Written By Sylvia Denice
As we embark on our final full week of National Poetry Month, Room 18’s classroom poetry playlist has unavoidably expanded. Through the celebration and study of song lyrics, students’ figurative language skills are obnoxiously strong. The new favorite question to and from students in Room 18 has become, “What do you think that means?”
We left you after week one of National Poetry Month with tracks from some of our favorite artists and poets, including Tupac, Pharrell Williams, Alicia Keys, Fugees, Cardi B, and Chance the Rapper. To keep singing along with us this April, pull up your playlists and add the following tracks:
“Easy,” The Commodores
Students were quick to identify the song’s hook, “I’m easy like Sunday morning,” as a simile. Mrs. Burcham followed up their figurative language identification with the question of the month: “But, what does it mean?” Some were comedically ready to argue that getting ready for church on Sunday mornings is not always as laid back as Lionel Richie makes it sound; nonetheless, the tune relaxed us as we prepared for the looming days of standardized testing, and reopened conversations on poetic elements of figurative language, meaning, and feelings.
“Angel/Better Together,” Jack Johnson
In introducing “Angel/Better Together,” Mrs. Burcham provided students with some background information on Jack Johnson’s road to success. In short, Jack Johnson started out singing and playing his ukulele casually around campfires in Hawaii. Eventually, he was encouraged by friends and family to share his gift on a broader scale. “Angel/Better Together” allowed us to explore the unique storytelling abilities of art and poetry. Mrs. Burcham also explained how we can make emotional connections with songs. This tune has particular relevance to her during the month of April: the month of her husband’s birthday. The students loved hearing what these songs meant to Mrs. Burcham, including walking down the aisle to “Angel” on her wedding day.
“What’s Going On,” Marvin Gaye
With lyrics like “mother, there’s too many of you crying,” “brother, there’s far too many of you dying,” and “picket lines and picket signs, don’t punish me with brutality,” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” is frighteningly relevant to our students today. Poetry on issues of social justice has spoken loudly and clearly to Room 18, inspiring much of their own poetry writing this month. Students, even as young as nine years old, are aware of what’s going on; it is close to their hearts and their homes. The poetic elements of meaning and freedom are certainly pertinent in studying Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.”
“Three Little Birds,” Bob Marley
Another relaxing tune to ease us into a day of standardized testing is Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” which allows us to explore the poetic element of imagery. Accompanied by soft rhythms and rhymes, Marley’s sweet word choice encourages us to examine the influence of vocabulary on a written work’s tone, mood, and message.
While Kehlani is relatively new on the music scene, having released her first album in 2014, I was listening to her music before I met the students of Room 18. Even so, this classroom community has completely changed how I hear Kehlani’s “Bright” from her 2015 album You Should Be Here. When I shared “Bright” with Room 18, students were first captivated by Kehlani’s incredible vocal talent. They were then drawn to the relatability of the lyrics, starting with the “little girl, watching her reflection/as she parts her curls into four sections,” and moving to the “little boy sitting in the bleachers/staring at his dirty sneakers.” Throughout the song, characters question their worth and acceptance among their peers and in the world. Ultimately, listeners are encouraged, “you are what you choose to be/it’s not up to no one else,” and “you are like the sun, so always stay bright.” Students asked for this particular tune to be played on repeat, expressing feelings of connectedness and inspiration in response to the music and lyrics. What’s more, they reveled in yet another impactful use of simile in song.
“Imagine,” John Lennon
Students were stunned by the fantasies of John Legend’s “Imagine.” The lyrics challenged their thinking and allowed them to once again explore the poetic element of the song’s namesake, imagery. “Imagine” brought students into some of their deepest poetic analysis thus far, as they peeled back layers of the verses to reach the track’s ultimate message of peace and unity: “I hope someday you’ll join us/And the world will be as one.”
In March, we read She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton in celebration of Women’s History Month. We highly recommend the book, as it profiles women who dared to act boldly during times of adversity. One of the most thoughtful discussions in sharing this book came from the highlight of Helen Keller. Students were astounded with her perseverance to learn, even when faced with the challenge of being both deaf and blind. We went on to relate Helen Keller to people we know personally and in popular culture. One student brought up a peer from our functional academics program as someone who is too often underestimated by other students and even adults. “He is really smart, and people don’t know that or don’t think he could be. I bet people wouldn’t think Helen Keller could be smart when they saw her or if they knew that she was blind or deaf, but she was really smart,” the student emphasized. Stevie Wonder came up in this conversation as well because of his connectedness being both blind and brilliant. Stevie Wonder guides us in appreciation of numerous poetic elements, particularly rhythm, rhyme, creativity, meaning, and feelings.
Tracks Room 18 recommends:
“You Are the Sunshine of My Life”
“Isn’t She Lovely”
“Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing”
“Faith” feat. Ariana Grande from the movie Sing
In the seven remaining days of National Poetry Month, it is inevitable that our playlist will grow. It is also highly likely, with the impact poetry has played in our classroom community, that our poetic celebration will not end when the calendar strikes April 30. Nonetheless, stay tuned next week for our finalized National Poetry Month Playlist. Thanks for listening with us.