Spotify Character Analysis

Last year I purchased Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom by Amy Burvall and Dan Ryder. This book has become a constant in all my planning, teaching and yes, even assessing. Now that I am back in the blissful role as a Year 8, Year 9 and Year 10 Language and Literature teacher – having stepped out of the role of MYP Coordinator after 5 very busy, big and fulfilling years – the ideas for critical creativity presented in this text, have made my journey back to teaching just so much more enjoyable and the learning experiences in this resource truly provide opportunities for deep learning that involve the head, heart, and hands of the learner.

Our Year 9’s are currently part way through a Language and Literature Intertextuality Study through the key conceptual lens of themes in relationships. After reading and analyzing our shared key text Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds – a launching pad to exploring student chosen texts that present different perspectives on themes within relationships – we spent time developing and sharing our understanding of the purpose of the text, the lessons we can learn and how we can take principled action as a result of what we have learnt.

As a means of deepening students thinking and providing them with more diverse skills for character analysis, I modified for our class context the Critical Creativity experience of Playlist a Life #PlaylistALife #IntentionPlaylist. Students chose a character from the text and developed a Spotify playlist that captures the journey of this character throughout the text. The playlists were moving and insightful, and they provided me with a clear formative assessment of students depth of knowledge and understanding of the text.

Two boys chose to focus on Shari Holloman, the heartbroken mother of the main character Will Holloman, as she reminded them of the mother of a friend who died tragically and suddenly last year. They reflected on how strong their friend’s mother was at the funeral and all the mums who were a strength for their children. They decided that Shari Holloman represents the idea that women have a great capacity to be strong for their loved ones in the face of tragedy.

They decided that her journey was best captured by the songs:

  • These Boots Were Made for Walking by Nancy Sinatra as this captures Shari as a young, confident woman.
  • Beautiful by India.Arie captures Shari as a beautiful young woman falling in love and beginning a family.
  • Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio captures the community that Shari lives in and her fear for her loved ones in this context, both the physical and psychological dangers, “You’re walking in the nighttime, make sure the nighttime ain’t walking in you.”  
  • This is America by Childish Gambino captures the cycles of gun violence created as a result of “the rules” that devastates her family and leaves her heartbroken.
  • Let It Be by The Beatles as this captures how the students felt the tone and style of language employed by Jason Reynolds conveys that although Shari is shattered by grief, flashbacks in the text show that she will find the courage to move on and regain her strength. They felt the lyrics “In my hour of darkness, she (Mother Mary) is standing right in front of me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be”, reflects their inference that Shari will regain her strength. 

This really quite simple and thoroughly engaging learning experience provided an avenue for very deep thinking of the stylistic choices an author makes to develop characters. Students are now developing their essays focussing on themes in relationships that intertextually provide multiple perspectives on how we can take principled action. As they write, read and talk amongst each other, I see our class playlists on their devices as they truly immerse themselves in the writing process.

At the end of our lessons as a means of collective reflection, I often ask the following question for all to answer, myself included: how can we use our new knowledge and skills to leave people and places better than we found them?

Student responses to our Playlist A Life experience were varied and then collaboratively refined to three main reflections:

  • When speaking with others we need to consider the journey they have traveled to get them to this point.
  • Our mums, both biological and foster, carry weights on their shoulders of being strong for their families. We need to let them know we are grateful.
  • Sometimes we have happy playlists for our lives, other times we have sad playlists. We need to recognize this in ourselves and others.

Deep learning truly does involve the head, heart, and hands of the learner. 

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