Magazine article Practical Literacy

Song-Writing 101-Musing over Literacy Learning through Song-Writing

Magazine article Practical Literacy

Song-Writing 101-Musing over Literacy Learning through Song-Writing

Article excerpt

Question: How do we inspire students to write?

Answer: By being inspirational ourselves.

We love what we do (mostly!) and it shows. Hattie sees passionate teachers as the best teachers (The Australian Society for Evidence Based Teaching, 2013-2019). Shaun Killian (2013-2019) echoes this by stating that 'passion is what ... motivates us to learn ways to improve our craft--no matter how good we already are.' There are many ways to bring out students' skills and creativity in writing, but if we can be authentic and help students to start from what they know, they can truly create writing of which they can be proud and that could be shared with a wider audience.

The recent ABC television program Don't stop the music echoed the benefits of music education. Featured expert, Dr Anita Collins, supports the incorporation of music into education stating, 'such is the quantity and quality of the research that it is now understood that music education benefits the development of the whole person like no other human activity' (Northern Rivers Conservatorium, 2017). For me, that has meant looking for ways in which to inspire students, using my two passions in teaching--English and music--and combining them. Surprisingly, I have found that in any cultural context, song-writing worked.

I have just returned to Australia from teaching in an international school in Jakarta, Indonesia. I sought to bring Indonesian and Korean students to a closer understanding of music. We had successful lessons when we wrote songs together instead of just studying theory. From this context, it was obvious that many students' literacy skills were developed along the way.

Of course, songs could be seen as poems set to music, but the advantage of writing a song is that the rhythm and syllables are clear to the writer and audience, and the form is more specific than many poems. Songs and poems both have 'hooks' and strong messages to engage the audience, as they use language with care.

Not all primary/literacy teachers would feel confident to teach song-writing, so I have looked online for websites which would support a teacher to change poetry into a song. Here are some which I used to bolster creative ideas into song forms.

Let's talk about the blues, a song form consisting of three-lined verses in which the first line is repeated and the third line rhymes with the first (AAB). Through the blues, a song type that expresses feelings about the world, students can learn about rhyme, rhythm, structure, syllables, content and the history of African slavery and American history. Your guitarists (or you--google it!) can play the three main chords which are used to accompany it. (If your blues song is in 'A major', then the chord progression would be 4 beats/1 bar of each of these chords--A, A, A, A, D, D, A, A, E, D, A, E--to make the 12 bars). But if this is not possible, then look at this website Gullah music--'Got the blues' for a variety of content and, importantly, some teaching and a music backing track when you click on 'begin'. Students can first try this as a class, then work in pairs or individually (as a homework task to then record on their phone) singing the blues, all the while developing several aspects of literacy and creativity.

Gullah music

You can develop students' understanding of the blues (or give more scaffolding to those who are struggling with language) by experimenting on the website Desktopblues. Clicking on different coloured squares and pre-recorded musical snippets will help students to understand the blues and even to create a backing track.

Desktop blues

The Australian Curriculum's (ACARA, 2014a) National literacy learning progression--writing (creating texts description) states that at Year 5, a student 'writes text for a familiar purpose (. …

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