant household, and spent nineteen years as a community organizer – primarily in immigrant communities -- prior to becoming a teacher.  Six years ago when I made that career switch, thousands of pre-literate Hmong refugees were getting ready to arrive in Sacramento and I knew that most of them who were teenagers would be attending Burbank.  I thought it would be a great opportunity – how often can a high school teacher have a class of students whom have never attended a school before?

Many have said learning another language is a frustrating and challenging experience for students and you say that no matter what, teachers must have instructional “weapons” at their disposal to engage students.  Is music one of those weapons? How can music be used to learn a language?

Music is a great language learning/teaching tool.  It much less intimidating for second language learners to sing than to speak, so it can build self-confidence, pronunciation skills. Plus a sense of a community in the classroom.  Song lyrics can be cut up and students challenged to put them in sequence, which can teach reading,comprehension and vocabulary.  Lessons can include having students create their own versions of lyrics and perform them as a group.

What about using musical instruments in the classroom when teaching English with  music?

I certainly do a unit specifically geared toward music, including creating musical instruments and writing and talking about the activity in sequence. The school band teaches students how to “play”some instruments, too.  I have various pictures of that happening on my website: Larryferlazzo.com


What musical methods do you specifically like to use to teach English in the classroom and which ones have you known to be most effective?

Picking songs that are connected to the thematic unit we’re studying – ranging from “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” with a Human Body unit to “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” when we’re preparing to go on a field trip there.

You recently wrote about using websites as tools to learn English even when they are not strictly made with educational purposes in mind? Tell me about the Michael Jackson-Dancing website as an example.


It’s a great site showing Jackson’s famous dance moves with people around the world doing their own versions in uploaded video. It’s a great site for students to describe what other people are doing, work cooperatively – speaking English -- to create their own version, tape it and describe what they did and why they did it this way.  I’m not teaching a Beginner’s class (I have an Intermediate English class) this year or else I would have students do it.

Give me one or two examples of entertainers who you believe are the best musicians/singers to help students learn English?

No question – Raffi and the Beatles.  Raffi’s “Grocery Store” and “The Bowling Song” (prior to a trip to one) are wonderful.  The Beatles have a zillion songs that are great for English Language Learners, with “Hello, Goodbye” possibly be the number one song used world wide by ESL teachers.

Give me one or two examples of the best music websites for learning English?

Can’t pick one or two.  Check out these three lists:

      The Best Music Websites For Learning English
      The Best Online Sites For Creating Music
      The Best Online Karaoke Sites For English Language Learners     

What about that perfect song for learning English? Is there one?

I don’t know about “perfect,” but every ESL teacher loves “Hello Goodbye”

Do you believe music is crucial for educational purposes?

I think it can be extremely valuable, and not just for English Language Learners.  In my mainstream ninth-grade English class, we use a lot of music in our units on New Orleans, Bob Marley & Jamaica, and Nelson Mandela & South Africa.  Students connect to it, and it provides great reading and higher-order thinking opportunities.
       
Now that technology is advancing, do you think we’re going to have new and innovative ways to apply music to the classroom? Explain how.

Under question number seven I listed best lists I’ve compiled for students to create online music and to sing karaoke.  Both of those areas are exciting ways to use technology with English Language Learners, and they’re both very new.  I see no reason to believe that this kind of innovation is going to be stopping anytime soon.

Image: Leaps.spp.org