Sound advice for the classroom

Today’s emphasis on the uses of computer technology and
audio-visual materials in the classroom obscures an equally effective,
cost-efficient means of communication: sound.

In most classroom settings, the use of sound is paired with visual
stimuli. Examples include computers, television, video laser discs, or
filmstrips with accompanying soundtracks or narration.

Nevertheless, a back-to-basics approach in the use of sound-only
materials provides an important learning tool for both students and
instructors, and is a necessary component in well-rounded humanities
course offerings–particularly in courses where multiculturalism is
stressed.

The following are suggested ways to use five audio sources in the classroom:

* Music: Courses in social studies, history, or literature/English
provide fertile ground for the use of music during classtime hours.
Instructors may choose to use music representative of a historical
period or philosophical point of view in order to emphasize a portion
of the lecture.

Music also may be used to usher in the class session so as to
create a mood within the classroom conducive to the day’s studies. Or
it can be used to mark the transition from one topic to the next, or
moving from one philosophical point of view to the next.

* Books on Tape: Perhaps the biggest stereotype of books on tape is
that they are solely for those with visual problems or people who are
simply too lazy to read the assigned text. Nothing could be further
from the truth.

Audio-recorded versions of books provide students with an important
window on the broad interpretations and revisionist nature of
literature. An instructor may ask students about their overall
impressions of the tone in which a certain passage is written, then
follow up with a portion of an audio cassette in which the author tells
the story in his or her own voice.

Instructors of more advanced courses may make use of audio materials to show the politics of revision.

When used in the classroom with specific course objectives in mind,
books on tape provide a necessary human dimension to the process of
reading and encourage students to read with great care and attention to
detail.

* Oral Traditions (Interviews and Oral Histories): Interviews and
oral histories provide an added dimension to the study of the use of
language in humanities courses. In addition to providing specific
first-hand information about a particular topic, they also give
students an opportunity to participate in building a catalogue of sound
for the classroom. Students may be asked to conduct a
five-to-ten-minute audio-recorded interview with someone and use it for
a class presentation. Of course, instructors should be sure to advise
students to get the interviewee’s written permission prior to recording.

Instructors may wish to bring other examples of interviews to class
and discuss the politics of a person discussing a subject either on or
off the record; the rhythm, cadence, and tone of the voice; and whether
the interviewee adequately addresses the questions asked. In literature
courses, interviews with authors being studied may provide a glimpse
into the philosophy and process of writing; or they may simply give
listeners a greater sense of the writer’s personality.

* Vintage Radio Programs: Instructors of social studies, history,
or language courses may find the vintage radio program of great use in
the classroom. Vintage radio programs provide a glimpse into bygone
eras and corresponding attitudes. An effective means of using such
programs is to listen to the broadcasts and create a series of related
questions that may be used as discussion topics in class or as a
worksheet or handout.

* Audio-Recorded Poetry: In language courses, poetry is an area of
study that students often find difficult to penetrate. Instructors may
find it useful to provide students with audio recordings of poetry, as
read either by an actor or by the author. Students may be asked to
express their understanding of a poem before and after hearing it read.
Often, the mere hearing of a poem and its varied sounds helps students
remember difficult passages and decipher symbolism and metaphor.

The use of audio sources in the classroom need not be relegated to
music or language laboratories. It is time to rethink the function of
sound in our lives and equip our classrooms accordingly. In the mad
rush to link our classrooms to the information superhighway, we must be
careful not to ignore the powerful, enduring legacy of sound.

Dr. Lisa Pertillar Brevard Assistant Professor, English University
of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, and a contributing author of the 1995 Peabody
Award-winning Wade In The Water: African-American Sacred Music
Traditions, 1994 Smithsonian/Folkways records

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