Follow-up post to THE HILLS song

In my previous post about songs, something I rarely write about, I shared a way to find out about students preference for music.

And the song chosen was The Hills.

I prepared the class around the following topics:

Who is Weeknd? Is it a band?

Most people would think so, and so did most of my students. In pairs, they researched online and wrote a mini-biography. Then, on the board we decided what info to keep and what to leave out using everyone’s searched information. We posted a picture of the board in our Whatsapp group.

What kind of music does Weeknd sing?

We reviewed types of music and discussed his songs briefly.

What do you like the most in this song?

I mentioned in the previous post that most students just listen to music without paying any attention to the lyrics. However, they pay a lot of attention to the video clip. It tells a story, there is attitude and they love that!

Another activity was to read the lyrics in English and Portuguese and give their opinion. I wanted them to engage with the text of the song by connecting the message/text/story to how they feel about things.

Here is the only response that concentrated on the lyrics. Other students didn’t seem to be able to really tell how they feel about the lyrics or wanted to share it.

“I don’t love this song, but I like it. In the lyrics, I like this part the most. “Hills have eyes, these hills have eyes/Who are you to judge?/Who are you to judge?/Hide your lies, girl./Hide your lies/Who are you to judge?/Who are you?…’

The last activity was rewriting the first stanza using complete sentences.

For example the first verse was:

“Your man on the road, he doing promo.”

You man IS on the road, he IS doing promo.

We talked about grammar in the song and how it might affect their learning. Just so they become aware of it!

We actually didn’t even listen to the song in class.

Our next song is…





Have you ever had trouble choosing songs for your classes?

It is true that our classes are filled with differences but we tend to focus only on the level of English of each student, and placement tests are there to prove it as an attempt to group people in somewhat the same level. But it is not how much grammar and vocabulary they know that shows how different they are, but who they are.

Thinking about diversity, something I am reflecting on this week because of my studies for the new B.A I am taking (Computer Science for education), I decided to discover how a group of students in their third semester of English differ in their taste for music.

In a group of 9, 8 listens to music on a daily basis. One of them listens to songs in Portuguese more than in English and most of them seems to listen only to songs in English. I decided to do the following as a way to find out their music preferences to help me decide which song we would be using in our next class. I’m not a very musical person, so music doesn’t visit my classes very often as a teaching tool. But here is the thing. If students matter and in order to learn something, they have to be engaged, their preferences need to be taken into account. Okay! I haven’t done that when it comes to music mainly because I find it hard to really bring songs that will engage everyone. Another problem is that music is used as a language learning tool by just a few of them. Most of them just like listening to it without bothering to learn the language.

Now, I know that handing this to students choice and not mine is like entering in a mining field. I might get a song that some wouldn’t think it would be appropriated. But songs reflect who they are and how they feel about the world around them. It also reflects their doubts and frustrations as well as their expectations and dreams. How I am going to prepare the tasks and deal with the song that comes up is problem for me as an educator to solve. IMHO there is no such a thing as bad music or good music as music reflects more than just music, it reflects one’s culture.

I asked students to line up one beside the other and told them:

If you like the song, one step forward.

If you don’t, one step backward.

If you can’t decide, stay where you are.

This was a group of students with a year of studying in English. So, I kept instructions simple and modeled for them moving myself forward and backward and asked them to repeat the instruction while moving or not after me.

I sat back on my desk and played this video.

I took notes of the songs and number of people who stepped forward. Among 50 songs only one made to the common list and supported by only 8 of the 9 students.

The winner is:

They loved getting out of their desks, being able to give their opinion on something while listening to music. Three words come to my mind when I think of the system and why we have so much trouble engaging students in regular schools.

too static


one size fits all

I’ve been there and I’ve done that myself. I know.

#evomc16 and my own learning

I’ve been learning about a world I had no idea existed or I totally just took it for granted. Either way, it’s important to realise that there is a huge community out there which some of our students are part of and that impacts everything they do in their lives. And seriously, if you think being a gamer is a bad thing, well, you might have to step back a little bit on your prejudices before you can actually understand what games are all about. I won’t claim that I have. I’m still taking my baby steps here, but extremely happy that I get why one would spend hours and hours playing a game. In fact, I’m fascinated by how quick they can think and act.

I just watched the video above shared by Vance in his slide presentation and Gee’s point is very simple. Schools make learning all about reading textbooks and answering questions about what was read while gamers are not just playing complex games but also operating in communities where they share expertises and experiences. Most schools I know still operate pretty much under the assumption that academic success is about repeating in a test what was read in textbooks or heard in when teachers lecture them on the subject. As Gee points out, “Words said or read without having any experience are just words.”

“The opportunity to learn is not the book. It’s whether you can bring experience to the book.” Gee, 5:45

Learning a language meaningfully like learning any subject means to do it by having real experiences. Two things I learned from my project with teens last year that are important in my opinion to foster meaningful learning.

  1. a community of learners to be built needs a shared interest to support its development. After all a group of people have different needs, motivation and wants. It important to find something that can connect people to one another in a given moment. This moment of connection create experiences. I wonder though whether we can actually forsee these moments and design experiences for our learners, much like game designers do in a way that we provide positive experiences and therefore it facilitates not only community building but also leverage language learning and willingness to use it.
  2. language is not used in a vacuum. We need an environment that is conducive to language use or opportunities that are meaningful to use the language, not by forcing people to do so which never really works, but by creating the space for them to be willing to give it a try. It’s not easy to try out a language one might feel not competent or confident to use it. After speaking English for almost 25 years, I still go mute in certain situations. Mind you even in Portuguese. Speaking is much about knowing as it is about emotions and how one sees oneself in a given situation.

In about a month, I’ll be in class again. The experiences I am gaining from this MOOC is reshaping my way of viewing my teens. I can’t wait to meet them all. And I’m sure that the games my students created last year will support this year learning experiences. I’m so proud of them and all they are capable of.

Here is the post I wrote for iTDi blog about how creating games with my students changed our game.

EVO Minecraft MOOC posts:

Teachers exploring Minecraft

EVO Minecraft MOOC: Week 1 and 2

EVO Week 3: Networking