Multimodal Mondays: Curating Creative Playlists: Soundtrack of Your Life

andrea_lunsford
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Kim Horn.jpgKim Haimes-Korn is a Professor of English and Digital Writing at Kennesaw State University. She also trains graduate student teachers in composition theory and pedagogy. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning and critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She is a regular contributor to this Multimodal Monday academic blog since 2014. She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy, and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. You can reach Kim at khaimesk@kennesaw.edu or visit her website: Acts of Composition

Overview

Content curation is a “systematic process that involves discerning, selecting, interpreting, and delivering the most relevant and high-quality original content that already exists on a given subject . . . (15 Great Content Curation Examples, Chieruzzi, 2021).” As digital writers, we can curate content in various ways through researched articles, images, and shared content – among others.  For the purpose of this multimodal assignment, I view curation as the art of collecting, selecting, interpreting, creating, sharing.

Everyone loves a good playlist. This digital technology has replaced the old “mixtape” and makes it super easy to categorize our favorite songs. A family member recently sent me a themed playlist (Thanks, Melissa) and I was intrigued by the amount of thought and creativity that defines the playlist genre. In order to be effective, you have to consider the rhetorical situation – purpose, audience, subject, and context – lenses that define our ideas about engaging writing. We create playlists to reflect moods, express themes, and to shape particular subjects, keywords, or concepts. Playlists can inform, tell stories, and communicate ideas. 

We tend to think about playlists existing outside of the classroom, but they can engage students in a range of important curation and interpretive skills.

Types of Playlists

I have my favorite songs playlist, a beach playlist, genre playlists, throwback playlist, among others. I started to think about some of the categories that define the genre. Here are a few categories that can be shaped into a range of curation assignments:

  • Moods and emotions – chill, high energy, get pumped, lift you up, sad, celebrate
  • Place based – songs about (or that mention) a particular place or location.
  • Subject/Theme
  • Time periods – childhood tunes, decades  
  • Activities and events – road trip, wedding, summer vacation,
  • Stories or ballads
  • Cultural critique  
  • Collaborative – participants come together to contribute to an aggregated, shared playlist.  

 

The Soundtrack of Your Life

Photo by Mohammad Metri on UnsplashPhoto by Mohammad Metri on UnsplashThere are endless possibilities for assignments using playlists. This assignment, The Soundtrack of Your Life challenges students to reflect on meaningful events and influences that might be cued, defined, or contextualized through music. I am certainly not the first to share this type of work and found that there are other communities and educators who promote this idea as well.

Music allows us to remember potent events from our lives.  An assemblage of songs - a so-called "soundtrack to your life" - is like a roadmap looking backward on the major milestone that got you to where you are today.  By looking backward, they can serve to help you see the path you are on going forward. (What is the Soundtrack to Your Life?, Wilms 2013)

Through using music as a lens, we can come to understand our connections to events, emotions, ideas, and cultural influences. 

Steps to the Assignment

Note: I encourage students to choose their own technology based on what they like rather than prescribing particular platforms. I stand by my pedagogical philosophy that rather than “teaching tools,” it is important for students to develop digital intuition. When students choose their own platforms, the assignment has the potential to move out of the classroom and into their lives. Furthermore, when students embed their curated playlist into their own libraries, they can share it with their communities and listen to it on their own long after the class is over.

Collect - Collection starts with exploring and brainstorming.  Ask students to reflect on and list times in their lives that they associate with particular music. They can also do this in reverse and conduct background research on specific time periods and music that cues their memories. They can also frame their collection through defining moments, chronological time, tone, or mood, to name a few.

Select - Next, students thoughtfully select songs to include on their playlists. You can determine how many songs you want them to curate. I usually go with between 10-20.  They will go through the processes of sorting, arranging, and organization.

Here is where they pull together their selected songs and create a collection that they will then give context through interpreting their meaning and expanding their resources. 

Interpret - Students create annotations for each song where they cite the artist, song title, release date, and link to videos or lyrics. They create an interpretative description where they discuss their connections to and meaning of the song -- how it is autobiographical and what they learned. I have them include a cited passage from the lyrics as part of this interpretative annotation. This Annotated Playlist is captured on a blog post* or Google doc so they can link it in their final description. Include a reflective overview that acts as a draft for their online description. This is an adjacent document that supports their curation choices.

*The playlist can be extended to include an inspired essay or blog post where students narrate the impact of the songs or tell a story from a particular time in their lives and embed links from the songs into an interactive essay.

Create - This step has students moving from the annotated version to uploading it to a supported playlist provider such as Spotify or Apple Music. 

They design the list through adding context, imagery, and description:

Title: Name the playlist with a title that speaks to its nature and engages listeners.  Go beyond generic titles such as “My Playlist” or “Songs from the 90’s” and encourage students to make it an individual reflection of the intention of the curation.

Image - Include a representative image – original or copyright free – that will accompany and introduce the playlist – a lesson in visual rhetoric. There are many forums and instructional videos to help students learn how to create and upload images to their playlist platforms.

Description - Add a description to the overall playlist. This usually shows up on the opening page and can include clickable links to videos or other related content. The description should talk about the purpose, mood, and meaning of the playlist.  Here is where they can link to the Google doc or blog post to include their expanded insights.

Share - Time to share.  I encourage students to share their playlists with their families, friends, and communities. I also curate a full class playlist where students submit their finished versions towards an aggregated selection so they can enjoy their classmates' work and upload to their own libraries.

Reflections on the Activity

This project emphasizes multiple skills of digital and multimodal composers. Writers generate ideas towards invention, substantiate ideas, draft strong descriptions, and learn citation practices. Like any rhetorical task, we need to define the purpose, subject, audience, and context. It also reinforces citation practices, visual rhetoric, and interpretive skills. Music is an important multimodal form that offers opportunities for insight and critical thinking.

I invite you to like, respond, and share in the comments!  😊

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.