This project was inspired by a fifth grader. Well - a fifth grader, Dr. Jacki Kelly-McHale at DePaul, and "Pete Seeger and the Power of Song" documentary - which I never would have known or cared about if it weren't for my teachers in the North Texas Kodaly training program...
For Black History Month, my students learned and performed spirituals, Civil Rights songs, the Black National Anthem and a jazz tune. We discussed the importance of celebration African American history and heritage and we addressed the facts - that more work needs to be done in our country in order to secure equality for all. Two African American fifth graders wrote and performed this introduction:
STUDENT 1: Welcome to our Brotherhood-Sisterhood Assembly. We will be singing songs celebrating African American heritage and culture.
STUDENT 2: In Fifth Grade, we recently studied the Civil Rights Movement. We learned that the bus boycott, started by Rosa Parks, began the whole Civil Rights Movement. If that would have never happened, we would still be living in a segregated world of darkness.
STUDENT 1: We’re grateful that all the African American children of the world do not have to see African American people right now being hurt and enslaved just because of their color.
STUDENT 2: It’s not what matters about the color but the size of your heart and different cultures you have.
BOTH: On this day we say thank you to all our African American heroes. We know there is more work to be done. We hope this assembly will bring the United States to a new world of friendship, peace and justice.
They wanted to read the last few lines together because that's what they both believe.
In third and fifth grade, we discussed the significance of "We Shall Overcome" - its origins and continued relevance. This NPR broadcast had a huge impact on our discussion.
At the conclusion of our performance preparations I asked my students, "Do you think music has the power to change the world?" A fifth grade student told me, "That's like they're using rap to stop gun violence in Chicago." That stopped me in my tracks - I had to know more, and offer all of my students the opportunity to explore other issues and how music is being used as a tool to make a dent in these issues.
The next class I showed them several videos that demonstrate the point with a diverse array of social issues and had them identify what the social issue was.
"Same Love" - Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: gay rights
"Clouds" - Zach Sobiech: inspire hope and fund raise for children's cancers
"Gonna be an Engineer" by Peggy Seeger: gender equality
"My Dirty Hudson" by Pete Seeger: environmental protection
Then we did a "sharing circle". If you've never heard of them - look them up. If you school talks about implementing them - encourage it LOUDLY. They are the coolest thing and when teachers are practicing them regularly, it is so easy to bring one into the music classroom. The prompt, "What issue do you think our world needs to work on?" A "sharing object" (like a beanbag) is passed around the circle. Students have the option to say "pass" if they aren't ready to share.
Students then found peers to group up with - peers who shared their interest and passion. I encouraged them to work alone, with a partner or a group of up to four. During this session, they each wrote their social issue worked on brainstorming all the different ways music could address this issue.
The next session, I introduced them to Google Slides and Soundation.com. [My district has a Google account for every student so both of these were a breeze to explain. We also have several Chromebook carts - so they've just walked down to their auditorium, Chromebook in hand.]
Then I sent them off to either: find a song that already exists addressing their problem or write a rap or song about the issue. They can also organize a rally or protest and select several songs they want to include and/or select a performer to hire to be at their rally. I told them - they may not be able to pull something like this off now, but someday some of them are going to be CEOs of big companies with a non-profit budget. I want them to dream big and remember their dreams when they're older. If they choose to write a song, they can record it at home and play the recording in class for presentations, or they can perform live. They can create a music video or audio recording.
Next week, they'll "finish" their projects and present whatever they have so far. They can use a Google Slideshow to guide their presentation; they can create a poster. They can also just show what they've worked on and explain its significance without those things.
One student read an excerpt from the internet about fracking and played this video for us. She drew a diagram of fracking on the white board.
One student will be performing an Islamic song he's known since he was "very very small" because "people don't understand Islam and they make fun of us and they think we're crazy." He wants his peers to know more about his religion so they can respect it more.
Another student wrote lyrics to a song in about 15 minutes about her experiences as a young child in the foster care system.
One female student sent me this video that she'll be presenting.
I'm overwhelmed already. Most won't present their projects until next week - I know there will be more magical moments as students speak their truth through music and share with their peers what they care about the most. Lastly, I'll leave you with these lyrics from a rap written by two fifth grade boys. They were sitting on my desk when I got to work yesterday.