This past Christmas, my son gave me the soundtrack to Hamilton. I’ve been hearing about it for the past couple of years and was familiar with a couple of songs, but that was about it. In the two months since Christmas, I cannot say how many times I’ve listened to it; let’s just say that quite a few of the songs are memorized. And although I was a college history major, I quickly realized that my knowledge of Hamilton was limited and that I wanted to know more. So, I’ve begun researching his life. I want to know how accurate the musical is.
What this reminds me is that music and media can be great motivators in learning. Sometimes it can be used to build background knowledge and allow students to create the visual images needed for comprehension. Other times, it can clarify difficult concepts. And, as with Hamilton, it can simply be the impetus for learning a a great mentor text.
When I taught World History/World Literature, one of our texts was Les Miserables. Now trying to get kids interested in reading a 1500 page book (We used the unabridged version!) can be a daunting task. But, we were helped out immensely by the musical. We listened to the music, debated on its accuracy, and when the musical came to town, the majority of our students could not wait to see it. They discussed what had been changed and why.
Hamilton is now filling that role for many students, and social studies teachers are using it to engage students. In the following article, see how several teachers are not only using it to help students understand the issues, but how they’re also using it as mentor text and having students create their own historical rap songs.
Too often we are so worried about “covering” curriculum and teaching content that we forget that there are pieces of music and theater, movies, etc. that can help us with this job. If we want our students to engage in learning, to really be interested in what we’re teaching and see how it connects to the real world, look around at what’s being produced.
Some other ideas:
Metallica’s song from Johnny Got His Gun. Students are SHOCKED to realize that a heavy metal rock band read the book that they’re reading!
Cover to Cover: Comparing Books to Movies: This lesson idea for ReadWriteThink offers a great way for students to not only do some real study of the two genres, but then get creative afterwards.
Teachwithmovies.org: Lots of great ideas on this website!