Thursday, 22 June 2017

Listen to the Music - Part 1

I love to incorporate music into as many lessons as possible. I try to have music playing during every work period. This year, I am responsible for about a third of the music instruction with the rest being covered by a rotary music teachers.

When I volunteered as a (very) late night DJ at a University Radio station, I picked up a rule that I still apply in my classroom today.

We can listen to anything that was not released in the last 12 months.

That radio station, CHRW 94.9 FM at Western Ontario,  still celebrates “a mandate to look outside what commercial radio stations and CBC are doing” on their home page.

My Grade 5 students are just at the point where they are discovering commercial radio and are defining their own taste in music. Consequently, I want to provide them with a rich & expansive buffet from which to choose.

Our musical choices come from many sources…

  • They can be curriculum inspired, Pump it Up by Elvis Costello & the Attractions was picked as a theme song by the group presenting their Cardiovascular System Talk Show.
  • They can be selected for practical reasons. Perhaps, they are simple enough for me to play on the guitar or ukulele. “Ahead by a Century” was our entry into the Canadian Music Class Challenge this year.
  • They can be situational. We looked at the music of Chris Cornell when he passed this May.
  • They can be selected through student voice. We often take a vote and pick a genre of music that we want to explore. This year, for example, we did New York Songs, Funny Songs & Hip Hop to name a few.

To facilitate this exploration, we select 8 songs from the artist or genre and then have them do battle, bracket style, to determine a winner. This is an example of a Knockout Bracket that we completed when David Bowie passed in January of 2016.

We put the songs up, head-to-head, using the Polls feature in Edmodo and voting (which is optional and anonymous) takes place each night. This is an additional tool to get the students onto the Edmodo (a teacher moderated and student safe Facebook-like environment) where they can chat and share opinions, building both their literacy and social media skills.

My 2016-17 class is currently in the last 5 days of school and we have reviewed the 32 entries on the Class Song List we have curated over the past 10 months. Spotify has made it easy for me to make the playlist that is the soundtrack to our year.

The songs are currently going head-to-head in an elimination bracket similar to the NCAA Basketball Tournament (aka: March Madness) format to determine our Song of the Year. At the time of this writing, we are into the Elite Eight and there is much debate about the eventual winner.

There was also agreement that ...
1.) We covered music from many decades (even centuries with our Genius Hour Mozart Soundtrack)
2.) We covered music from a variety of genres (Beatles to Reggae, Cajun to Hip Hop, Pink Floyd to Taylor Swift).
3.) It is okay to say that something "isn't my cup of tea", but we reserve the word "hate" for things like racism and war.
4.) It really was a good idea to look outside the music from commercial radio,

In Part Two - I will discuss how looking at a parody of a Michael Jackson song turned a potential mistake into a great, teachable opportunity.

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