Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Last week I spent three exciting days teaching some 5th grade students in rural North Carolina how to write songs about books. This is a summary of the experience.  Thank you to all the amazing students and teachers! 

...Songwriting, 5th Grade Style!


Analyzing a poem, extracting key information  (faces deliberately obscured)



Long before entering this school, I was in contact with one of the teachers, working out the details.  She had told me the whole grade level would be tackling Locomotion, by Jacqueline Woodson, in a read-aloud/think aloud format.  I offered to tailor the workshop to this moving story (written in many different poetic forms) of eleven-year-old Lonnie, an orphan who uses writing as a way to work through life's ups and downs.

I designed the workshop with the intent of teaching these 80-some students how to write songs based on their interpretations of the book.

Day One:

After introducing myself, I used one of the book's poems to share my thought process in analyzing Ms. Woodson's words, looking at the world from Lonnie's point of view and creating an original verse from his perspective.  The students then helped identify the steps in the process, which we used for their template.  I shared how I put the words to music and we sang it together, along with a chorus I had prepared in advance (in a typical five day workshop format, students create the entire song). 

Modeling the songwriting creative process

Day Two:

Writing day!  Students, working in small groups, were assigned different poems from the book and, using the template they helped create on day one, began writing their verses.  The greatest challenge was revising lyrics to fit the rhythm of the song without losing meaning.  Students took this task so seriously and diligently that the process took longer than expected and many groups didn't quite finish their verses.  The creative buzz in each of the four classrooms was inspiring.

Day Three:

Performance day!   Before stepping in front of the microphone, several groups needed to finish their verses.  Then came rehearsal, a couple more revisions, and then it was show time!  Many students stepped way beyond their comfort zone to perform for their peers, and even the extremely introverted ones participated and many seemed to come out of their shells for "the moment."  Peer audiences were respectful, appreciative, and supportive.  It was a joy to see it all come together. 

Post-Workshop Thoughts:

Each time I conduct one of these workshops, I come away inspired.  I see the power of the arts in the learning environment.  I see how music can elevate the level of engagement and participation across diverse classrooms.  I see how music strengthens the ability to think and to sustain focus.  I see students become stronger through collaboration, problem solving, and perserverance. 

Above all, I see how music and songwriting help to improve literacy skills and heighten enthusiasm for learning.  I can't wait to do this again.  Maybe your students can be next?

Until next time...may your next book be music to your ears.



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