Exploring a theme through music is not something that I have really done before in teaching, but it is certainly something that I will do more of in the future. I underestimated how powerful it can be. After throwing Twitter into the mix as well, this became one of the most impactful learning engagements of this year.
This learning engagement followed on from the refugee simulation and connections were made between the two sessions. This song was shared by Nicole, one of my Year 4 colleagues. The connection between the song, the simulation and our class story (Boy Overboard) was clear and the song struck me as a compelling one which was worth exploring. When teachers are intrigued, it usually means that the students will be too.
When I played the song for the first time (just the music without the video), the room was silent. You could hear a pin drop. The students were totally captivated by the song and the lyrics. The first time, I asked them to simply listen and write their first reactions after it had finished. The second time, I asked them to quickly sketch during the song to show what they thought was being portrayed. This was Danielle’s idea and I’m glad that she shared it. Most images showed similar themes such as sadness, war and family loss. Two particularly heartbreaking ones are shown below.
I then asked the students to analyse the lyrics in small groups. Some students chose to do this using a shared Google Doc and the commenting tool. Specifically, they were trying to make connections, inferences and ask meaningful questions about the song and its very serious theme. Many of the students highlighted the same phrases to show that they did not understand the meaning. They also raised further questions about ‘the lost boy’ and I too wanted to find out more.
Then it got really exciting. I was reflecting on Twitter (as I so often do) and decided to write a post about this amazing song. Trying my luck, I asked Greg Holden if he had the time to answer their questions. Contacting professionals is not a new idea in education, but it is now easier than ever due to social media. My students have had success in the past writing to authors and even the UK Secretary of State for Education. However, these replies took weeks or even months and had less impact as more time passed. In the meantime, we had no idea if we would even get a reply. This was a time before Twitter. Greg replied to me within a couple of hours, despite being at the other side of the world. I sent him seven of the students’ questions and he very kindly took the time to create this video for my students:
The students were overjoyed to receive their video message, made even more personal by his greeting to me and our school. They listened with genuine interest and disbelief as the chart-topping singer/songwriter answered their questions. His in-depth responses allowed them to think deeper about the topic and, in true inquiry fashion, raise even more questions about refugees and current affairs.
I have recently posted about how fantastically easy it is to connect with other teachers around the world via Twitter (you can revisit that blog post here). Twitter also makes it easy to connect with other professionals and experts in various fields, even famous ones. This learning engagement was made possible mainly because Greg Holden is evidently a genuine, lovely guy, but also because of Twitter and how brilliantly small and connected it has made the world. And of course, it’s an incredible song to start with.