What Jack Black Did Right as a Teacher in School of Rock

teaching methods Apr 26, 2022
young students rocking out

“School of Rock” has been a favorite movie of mine because it’s a trifecta of things I enjoy—Jack Black, music, and teaching! For a number of years, I tossed around the idea of teaching a college course to future teachers based on the movie. It’s full of “don'ts” for sure, based on the comedic plot, but it’s also full of “do’s!” Granted, the scenes are fictional and often hyperbolic, but I hope you’ll enjoy the nuggets of good teaching I found in the midst of all the absolutely unrealistic scenarios presented in this fun movie. 

I’m going to focus on one scene in particular in this post. If you’ve never seen the movie, I’ll give a quick introduction to the scene and Jack Black’s character Dewey Finn: 

The scene is about 20 minutes in where Jack Black begins substitute teaching at a private school under the guise that he’s his roommate, Ned Schneebly, who is an actual substitute teacher. Jack has been kicked out of his band basically because he’s difficult to work with.  He needs a way to get some money, so taking this job that the real Ned is unaware of seems to be a good idea at the time. 

The private school is high-achieving, and Jack Black definitely is NOT. After a bit of time, the students go to their music lesson. Jack, aka Dewey/Ned, hears them in the music room playing an unhappy sounding, obscure classical piece and realizes they have some musical talent!

Jack Black has retrieved instruments from his van for them students to play when they arrive back in his classroom. He starts modeling measures from rock songs with 4 of the students and then has them play together, resulting in measures from “Smoke on the Water.” 

Informal assessment

As a teacher who uses music in the classroom throughout the day, here is what I love about this part of the movie using “teacher-ese”:

An informal assessment was done. Jack observed the students and their skills prior to introducing new material, noting their abilities and knowing what would be appropriate methods and material  to build on what they already knew. The students were given instruments similar to ones he observed them playing in their lesson.

Using song to give feedback/reminders

Jack’s character is working with Lawrence on the keyboard on a Doors song and makes up his own lyrics to the song to praise Lawrence’s abilities. I love it because this is something I often do in my own classroom! My students can tell you how I’ll sing a reminder or instruction rather than simply stating it. By doing this, you get students to listen more carefully to what you’re conveying to them because it’s delivered in a different manner.  

@sosimplesightwords What is your favorite teaching moment from a movie? #schoolofrock #jackblack #teachinglessons #teachersoftiktok #parentsoftiktok #momtok ♬ original sound - Patty So, M.S.

Here’s an example:

In my class, I’ll often have a “wanderer”—that student who walks around and procrastinates rather than getting the materials needed for independent work during my reading group time. Rather than calling out the child’s name and reprimanding, I sing something that pops in my head (It’s a strange talent of mine!) such as, to the tune of Taps, “Get your work…, have a seat…, get it done and you might get a treat…” and add a wink. I’ve made my demand known, the child giggles rather than frowns as would happen if I said sternly, “Jude, get your work and sit down.” The other positive effect of using this strategy is you keep the affective filter (stress level) low in your classroom. No one got “yelled at!” (I wrote about stress and the brain in my last blog post.)

If this isn’t a natural skill of yours as a teacher or parent, start thinking of songs you know and prepare a few simple praises/reminders in your head that you can keep at the ready. You don’t need to be a great singer, either! Children are unconcerned! My opinion of my own singing is I can carry a tune, but the bag I carry it in isn’t that pretty! (Citing the old adage, “She couldn’t carry a tune in a paper sack!”) 

Stay tuned for more instructional gems from “School of Rock” in future blogs!

If you’re interested in the power music has on young children, here are a couple of articles that might interest you.

Why You Should Sing to Kids

Singing Instructions Rather Than Speaking Them: Looking for examples *comment #5 is especially excellent on this link, but many others are also worth the read

Why do we remember song lyrics so well, but not school work?

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