Thursday, October 27, 2011

Music as Activism: Sountracks to Student Projects

Each semester, I have made sure to spend at least one day talking about music and lyrics as forms of activism. I have my students read the lyrics of Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit," Linkin Park's "Hands Held High," and Eminem's "Like Toy Soldiers." I also share YouTube videos of these songs, so that they can listen to the them as they read the lyrics. In class, we talk about which songs were effective at carrying across their message and do close readings, dissecting lyrics, talking about tone, and evaluating audience appeal.

Today, they also used this conversation about music to workshop their Writing as Activism projects, all of which are based upon very different topics. These are the instructions for the workshop:

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As far I have seen (some students took it home to complete), all of my students chose option # 1: the sountrack. While on the surface, the workshop might sound silly, students actually learn quite a bit about Composition by doing it. It requires students to:

  • consider the aspects of their topic that they wanted to highlight. 
  • perform close readings of songs to establish whether or not those songs actually represented the issues that they wished to highlight. 
  • figure out the best way to organize the soundtrack for an audience and how to use that organization to contribute to their message.
  • analyze their choices.

As students worked on this workshop, the classroom became vibrant. You could hear all different genres of music softly playing on laptops. Some of the students were giggling at the videos and lyrics. It was 35 minutes where every student was on-track, focused on the task at hand.

It was also a collaborative effort, though I didn't intentionally make it one. Students were talking to one another, sharing their iTunes libraries, and helping each other find songs on YouTube. They were asking "why that song?" and, though they may have just been curious, they were forcing their fellow students to consider their choices.

And of course, this workshop was also a great way for students to learn to use technology. I am super lucky to have a school that provides every student with a laptop and wireless access in every classroom. Since they are given these tools, I believe it is my job to make the most of them. This project required them to fine tune key words in order to search for songs and lyrics. Though this seems like an easy task on the surface, one of the most challenging tasks when it comes to academic research is finding the right search terms to use in the databases. Learning how to construct key words and how to find sources to help you complete your task are important skills.

In the end, I was impressed by the soundtracks that my students compiled. They put a good deal of thought into them. Even the students who had challenging topics, for which practically no songs directly addressed the issue, managed to figure out what they wanted to say about those topics and find songs to help them make sense of their activist projects. Some of them even shared links to the songs so that I could listen to them. All in all, I think this is a workshop I will be assigning in future courses.

1 comment:

kousalya said...

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