Headphones in the Classroom

CC licensed image shared by Flickr user Jordan Cameron

I invite my middle schoolers to bring their headphones to class. It’s not just because the year is 2012, or because stringy white ear buds are as ubiquitous as skinny jeans that sag beneath boxers. I want them to use their music and headphones for at least a few reasons…

CC licensed image shared by Flickr user Wolfram Burner

It’s a beautiful way for students to attain instant solitude when it is needed in a class of near-thirty. Whether it’s listening to your favourite playlist, an audiobook, or a podcast exploring your passion, there’s a place for being in one’s own head in the sometimes-melee that is a middle school classroom.

CC licensed image shared by Flickr user Ed Yourdon

Learning partners can find paired solitude when doing invaluable partnered work and thinking. It’s a hygiene-obsessed person’s nightmare, but it often aids the best kind of group work – that which occurs between two, not more, people.

CC licensed image shared by Flickr user nerissa’s ring

I have so many metacognitive students. When left to their own devices (so to speak), many of them contend that music is a must for studying and/or learning. I don’t really see why that shouldn’t be leveraged in my classroom, simply because the proverbial buck ultimately stops with me.

Do you permit students to use their iPods and headphones in your classroom? What are your reasons for doing/not doing so?



  1. I do let my students listen to music. My reasons: focus, motivation, and/or enhance the topics of what we are learning about (I often make suggestions of videos or songs).

  2. I have a dozen or so earbuds that I let the students use. I teach them how to clean them before use with individual alcohol cleaning pads from Shoppers. I think they’re about $3 for a hundred or so. I also have two of these devices from Belkin (http://www.belkin.com/us/p/P-F8Z274) for them to use. It works with some groups and not with others. I think I like the idea of a single device per student. A splitter for two students at the most. More than that and it gets to mrs about the music and what we listen to than the work that were were doing.

    We talk about appropriate use a lot. We don’t listen when we’re walking in the halls or when we’re listening to others. We also talk a lot about why it’s okay in some classes and not in others.

    What I find most interesting is that students prefer to steam their music rather than have it physically on their device. Perhaps I shouldn’t be as surprised as I am by that.

    1. Oh thanks for the tips. I agree on the single device thing for the most part. My students really like the Songza app for streaming.

  3. My 8th grade history students and I comprised about this topic (I love how BOYD constantly brings up the concepts of citizenship and compromise in my history class) .

    They can listen to music as they conduct research, type documents, organize, build digital products, etc… BUT… here’s our deal: One of their at-home assignments was to build a 45-minute playlist specifically for my class. As a teacher, I like that their playlist will run non-stop throughout the entire class period while they remain focused on their academic task (no time is wasted skipping/sorting/etc) . As a music fan out of the cassette era, I believe everyone should hone the skills of building a mixtape for a specific audience… in this case, “a productive student at work”.

    As it was mentioned, many preferred to simply stream their music.

    1. The playlist idea is fantastic! I teach at a private Christian institution and we are always concerned about content and sharing because many of our students listen to music other parents wouldn’t allow. This would be a great compromise!

      1. We also allow headphones with the rule that the playlist is set up in breaktime too. And that headphones are phsyically removed not just turned down when they’re supposed oo be listening to people.

  4. Nice post, Royan. I always had the opportunity available in my classroom whether it was headphone, buds, or whatever. Reflecting, I always had music for my own personal use. I found that it cut down on the other distractors and helped me focus. Even today, I can’t think of too many times where I don’t have music or a podcast along with me – walking the dog, driving the car, writing a post, doing research, playing games, …

    Even playing games makes you pause to wonder. Just how many games are available without music these days? Is it just a feature that we’ve become used to or is there something about background music that makes the experience better?

  5. I let my students listen to their iPods unless I or another student is presenting. I’m one of those distractible students who works better with music, so I don’t see any value in denying my students something I myself find useful.

  6. I’m so glad to see that you’ve written about this. I’m not sure if there’s much more that I can add here, but I wanted to be sure to show my support for everyone’s thoughts. My students have always had the option to listen to music while they’re working because it helps them focus on their work and relax a bit. Although I teach art, there are so many people who find it easier to cut out distractions by listening to music. It’s also a subtle cue to their peers that they’re working on something and would rather not chat at the moment. Great post Royan!

  7. Really enjoyed your posting – was research a wile ago that suggested that baroque music was effective way to get students brain going with its 60 beats per second http://www.cerebromente.org.br/n15/mente/musica.html
    When playing music in class I have found that kids either love it and it works for them or hate it and they can’t focus – they can tell and your BYOHeadphones allows them to regulate their learning.
    My students are 7-8 years old and not bringing devices to school but might try putting music onto some of the class Netbooks and computers to see if this helps.

  8. I am still in college, but I am an elementary education major, and will be graduating soon. When I have a classroom of my own, I will certainly allow my students to have opportunities throughout the day to listen to their own music through headphones. I personally find it easier to study with headphones on, because it cancels out the noise around me.

  9. Unfortunately we have a district policy that headphones are not allowed. So as much as I wouldn’t mind it while they’re working independently, it is a district policy so I have no control.

  10. I really like this post. I often played music in my primary class, but this didn’t work for everyone. I’m a learner that works better in a quiet environment, and it’s taken time to get used to the idea that others work better with music.

    Many of my students bring their own devices this year, and I have no problem if they listen to music while they’re working, as long as they are working. I think a student said it best to me the other day: “Miss Dunsiger,I have my music playing quietly as I work. I work better this way.” Who am I to stop that?


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