8 Examples of Classroom Musical Magic

Learning, PreK-12 / by

I believe it was J.K. Rowling’s Albus Dumbledore who said, “Ah, music. A magic behind all we do here!” This quotation comes to mind so many times when I witness the effect of catchy tunes and powerful lyrics on our creative students in Studio 113. Whether the classroom malady is a group of lethargic, uninterested students, a bulky reading assignment of seemingly ancient pages, or the misunderstanding of key literary characters, a solution often lies at the intersection of a crafty jam and a thematically connected excerpt of literature. The result? Classroom musical magic.Yeah, it sounds funny, but many times a reputable piece of writing can be much improved by the creative use of a common song. Think of Metallica’s “The Unforgiven” magnifying certain guilt-ridden characters from The Crucible, Five for Fighting’s “Superman” flying upwards with a cape of inspirational prose from Ralph Waldo Emerson, B.O.B.’s “Magic” versus Beowulf’s proud boast, or Rage Against the Machine’s “Maggie’s Garden” to capture the same determined focus found in many revolutionary documents. Music and literature are naturally symbiotic. The partnership just works.

But perhaps the most influential musical force is the one created by the student. Whereas a Whose Line Is It Anyway? “Greatest Hits” skit will surely liven up the class and audibly highlight the brilliance of the written word, a scrupulously written song by talented students will move a class of learners from disinterested to amazed in the drop of a beat. A literary soundtrack is then created, and the standards carry a tune.

Although the contracted and Project/Passion-Based Learning examples below stem from our Language Arts classroom, the same musical approach can be easily applied to any classroom, as confirmed by thousands of original YouTube videos.

Create a Spark: A Skit Featuring Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Getting Back Together”

Do you ever need to wake up students first thing in the morning and get them interested in the assigned standards? Try Whose Line’s “Greatest Hits” improvisational skit. Watch as this class gets primed to learn.

Showcase the Students’ Talents: A Brad Paisley Parody Covering Anne Roiphe’s Essay

When students were asked to augment their assigned teaching sections from “A Tale of Two Divorces” with a creative component, these two musicians knew exactly what to do. By embedding Google surveys on my webpage and by continually encouraging authentic evidence of learning, I was already aware of this duo’s potential.

Make a Music Video: The Crucible Rap

To fully appreciate this project, one must understand all that was involved in making the final product a reality. Tasks included writing an original song that covered the assigned poetry and literary standards, using Mixcraft software, selecting a background beat, using a live microphone to record numerous tracks as one .mp3 file, filming multiple video clips that successfully lip synced the song with the performers, and mashing all clips into one polished music video. To say the least, it’s a demanding project.

Ask & Listen: A Team’s Opinion of a 21st Century Student’s Needs

When confronted with assessing the mistakes of education in preparing teenagers for an uncertain future, these students highlighted unlimited technology resources and a strong desire to create as a demonstration of learning. Take a look at these two engaged students as they create an original rap in Mixcraft 6.

Here is the final product, a song appropriately titled “Creativity.”

Never Underestimate a Silent One: A Lyrical Representation of Dark Romanticism

I’ll never forget this student. What a talent! When asked how he wanted to represent his understanding of literature from Edgar Allen Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, this student’s wish contradicted his quiet demeanor in class. On the microphone after school? Well, that was a different story. His lyrics, tone, mood, and mastery of various poetry terms reflect the misery and pain illustrated by the Dark Romantics. Click here for his original rap.

Use What You Have: An Of Mice & Men Parody

All you have is a camera or a smartphone to record? No problem. Go with what you have. Take a look at this Bob Marley remake in the back of a cafeteria. No high technology. No musical software. Just three brave souls performing in front of their peers.

Reenact the Literature with Lyrics as the Guide: A Condensed Version of a Play Set to Famous Verses

Using household lyrics as their benchmark, this class of twenty-plus students recreated Arthur Miller’s famous play with four cameras, a catchy soundtrack, and a final, authentic song from Studio 113. The planning, props, clothing, and video editing gave rise to creative tension, but the music soothed out the rough places and left this class with a harmonious product of understanding.

Lead by Example: “The Declaration of Independence” (“The D.O.I.”) by Three Courageous Teachers

All I can say is, “Hey, we tried.” At least, the students respected our attempt at busting out a cool rap. Never mind the fact that we showed absolutely no musical talent or rhythm. We simply wanted to lead by example.

Whether teaming up with Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, and Maroon Five to label a fictional character as static or dynamic, or carefully selecting appropriate lyrics from rap masters Jay-Z, Eminem, and Tupac to juxtapose with The Police’s poetic “King of Pain,” the connection students make with literature is palpable. The excitement of creating original tracks to show comprehension is immeasurable. In fact, the energy is enough to fully illuminate all the “a-ha” light bulb moments. Just don’t be surprised if the light flickers to the rhythm of the beat. That’s just the tune of an inspired class.

It sounds something like magic…classroom musical magic.

John Hardison

John Hardison

John Hardison is an interactive facilitator of learning and blended learning specialist at East Hall High School (Studio 113 & EPiCC) in Gainesville, Georgia. By creating a class where literature creatively comes to life on a stage with students as the stars, Mr. Hardison focuses heavily on creativity, interactive structures, and student choices. In the past 16 years at East Hall High School, he has taught AP Language, American Literature, World Literature, and Applied Communications. Through original learning structures and a shared classroom concept, students are inspired to connect literature with their own talents and interests. Look for John at ISTE '14 in Atlanta and follow him on Twitter at @JohnHardison1.