I think about where I learned from reading. Honestly, I started to learn from reading when I was roughly ninth or tenth grade – when I started to read the lyrics to songs in the liner notes that came with the cassette tape. This was the best thing ever! Never was I so engaged.
My students, they remind me of this everyday when they come into class. They are always singing. From Justin Beiber, to Kelly Clarkson, to Taylor Swift. Occasionally, I stop and ask them, “what do you think that songs means?” or, “what is the singer (writer) trying to say?”
Mystified, they retort, “I don’t know.”
When this happens, I send him or her off to think about it. When they come back, they seem to have more questions for me then they do answers. (Yes! They are actually thinking about lyrics!)
You see, when I was in grades 5-8, I loved music and I loved singing out loud. However, I didn’t know what I was singing out loud.
One young lady, obsessed with pop music, after teaching Reciprocal Teaching strategies when home and analyzed a song. We had done, as a class, “Don’t Stop Believing” in reading workshop that day. Inspired, she went home and wrote out an entire page of questions and clarifications to a top ten hit.
While I was not about to answer some questions and clarify some concepts, for the first time she considered the appropriateness of the song. Give them some room to think and clarifying goes full flight. From that point on, she became much more particular about what she sang out loud and far more concious of her audience.
My life changed when I fell in love with the Rolling Stones. I read lyrics incessantly. I became captivated by songs like “Let It Loose” or “Moonlight Mile.” There was such pagentry in the lyrics and passion behind the words. There was a clear theme, a lifelong message, that has only grown deeper as life expereinces move forth. I learned a ton. When I understood the lyrics of “I Shall Be Released” performed by the Band at the Last Waltz. Connections abounded.
Today, I teach comprehension and strategic reading with lyrics. Carefully chosen lyrics. My students love this reading. They feel successful – though group discussions, connections, and discussing perspectives. Use B.B. King’s “Why I Sing the Blues.” Transformative. “She” by Gram Parsons or “Boomer’s Story” by Ry Cooder brought kids to tears and sparked curiosity.
The way songwriters convey message, short, concise, precise, yet ambigious. Open for discussion and interpretation. This supports the establishment of cooperative learning communities and shared perspectives.
Delving into short stories, novels, and informational text, students still draw upon lyrics as background knowledge.
As the Black Crowes say, “Music’s got to free your mind. Let it go, ’cause you never know.”
Kids can learn to love reading through lyrics.
Justin is a sixth grade teacher in Norway, Maine where he lives with his wife, daughter, and three horses. He was a “boy reader” growing up, but could always be found reading a Daily Racing Form or singing songs. When Justin is not thinking school, which his wife says is “all the time,” he is working with his family preparing horses for competition or watching and reading about the races, with music playing all the time. You can find him on Twitter as @JustinStygles.