By Todd Nasife
As a music major, I try to incorporate various aspects of music into the class. One idea I had from a PD session at school was creating our own Jacob’s Ladder to song lyrics.
I started using the ladders this year with song lyrics as a way to help students with theme. Determining the theme of a story, poem, song, etc. is a concept that students struggle with when studying larger novels, short stories, and especially poetry. I thought with a shorter 3 or 4 minute song it might make it easier before moving on to harder text.
The biggest problem I had with this was that my taste in music is usually different than my 10 year old students. So far this year, I have only used songs that I selected, but I might open this up next year to having students choose some songs and develop ladders around them.
This idea first came to me last year when we did The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. The story is set in a middle school in Long Island during the 1967-68 school year. Topics such as the Cold War and the Vietnam War come up throughout the story and I was looking for ways to teach about these topics and show the emotional impact they had then and now. I was a big Billy Joel fan growing up (still am) and was in high school when his Storm Front album was released. The song Leningrad immediately came to mind and I played it for the class and we discussed the lyrics. This year I decided to create a ladder based on the lyrics. The other song I played at the end of the novel was Goodnight, Saigon. I was a little hesitant about this because of some of the lyrics (Playboy and hash pipe), but this really did not come up at all in our discussion. I made a ladder for this to go along with the novel and give us more focus in our discussion.
The Storm Front ladder is something I use as a way to introduce the music and lyrics of Billy Joel to the class. I also use it as a way to discuss theme. I remember when I first heard this song I took it in the literal sense and thought it was strange that he would be writing about going out fishing. It wasn’t until I heard an interview when he explained the metaphor behind it. The urge to shrug off stability and ride off into a storm despite the dangers. I realize my students might not get this concept, but at least it gets them thinking on a higher level.
Todd Nasife is a 5th grade teacher at Barringer Academic Center in Charlotte, NC. This is his second year at this school and his eighth in the Charlotte Mecklenburg School District. Along with his work in Charlotte, he also has international experience working as a 6th grade teacher in Astana, Kazakhstan and an English teacher in Taiwan. He loves the elementary classroom and the variety of subjects. Along with the standard curriculum, he enjoys working with all things technology and integrating it in the classroom. @MrNasife