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Multimodal Mondays: Music and Class Playlists
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Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn, a Professor of English and Digital Writing at Kennesaw State University. 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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website: Acts of Composition
The idea of using music in my classes sounds simple enough but has had an amazing impact on my teaching over the years. Music and audio are important (often under emphasized) components of multimodal composition and digital content creation. Today, I want to talk about some of the ways I have used music in my classes and describe a particular assignment: The Class Playlist.
I often ask students to analyze music as literature, look at lyrics through critical lenses, and interpret context, intention, and impact as social artifacts. For example, I have asked students to analyze “protest songs” and look at their place within particular historical and social contexts. With the availability of videos and lyrics online, this project is easily shared with others, so students can not only read the lyrics but also hear the actual music and analyze other components of this multimodal genre.
My classes also often involve digital community engagement for real-world projects that promote awareness or advocate for social change. Years ago, I stumbled on this wonderful organization, Playing for Change, who identify themselves as “a movement created to inspire and connect the world through music, born from the shared belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people.” I introduce students to the organization and present them with one of the first songs in their series, a version of Stand by Me performed by musicians all over the world and then reworked into an international tapestry of their voices – a format replicated by the organization over the years. This song is familiar to most people, has an uplifting melody and message, and demonstrates a great example of the ways we might create engaging multimodal content through and with music.
By happenstance, I was presenting at a professional conference and had to test my technology before my presentation. I pulled up this same song to test the audio and immediately noticed that it drew people into presentation and that it changed the mood of room, opening up my audience to hear what I had to say in ways that sitting in silence did not. I decided to continue to play it as participants entered as we gathered and set up the presentation. It challenged our notions of what we expect in these settings and used the multimodal component of music to affect the impact of the presentation. Since that day, I have often used this simple technique before I present.
It was this experience that that led to my latest exploration of music in my writing classes – the Class Playlist. I currently teach a course that emphasizes digital storytelling and want to make sure students consider sound and music as important components of their multimodal composition processes. In class, we focus on students’ rhetorical and ethical use of music in digital contexts and the music itself as a storytelling genre.
We all love our playlists that allow us to curate songs in different ways. We can organize them around particular events, activities, or themes. In this class, since we focus on digital storytelling, I asked students to choose two songs that tell either a story (through lyrics and music) or that remind them of a story from their own lives (teachers can easily adapt this idea to their own course content). I have students submit songs to a collaborative Google document and then a move them to an online playlist app (Spotify). Each time we meet, I play one of their songs as students are settling into the room and I am taking roll and getting organized. Once the song is finished, I ask the student to explain a bit of context for the song, including why they chose it for our playlist.
Background Readings and Resources
- The St. Martin’s Handbook: Ch. 7: Reading Critically; Ch. 18: Communicating in Other Media
- The Everyday Writer (also available with Exercises😞 Ch. 7: Critical Reading; Ch. 20: Communicating in Other Media
- EasyWriter (also available with Exercises): Ch. 7: Reading and Listening Analytically, Critically, and Respectfully
Steps to the Assignment
- Introduce students to the importance of music as a multimodal and storytelling component. Present examples and/or have students work with their own examples to discuss in small groups or as a full class.
- Discuss ethical and professional ways and resources for using music in multimodal projects including copyright-free music sources and citation practices. (See more about Encouraging the Use of Public Domain Assets.)
- Ask students to submit two songs (along with links) for the class playlist – you can organize the playlist around a course theme by content or genre. This gives the playlist a cohesive goal that reinforces class content.
- Move the playlist to an online app (e.g. Spotify) that curates and organizes the songs.
- Play selections from the list at the start of each class each day.
- Have students explain a bit of context for the song, including why they chose it and connect it to course content.
Reflection on the Activity
The class playlist activity takes a short amount of time and energy to incorporate into my classes. It allows me to focus attention on the importance and significance of music for multimodal composition and has the additional impact of altering the mood of the classroom to open students to a better atmosphere for learning. It takes them away from other distracting thoughts, helps focus attention on the class ahead and provides an alternate way of extending upon and enriching class content. It also provides a sense of ownership and agency in the class, in which students collaboratively create a playlist for our particular situation – another digital literacy skill. Many hear songs they have not heard before and add the playlist to their own collection as a memory of the class and these contributions. It sounds so simple but I am humbly impressed by the impact of this practice.
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