We all know about the powerful effect of music on the human mind.
Ancient cultures would pass on their traditions using dance and song.
Modern advertisers use jingles and pop songs to create an emotive association with their brand.
Students sing along to musical versions of times tables or parsing of nouns and verbs to aid memorisation.
Church members often leave a Sunday service forgetting the sermon but remembering the words from the last song.
There is no doubt that music is a powerful medium. And because of this, we can use music in the SRE classroom to great effect.
Music can be used to teach concepts, to stimulate thoughtful engagement, to reflect on the lesson content, to have fun in the classroom and simply as a background accompaniment to book or activity work.
Music and memory
While there are many creative ways to use music and song in the classroom, one of the most common is to teach songs to the students to sing together. Because of music’s inherent power in memorisation, this can be a very effective tool in educating on elements of the Christian faith. Children for generations have been learning that our “God is so B-I-G” and that we are one of “Father Abraham’s” children through faith in Jesus Christ (thanks Colin and Quizworx!)
Songs and statements about faith
As with all educational activities, the understanding of the student is paramount. Like reading Scripture, learning a memory verse or answering student’s questions, teachers need to keep in mind that there may be words or phrases in songs that will need to be explained. However, meaning comes through more than just the individual words and phrases. It also comes through the perspective of the person saying—in this case singing—the words.
In NSW, students are in our SRE classes because their family has given permission for their child to explore the tenets of the Christian faith through the SRE curriculum. And while many children in the classroom would identify as Christian, we also know that there will be some in the class who do not wish to do so.
Because of this, when we are teaching songs to sing together as a class, it is better to find songs that have objective statements about God, his word and his world. We need to be careful with songs that require the participant to make subjective faith statements. In other words, we want to be able to teach in such a way that we are expressing true things about God and his word while allowing the children to determine if and when they express this faith for themselves.
It might sound a little nit-picky, but we want to ensure that when we sing, students still have the option to either express or not express their own owned faith.
Whatchu talkin bout Willis?
One song that my kindergarten class like to sing is “Our God is a Great Big God”. From within the framework of the Christian faith, this song makes objective statements about God; “He’s higher than a skyscraper and he’s deeper than a submarine ... He’s known me and he’s loved me since before the world began.” While an outsider can disagree about Christian theology, from within the faith perspective, these objective statements fall within what we are rightly expected to be teaching those who have enrolled in our SRE class, regardless of their own owned beliefs.
On the other hand, one popular Christian praise and worship song for kids and youth has these lyrics; “One Way. Jesus. You’re the only one that I can live for.” This song is intended to be an explicit affirmation of owned faith. It’s a celebration song, affirming the desire that a Christian has to put Jesus above all else. While songs such as this one can be great expressions of faith within a parish ministry context, it is important that we do not ask children to sing these songs in SRE.
Will you use songs in SRE?
Is it possible to use songs with implicit or explicit faith statements in SRE? Yes, but with the appropriate amount of creativity and caution.
There are a number of ways to use music in SRE, and singing together as a class is not the only option. However, if you are singing together as a class, be aware that there may be students who won't want to participate. My rule for singing is as long as the non-participating students are not a distraction to the lesson, they are welcome to choose their level of involvement.
Another way of using music in the classroom is to present different songs as items. You could print out the lyrics to a song that you play from a CD, iPod, or Phone. Or for the more technologically minded, there are plenty of really good YouTube videos with modern praise and worship songs with accompanying lyrics. However, rather than singing the song together, you might show these songs as a teaching moment and then investigate the themes. What does this song teach us about God, about Jesus, about the singer who wrote the song?
There are many creative ways to use good Christian music in the SRE classroom, and no hard and fast rules about what we should or shouldn’t use (Note: Connect users must adhere to the accompanying Multimedia Policy and submit content for review). What we want to do is provide our students with quality educational engagement with the Christian faith, while allowing the student themselves to dictate when and how they give expression for their own owned faith.