Slice of Life: That Didn’t Go As Planned

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

It wasn’t a disaster, but still, a lesson I had envisioned as a multimedia way to connect my sixth graders to characters in Watsons Go to Birmingham novel didn’t go the way I wanted, and now I am pondering how I might change things next time.

In the book, as the family gears up to head south, the father buys an Ultra-glide record player (a whole discussion about vinyl records ensued in class) and they listen to a few songs in the days before their journey south. Each year, I pull out the songs that Kenny, the narrator, loved — Yakety Yak — and mom loves — Under the Boardwalk.

Listening to the songs gives an audio connection to the story, and helps establish setting and character.

All good.

Watson Mix Tape Assignment

So yesterday, I thought: why don’t I have my students create a “mix tape” on Google Slides, finding songs to represent the other three members of the family on the road trip, and have students choose their own “travel song” for the mix tape. I even added a song of my own in there – Life is a Highway by Tom Cochran (the kids all knew the Rascal Flatts version from the Cars movie).

We dug into the project, and students were definitely engaged — but they seemed to be more engaged in the “search” for music than the connection to the characters. In my mind, I wanted them to really find songs that represented the characters as know them,  and perhaps I missed a step in my lesson. Perhaps a writing piece before the search would have helped. Or they needed our character trait chart in front of them.

Many students were just … well … listening to songs. Some had trouble with the search engine itself. What keywords should they use? What songs? Were modern songs OK or did they have to be “old songs”? None of them finished the assignment and I’m not sure that audio/music connection to the book really happened as I wanted it to happen.

And I admit I got a bit nervous when they were searching for songs to represent themselves. “Do we need to use the clean version of the song?” a few asked. “Yes,” I said, rather quickly, now looking closer at the screens near me.

Still, as one class was leaving, one student said to me, “That was so fun, Mr. H. I found a rebel song for Byron (the other brother whose troublemaking is the catalyst for the journey). When can we use music again?”

So, maybe the hook was there, after all.

Peace (in the music),

  1. Teachers are so often focused on controlling the lesson (because that’s how we are assessed, right?). I think it’s great that you took a chance with this idea–and obviously your students think so, too. I’m guessing you will repeat this activity, with a tweak or two. What an inventive way to bring history and characters to life!

  2. I am not sure it did not go well. I think they needed time to search, listen, search again. I wonder if pulling them together to reflect on the process – what worked? what did not work? – is all they need to get back at it. We always say that if kids go off and do the assignment right away, easily, then we are not in their zone of proximal development. I think you are in their zone — stay the course. I think it has many interesting and thought-provoking aspects. Hoping for a part-two slice!

  3. I can see why you question the lesson’s success and also see where you might change things next time, but it sounds as though the kids learned and discovered things about themselves and characters.

  4. I would not have done well on this assignment! I can only think about how much I like songs, and how much I think other people will like songs. I can’t ever think, no the spot, of a song to go with a situation. After some time to think, I would probably be able to come up with something.

  5. I love everything about this post! The book, the idea, the story of the students, and your reflection. I think you’re onto something with this idea of a playlist and I can’t wait to see where this journey leads you and your students.

  6. Kevin,

    Unintended detours often results in a wonderful journey.

    You taught them to make connections. Now when they read another piece of literature, listen to a song or do a science experiments, your students will consciously or unconsciously will look for making connections.

    You taught them literature does not exist in a vacuum. I bet all of you had many discussion about the civil rights movement, love for family, northward migration and racial tensions over the decades.

    Win win for all. Ya?

  7. What a genius idea – letting the kids mess around with music to find connections to characters! Based on your slice, the level of engagement was high – I think this was the immersion phase. I bet, with another chance, maybe kicked off with the last child who found a song connection for Byron, more children would also make character song connections! Love this idea and the slice! Thanks for sharing!

  8. How nice that they had some space in their day where they could go into their own zones and explore, without being micro-managed about what to do and how to do it.

  9. Your reflection and willingness to try out new ideas always inspire me. I think their reflection in this will be important too- you are right. Thanks for sharing your thoughts (even though you are too hard on yourself- experimentation is what makes learning evolve).

  10. It sounds to me like your expectations are actually at odds with students’ process– could that be it? Or it’s the timing that may not have fit into what you anticipated.

    The lesson seems to have provoked some inquiry and learning will follow, but they have to find it first, right? I have students do a similar assignment but connect a poem to character or text. My kids, like yours, get so caught up in reading poetry and looking for just the right poem that it takes some time to circle back to justifying and explaining how their choice specifically connects.

    Sounds like you are right on track to me (pun intended) : )

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