Academic journal article English Journal

Beyond Enhancement: Teaching English through Musical Arts Integration

Academic journal article English Journal

Beyond Enhancement: Teaching English through Musical Arts Integration

Article excerpt

In 1969, Steven Carter published the first account of how an English teacher, in his case a college composition instructor, could augment the teaching of English through music. Carter used The Beatles to teach writing and to enhance his students' study of "common rhetorical elements of voice, tone, structure, [and] continuity" (228), reporting that students were motivated and engaged by the activities.

Since John, Paul, George, and Ringo rocked Carter's classroom back in 1969, many other teachers and scholars have written about variations of the same basic idea-using popular music in the service of teaching English. The goals of such approaches are broad, ranging from simple motivating or initiating events such as connecting a song to a piece of literature in the curriculum to conducting and writing a formal rhetorical analysis of a popular song. Music and adolescence go hand in hand, while English class and adolescence admittedly coalesce with less frequency. Beginning with Dan Donlan in 1974 and in each decade since, teachers have shared uses of music in the pages of English Journal. Ernest Morrell and Jeffrey DuncanAndrade wrote in a 2002 English Journal article about their use of hip-hop music with their Los Angeles students, to date the most-cited EJ article concerning the use of music in teaching, according to Google Scholar. Brock Dethier's book about the poetry of rock lyrics, From Dylan to Donne: Bridging English and Music, was a follow-up to a 1991 English Journal article, "Using Music as a Second Language."

This has been a career-long passion for both of us, and from the time we were student teachers to our current work-Chris in English teacher preparation and Nathan teaching high school English- we've kept music in our classrooms. We've had students informally and formally analyze songs, connect characters in books to songs, freewrite to music, identify literary elements in song lyrics, and purposefully connect songs to literature as part of the act of reading. While music is a shape-shifting force in our teaching, there are truths revealed about students when music is part and parcel of the teaching of English: interest, engagement, and motivation lead to student investment in projects that far exceed their weight in the grade book.

Recent work with visual and performing arts organizations near where we work and live proffered a different perspective on using arts in school and caused us to rethink our approaches to teaching English with music. This isn't to say that how we-or others-i ncorporated music in our teaching didn't help students relate to everything from Romanticism to personal narrative writing; it did. This is to say that in light of new learning, our previous approaches squarely fell in the camp of arts-enhanced curriculum. Akin to the sources referenced above, we used music to enhance-unpack, enliven, augment , expand, amplify, intensify-the teaching of English.

Let us explain. One such approach that illustrates what we consider good arts-enhanced curriculum is The Soundtrack of Your Life (Goering), a twist on the personal narrative that asks students to connect the important people, places, and events of their lives with songs, an assignment that we both used with high school students and that Chris used with preservice teachers each year. The project was wildly successful with our students, the one assignment that 100 percent of them completed. They were motivated to engage with music and were willing to complete an activity-a personal narrative-that surely some would have otherwise loathed. We used the activity to learn more about students as individuals and as writers at the beginning of the school year, and several have since confessed that it was the longest piece of writing in their schooling experience. In developing narrative writers, we used music as a propulsion agent to help them explain connections by quoting or paraphrasing song lyrics, to develop self as character, and to develop stamina and fluency in their writing. …

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