Monday, October 3, 2011

An experiment in student engagement

I presented an extra credit opportunity to my class today to try to entice their interest in the analysis of poetry. The assignment runs like this: they select from a list of songs that I provide them to prepare a presentation for the class in which they get to play the song and then give an analysis of one verse and chorus using the various poetic elements that we've been discussing in class. This isn't so out of the ordinary, I've heard of other instructors using this method in class, particularly for lower-level courses (mine is a freshman writing course with an emphasis on literature). To make this interesting for myself as well as my students, I've selected songs that I like and I want to hear in class. Here are the songs I've chosen:

"A New England," and "To Have and Have Not" by Billy Bragg,
"Career Opportunities" by the Clash,
"99 Problems" by Jay-Z,
"There is a Light that Never Goes Out" by the Smiths,
"I Hung My Head" by Johnny Cash,
"Don't Worry about the Government" by Talking Heads,
"A Fond Farewell" by Elliott Smith,
"Hang Down Your Head" by Tom Waits,
"She's Lost Control" by Joy Division, and
"Wave of Mutilation" by Pixies.

My criteria for choosing these was that they must have a distinct verse and chorus (to provide structural variation), could not be too repetitive (this alone ruled out much of Joy Division's catalogue and all of the Ramones), could not be too esoteric that the song could not be found free somewhere online, and, if possible, I went for better known songs by the band if it met other requirements. I wanted to include more hip hop, but was a little embarrassed by how dated my collection is, which is odd considering I have no problem at all including Bragg, the Clash, Joy Division, and the Smiths. I've already made a playlist of these songs and find that they hang together quite well.

My goal is that my students will gain an appreciation for the broader applicability of the analytic methods we've been practicing in class and be able to recognize the poetry that surrounds them. Maybe they'll find some new music they like as a bonus.