Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Songs in my head and heart

Day 2 of 31 at TWT!
"Hum a little, Marion!" That's what my mom has always said when she catches me humming unknowingly, since my great-grandmother apparently also hummed all the time. Husband loves to catch me at it, since he knows it means I'm happy, and now even my daughters have started to giggle when they point it out and realize I didn't know. I can't help it; there's always a song in my head, and they sometimes leak out, usually without me realizing it!

Almost anyone who has met me knows that I was a member of The Ohio State University Marching Band for five years, since that’s almost always the “interesting fact” I share about myself when I meet people. When I studied Spanish in school, I loved the songs my teachers shared with us so much that 20 years later, my phone still has a significant number of songs by Maná. Between those passions and my faith, my brain (and phone) are full of such a variety of songs that you never know if Jarabe de Palo, Chicago, Avicii, Kenny Chesney, or Hillsong will leak out!

For my first five years of teaching Spanish to elementary and middle school students, songs were an essential part of my lesson plans. When I sing "Vengan a Ver Mi Granja" to my baby girl in the rocking chair now, I'm always transported back to holding up labeled animal pictures in front of a classroom full of eager kids, reveling at their joy as they realized that animals don't "say" the same things in every language! And when my girls asked to "the fishy song" ("Los peces en el río") throughout December, I kept remembering the pride and joy on a young Latina student's face as she screeched out to the class, "We sing this at my church!!!"

Looking back on all that music, it’s surprising to realize that once I started teaching high school EL students, music abruptly disappeared from my classroom. It’s not that I meant to do away with it; it just fell away as I dramatically shifted my teaching from “learning a language is fun!” to “oh my goodness, these kids have to survive in biology class and pass graduation tests!” Suddenly, I was trying to implement reading and writing workshop, facilitate academic discussions, and inspire students to be more active learners with goal-setting and reflection techniques. I’d hear my world language colleagues using music down the hall and smile (while adding Lasso to my phone), but it didn’t seem to fit in with my teaching anymore. 

A few years ago, Christopher Lehman came to my district’s Literacy Conference and walked us through analyzing a song (I think it was “Roar” by Katy Perry) using close-reading techniques. I thought, “How cool, to use music like poetry!” and added the idea to my ever-percolating lesson bank, where it sat unused because… I didn’t know any pop songs? I was too overwhelmed to go on a search for the right songs? I was afraid I’d pick a song and the kids would hate it? I had plenty of poems I liked to use already? I got too busy with other things and mostly forgot?

Whatever the reason, music was mostly absent from my EL classroom until I had an epiphany while studying Zaretta Hammond's Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain. Song study became a powerful routine for my beginner ELs, and music filled our classroom for several months last year... until, of course, we all left our classroom, without knowing we'd never return.

In this long, strange year at home, music has become one of our family's definitive joys. Ever since we discovered that Laurie Berkner had started streaming live-from-her-living-room mini-concerts last March, we've treasured a daily half-hour routine of dancing and singing to our favorite songs on Facebook Live or YouTube. We've built playlists for when Laurie's not live, and both girls love picking out which songs we'll sing, dance, and snuggle along to every day. As soon as we finish our calendar routine, baby girl shrieks, "Laurie!" and any tension in the day flows away as we enjoy church songs, Spanish songs, Disney songs, Daniel Tiger songs, school songs, Christmas songs (yes, even after Three Kings' Day was over, don't judge!) and of course, Laurie favorites.
Riding their unicorns while singing along to "Candy Cane Jane"! <3

So when I started to seriously decide that yes, I could do the March Slice of Life Challenge this year, music floated its way into my brain. What if I tied a favorite song into each slice? It could be a powerful way to honor music's special place in my heart; after all, it would probably occupy an equal space to reading and writing in my heart map. Plus, connecting a song to a daily story could be both a challenge, a way to combat writer's block, and a new twist to help me get more excited to really try to write for a month, something I haven't done in several years. My heart jumps just thinking of all the songs I love that have stories to tell, and all the stories that I could connect to a song!
I'll consider the songs I mentioned & playlists I linked above as today's "song" (ok, it's a whole bunch of songs and I'm breaking this format before I've even started it, but it seems fitting for this intro post!), but I hope you'll enjoy my songs-with-stories and stories-with-songs over the next month!


  1. What a great idea, Jennifer! I appreciate your reflection on how something you so value disappeared from your classroom and how you have shifted back to it... golden and key! We are happiest when we live our values and teach from them too.

  2. I love this idea! I love using music in the classroom and it is great to know there are more of us out there! I will look forward to your musical suggestions :)

  3. So often, I think your writing is like a song. It flows, peaks, and ends in a merry little tune. Always you leave me smiling. :-)


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