Thursday, 31 May 2012

Lyrics Poems and Visual Poems aka Music Videos!

We are well now well into our lyrics/poem unit and I must say, this has got to be my favourite unit of the year! This is for a number of reasons.

First of all, I love making connections to real world literacies! Poetry is all around us, for example, on the radio and our mp3 players! Also, I really love how students are making connections between old and new: poets of 1800's connect to poets/lyricists of today. I also love discussing metaphor, symbolism, imagery... as written in texts and as expressed through visual means (like in a music video or a 'visual poem' interpretation). I have pushed students to 'think deep' about what is being constructed for them both in songs and on TV.

Last summer I create a website that gave examples of lessons that combined modern day lyrics, old fashioned 'traditional' poetry,  music videos, and youtube visual interpretations of poems. This site is called I have built upon that premise in this unit, using more variety and more current examples.

Our focus has been on determining key words and 'main idea', determining mood, point of view, discovering and explaining figurative language, and creating personal connections to the texts. We often compared the text/poem/lyric to a visual version, assessing whether the visuals chosen were a 'good or bad' representation of text meaning.

Before we got started, I asked students for input regarding favourite songs/lyrics/artists and I incorporated these into my plans.

So far, here's what we've done:

The 'Hope/Survival/Personal Strength' Playlist
Katy Perry's 'Part of Me' & music video (where upon Katy 'shows' her strength by joining the marines! The visual thus acts as a metaphor/simile of the song's main idea which is her personal strength in getting over a break up...In visual form, she is as strong as a marine, running through obstacle course, lifting logs, etc)

This song was compared with the more 'traditional' poem, Emily Dickenson's Hope is A Thing With Feathers, and with additional lyrics: Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive, Mac Miller's Live Free (clean edit) and Eminem's Lose Yourself (clean edit).

The Grade 8's spent some extra time with Eminem's Lose Yourself lyrics. Whatever you may think of Eminem, his writing is deft, playful bordering on cheeky (sometimes bordering on crude...but that's not the case in these particular lyrics) and full of figurative language and imagery. We spent some time with the line:

tetter totter, caught up between being a father and a prima donna

to explore how the image of the tetter totter provides clarity into his struggle between fatherhood and stardom.

The words provide the image in our minds which then clarifies the idea or adds to the mood as we bring our own associations to it. 

The 'Choose Wisely' Playlist
We started by looking at Coolio's 1990's hit 'Gangster's Paradise', comparing it to the video (which is mostly from the 1995 movie Dangerous Minds). When we look at a video, I ask students to make a list of all the images they see. Then we compare the images to what we have already discovered about the lyrics...does it match? how well does it reflect the mood or main idea?

We went through the lyrics closely, documenting all the aspects Coolio lists about gangster life, and came up with this main idea (as one student succinctly put it): 'being a gangster ain't no paradise!'.
The general consensus with the video is that it did represent the song very well...though some students disliked the pacing (too fast!), which is another component of media (and one which students have explored themselves in their own media creations in Frames 4...but I'll save that for a separate blog post!). 

The scene where Coolio removes the sunglasses off the boy, we realize that this is meant to represent the removal of the gangster life. The sunglasses are a symbol of gangster life and Coolio is saying he doesn't want that for the boy.

We then compared this lyric to Percy Shelly's 'traditional' poem 'Ozymandias'. (We stopped briefly to look up Shelly on wikipedia, as we do with all the poets we study). Again, we read this poem closely and I drew a little comic on the board, showing two legs, a face half buried in sand and the speech bubble that said: "I am Ozymandias, the mighty!" to which a student cried out: "not so mighty now! HA!"...which sums that poem up exactly...where did his 'sneer of cold command' get him? Like the gangster in Coolio's song...his life ends, he becomes buried in the sands of time...was his cruelty and violence worth it? Did his power last? (No!)

There are some really great 'remakes' of Shelly's poem on youtube...we watched the one where the face in the sand slowly erodes as the waves wash in...a great visual interpretation of the impermanence of life. 

We then briefly looked at Red Hot Chili Peppers "Under The Bridge', which I have asserted is 'the best visual poem ever created' (students are welcome to prove me wrong!). In these lyrics, the lead singer documents the lowest moment of his life, and how he turned away from that negative choice (awesomely represented visual in the video by showing him running away from an explosion...or as one student put it 'it is like he is running away from death'). 

The 'Everybody Hurts' Playlist
We looked at the Nelly Furtado/K'Naan's song 'Anybody Out There?'and 'Bad Day' by Daniel Powter, again comparing the lyrics to the videos. These two songs are very similar in concept, but the main idea (and thus the ending to the videos) is very different and has a very different message. One ends with hope and connection, the other, with continued isolation. We started to get even more precise in our observations: for example, Nelly and K'Naan are wearing very dark clothing, and kakhi/army like does that contribute to the representation of the lyrics? etc.

We also looked at again at 'Under the Bridge'--which documents a feeling of loneliness and isolation (and taking comfort from a sense of place/location). One student asked 'why isn't he wearing a shirt?' (the lead singer is shirtless for a large part of the video) to which I asked what that would symbolism: a few answers: 'freedom, exposure'. And how did that relate to the lyrics, hmmm?

Looking at the video encourages students to look even more closely at the related text to analyze, compare and then ultimately judge how well it is being interpreted in images.

I love all the 'deep thinking' going on in this unit!

Next up! Lyrics as Narrative: songs & poems that tell stories! This will include The Cremation of Sam McGee (Robert Service) and The Devil Went Down to Georgia (Charlie Daniels Band), as well as Skater Boy (Avril Lavigne) and Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen).