I've been in the computer lab the last couple days. My students are typing the final drafts of short stories they've written. It's the final project for a unit on the elements of literature: characters, setting, plot, theme. We read a number of stories together, identified the elements, and now the kids have to demonstrate their knowledge by writing their own story that incorporates all of the elements.
Last week we worked on our rough drafts in class. I let the kids listen to music as we worked. This isn't something I normally do, but I thought I'd give it a try. A colleague of mine told me Michael Jackson is usually a big hit, so I brought in Thriller. I have to say, the kids worked very well to MJ.
My school is in the process of becoming an International Baccalaureate school, and one of the goals of the International Baccalaureate program is to foster open-minded students. Let's just say, it is quite the challenge to open the average middle school mind. In an attempt to open minds through music, I decided to bring in some music from international artists.
Day two I played some Beatles for the kids. I wish I could tell you they were excited about it, but alas, there was much whining. Mr. Riley patiently explained to his students that it was important for them to expand their musical horizons. And when that didn't work, he told them, kindly mind you, to shut up and listen to the Beatles.
I was ready for more whining day three, but I was pleasantly surprised. When I told the kids we'd be listening to Bob Marley, the room exploded with enthusiasm. Score one for the reggae master.
On day four, I went with Ireland's finest, U2. I thought most of the kids would be familiar with U2, but I was wrong. Having established a whine-free environment, the kids managed to muffle their skepticism. I could see it in their eyes, so I tried explaining that just last year I had seen U2 in Phoenix, along with 80,000 other life-long fans, but this didn't seem to impress them. To the kids credit, they gave it a chance. I don't think Bono and the boys won everyone over, but they may have managed to open a few minds.
Friday was the last day to work on the rough drafts. I needed the most conducive environment possible, so I let the kids choose the music. Three of the classes played it safe and chose more Michael Jackson, but a couple classes told me to mix it up. I complimented them on being open-minded and did my best dj imitation.
It was a fun week. There were plenty of kids who squandered their time, but unfortunately, that's par for the course. You can lead a horse to water, as they say. I do think the music helped, and I can see myself using music when we write in the future.
The final product is due Thursday, and I'm looking forward to reading the stories. Let's hope MJ, Bono, Bob Marley, and yes, even the Beatles, helped my students write some decent fiction.