Lyrics Can Be a Scaffold for Literature
A former high school English teacher turned literacy researcher says that discussing song lyrics in the classroom can help students connect in multiple, complex levels with traditional literature. Christian Z. Goering now hosts a Web site for teachers to share links between literature and lyrics.
Goering emphasizes the ways song lyrics can open up literature and literary concepts to adolescents, but he is not suggesting replacing literature with popular culture in high school classrooms.
“What I am suggesting is that we pair pieces of classic literature with contemporary music, allowing some of the natural, thematic connections to come to the surface and allowing our students to see these connections and the relevance to their own lives,” Goering said.
Music lyrics can be an especially effective hook, given the importance of music to adolescents. Goering cited a survey that asked which form of entertainment teenagers would take to a desert island. Students in seventh, ninth and 11th grades chose music over television, books, computers, video games, radios, newspapers and magazines.
Lyrics can serve as a bridge for students, Goering noted, from material that may be familiar or easily understood to classic literature that may be more difficult or challenging. For example, “California Sky” by the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash takes listeners from “out in Oklahoma where the hard winds blow” on a cross-country journey that can open up a discussion of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.
“Tunes, I discovered, directed students toward an avenue where conversation about more serious, literary topics could take place,” Goering said. “Pop music dismantled roadblocks between students and their peers, between students and literary texts, and between students and their teacher.”
Goering’s Web site, www.LitTunes.com, offers research into the use of music lyrics in teaching literature, examples of pairings of specific tunes and literature, and a place for teachers and students to contribute their own pairings.