March 14, 2008
This semester I am teaching a very fun class at our homeschool cooperative - a class that practically teaches itself and has been interesting for the students and fun for me. Our co-op is Christian based and I thought teaching a music class would be a lot of fun, discussing contemporary music and what it means, how it makes us feel, etc. I gave the students the one guideline that all the music they chose had to be on a Christian label and be acceptable to their own parents - otherwise anything went. Any music style and we have seen quite a few from pop to heavy rock, alternative to praise, rap to ballads, latin to punkish. It has been interesting and fun. Class discussion has been good and everyone seems to be enjoying it.
Before class began I asked the students to fill out a survey of music they liked and did not like, list their top ten bands and pick ten songs to discuss in class. We have 15 students (7 boys and 8 girls, ages 13-17) so that was 150 songs to chose from. There were some students who did not offer 10 songs and there was quite a bit of overlap in favorite songs and bands. I still had a lot to chose from for just 6 weeks of 55 minute class sessions.
The plan was each week for them to listen to the music at home ahead of time and have the lyrics available to be read and then discuss the songs in class. The first week of class we opened with some discussion and focus for the class. I discussed music as modern day poetry and talked about the power of lyrics. We talked about how music raises certain emotions and thoughts in us, charging us up or helping us to mellow out.
To illustrate the point that sometimes the medium is the message (the music itself creates the message irregardless of lyrics) I played three very different versions of the same song - a Christmas carol, Angels we have heard on high. One version was typical Christmas chorus with a big choir, another version was a Celtic folk version and the last was a rock/punk version done by a band that made 80% of the top 10 bands list for all the students (interestingly one of the few to cross gender lines).
Lastly I set up five loose classifications or groupings for the purpose/meaning of the music we would listen to. I mostly did this to facilitate class discussion and provide some easy tools to begin listening to and looking at music differently. I think it helped the students to evaluate the music more and initially dig in a bit below the surface. As class progressed this tool was used less and less (as I hoped it would be) as they moved into richer discussion about the songs. Still every once in awhile we come back to these groups as they provide a common understanding and a simple way to express a bunch of similar things about songs.
Here they are:
fairly easy to spot and label - church, youth group, KTIS, directly to or about God. Most often personal about you and God. Good praise and worship should not be a song you can replace your girlfriend or boyfriends name in - but is unique to God. Much is watered down praise so people can stick loved ones names instead. Modern day psalms
Dealing with the World -
Discussing every day issues and world events through music and the way we need to manage them. Sometimes strategies are offered, sometimes just emotions or causes are expressed. often it will be a mix of all. Relationships, politics, health issues, families, etc
Faith Strengthening and reminding -
written for Christians to remind and encourage them to stand strong in their faith. Casting Crowns, Caedmons Call, Jars of Clay
Drawing others to the faith with good music and a positive message in the lyrics. most often crossover bands - bands that sound like popular mainstream music
Just for Fun -
most music has a message to it but occasionally you really find some songs that are just pure fun.
Then the fun began. I won't go into all the class discussion here but it was very interesting and I think in the end the students are getting a lot out of it. I would say they definitely feel a sense of ownership as they have picked the music themselves. For the most part all the songs I have selected for the class discussion have come from those initial lists and their band and song preferences. Interestingly I did not end up just choosing their top 3 songs from each list or any simple thing like that. Rather I spent a lot of time listening to ALL the music and selecting a subset of it that offered variety, exposure to lots of musical tastes and styles and went across all the above mentioned categories. Each week we had about 10 songs to choose from for class discussion usually only making it through around 5 sometimes 7 of the songs. In the end I think they had a good mix of music. We are just at the halfway point now - though all the music has been selected, so I will have to give a final class overview.
If you teach this or a similar class you should poll your own students and let them choose the music so they have ownership of the class. I chose Christian labels as a guideline for the class because it filtered out a lot of material I may not have wanted to wade through or enter with some of the younger students and it provided a clear bright line for our class. It also offered parents a certain amount of comfort at what may or may not be talked about and from what general perspectives. That boundary may not be necessary for some others and this could easily be taught in a secular way, you just may have to filter through more.
I think one of the important keys to this class was letting them give me the big set of music to choose from and still maintaining control over what I selected and presented to the group from that. I then gave them back some more control by allowing them to vote on which songs to discuss for the week (from the subset of 10 I had selected for the week). It also allowed me to balance musical tastes and show a wide variety of styles and messages within the class. I had had the freedom to focus discussion in a week around a particular topic (ie different worship styles, different "world issue" songs, and so on).
I really want to compliment my students for the respectful way they dealt with fellow students and music they truly did not care for. Out of 40 songs we have gone through to this point only 1 song has been unanimously liked. Yet they were able to engage with others and share their thoughts and feelings about the music. Some songs brought out strong differing opinions in the students and some others led to different understandings of what the song was about and what it might mean. Overall it has been fun and interesting to getting to know the students more through the music they like as well as the music they don't. They have offered a lot of insight to each other and hopefully learned a few things about themselves, others, music and the world through the process. If nothing else it has been fun for us all.
Our list of songs:
Week One and Two
Lift - Carried Away
Breathe into Me - Red
Strong Tower - Kutless
We Win! -David Crowder Band
What This World Needs - Casting Crowns
America's Next Freak - FM Static
Shine - Newsboys
5 Minutes of Fame - Barlow Girl
Time and Confusion - Anberlin
Free - Rachael Lampa
Awakening - Switchfoot
Be My Escape - Relient K
Is Forever Enough - Hawk Nelson
For the Moments I feel faint - Relient K
Thank God I'm Not the One - The Afters
You're Not There - Jaci Velasquez
Famous One - Chris Tomlin
Made to Love - Toby Mac
You - Britt Nicole
Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus) - Chris Rice
Angels we Have Heard on High - Relient K
California - Hawk nelson
Cartoons - Chris Rice
Come Right Out and Say It - Relient K
Dare you to Move - Switchfoot
Deeper Life - Natalie Grant
Eschuchame (listen to me) Jaci Velasquez
I'll Get Over It (Miss elaineous) Everyday Sunday
Jesus Freak - DC Talk
Love Hate (On and On) Disciple
Mountain of God - Third Day
Never Alone - Barlowgirl
Never Been Unloved - Michael W. Smith
Ooh Aah - Grits
Paperthin Hymn - Anberlin
Phenomenon - Thousand Foot Krutch
SecondHand Dreaming - Ruth
Upside Down - Zoegirl
We Need Each Other - Sanctus Reel
Whispers in the Dark - Skillet
You - Switchfoot
The Everglow - Mae
You LIft Me Up - Rachael Lampa
Speaking in Tongues - The Elms
Dive - Steven Curtis Chapman
Never Take Friendship Personal - Anberlin
Those Nights - Skillet
The Innocent -Kutless
Learn to Breathe - Thousand Foot Krutch
You're My Little Girl - Go Fish
Here I am to Worship - Passion Worship Band
Wake Up! Wake Up! - Everyday Sunday
What I thought I wanted - Sara Groves
Who I am Hates Who I've Been - Relient K
This is Your Life - Switchfoot
Head on Collision - Hawk Nelson
Wherever We Go - Newsboys
Why Do I DO - Jump 5
If We Are the Body - Casting Crowns
What if I Stumble - DC Talk
Oh Gravity - Switchfoot