Using Garageband in the Classroom

In the process of doctoral coursework, I recently came across a spoken word video by a student from England related to standardized testing. I think it has some great social commentary, and I found myself thinking things like: “Hey, that is how I felt in high school.” I confess I also thought: “Wow, I know I made my students feel that way sometimes as a teacher.” The fact that it comes from the voice of a student, rather than a scholar or policy advocate, gives the embedded critique a sense of authenticity. And the spoken word performance element is pretty good too.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the performance for me was that it represents an act of resistance against perceived injustice. Ironically, voice of young people is not often a part of the conversation about education policy. In my work with high school students, I have found that music is a huge part of the social fabric of adolescents.

Music was a huge part of my life as a teenager too. I tried to learn to play the guitar, played in some “bands,” and channeled a lot of my social activities through the punk-rock and hardcore music scene. I still love music, and I still write and play music as much as I can. As an amateur musician (and I do stress AMATUER), I have spent some time fiddling with the software program Garageband. As many of you may know, Garageband is a software program that allows you to compose and record music on a personal computer. You can play instruments, loop samples, record drum tracks, add effects to “real” musical instruments, record vocal tracks, and then mix all your “tracks” into a final piece. Essentially, it is like having a recording studio in your computer. You don’t really need any musical equipment, although I do recommend a decent microphone. To give you an idea of what is possible, click on the link below to hear a song I recorded using Garageband (Don’t laugh…this is all about sharing, right?). Beside an acoustic guitar, the only equipment I used was a microphone, mic stand and pop filter (though this is not necessary). You don’t even need the microphone; students can just use the built in mic on a computer.

As a high school social studies teacher I would often assign group projects that required a product of the group’s choosing. I would encourage students to think of their individual talents, and to incorporate those into their product. Pretty much anything was fair game, as long as it was under 8 minutes and would not disturb other classes. While many groups created products like posters and PowerPoint presentations, we also got lots of video documentaries, live musical performances and dramatic interpretations. You can imagine which types of presentations were the most memorable for fellow students (and me). Information Communications Technologies (ICTs) offer tremendous possibilities for student self-expression, which can be readily be incorporated into a variety of curricula. Software like Garageband and sharing tools like YouTube are ways to facilitate student voice in the classroom and beyond. The freedom of self-expression represents an avenue for empowerment and resistance within an institutional context that often fails to appreciate the voice of students.