How musical influences (and singing!) can bring about change in your classroom: Following Yseult

This post is about language acquisition through music and the micro discriminations that we make every day. Oh, and thank you for being here, it means the world to me that you are taking out the time to hear one of my messages. Here we go:

I cannot stress enough how much of a gift music is to any classroom. The fact that music is not an actual class in most schools is sad but we cannot allow that to stop us from incorporating it into our lessons. Music brings joy to the classroom (or sadness if you’re looking to take your lessons on a more reflective path) and along with that joy comes the release of our inhibitions, and that in turn, allows our students to experiment with their new language in an organic way – which I believe, is one of the best ways to learn another language.

While there exists an abundance of music which is focused on our youngest students, I find that it can often become a bit too childish after a certain age. Kindergarten is usually where I draw the line with songs such as, “The Wheels on the Bus” and, instead, look for more modern music which reflects the world in which my students live in. What I really enjoy doing though (and this takes extra time of course) is taking a pop song and changing the lyrics. This way, my students can sing their version of the song when they hear it on the radio. Below you’ll find an example of a song that I did years ago and you can find the original video to the song here. Please note that I couldn’t get my students to STOP singing this song and since the results are always fab, it’s a win win for both the students and the teacher.

Of course, you don’t always have to change the lyrics. Especially if the message is one that you feel will uplift your students or help them to see things from a new perspective. I only suggest changing them if they are not age appropriate or if there are parts that contain language that you’d rather they stay clear from.

Now on to the micro discrimination part… I was recently watching the annual music awards here in France called Les Victoires de la Musique. During that show Yseult, a female artist, received an award and made a speech that moved me as I am sure that it moved many other people. Here is a small translation of her speech: “It’s not over. The road is long as a Black woman. The road is long as a fat woman. As a woman forgotten by society. Forgotten by culture. We are here Dad, we are here, we are here…”In short, her speech touched me and then I moved on.

Scroll forward not even two weeks, as I was listening to a Pop playlist on Sonos, and one of her songs came on. It’s called “Corps” and it’s sublime. The melody and the lyrics stopped me in my tracks and afterwards I was propelled to look her up on Instagram. I found her under @Yseult__ and scrolled through her feed. What I was met with were many images of her almost naked body and although I had looked her up with the intention of following her, I found myself hesitating.

I scrolled back up and found an image and video taken of her from Les Victoires. It’s the one of her acceptance speech and I added a like and got off of Instagram. Not a second later I stopped myself and asked myself “Why?- Why didn’t I follow her?” I came up with the following reasons:

She shows too much skin.

Her images are not appropriate for children.

What will other parents think of me for following someone that is so “out there” ?

Shame crept into my heart and I knew that the shame stemmed from fear. And so I asked myself why those images were so “offensive” to me that I wouldn’t follow her. Why were those images enough for me not to follow such a talented artist when I obviously liked what she was saying through her work? Then I realised that all of these “micro actions” like following or NOT following someone lead up to habits. And these habits form into our way of life which eventually becomes our culture. And this is a woman that’s trying to change our culture. She’s trying to normalise the fact that Black and Brown people are PEOPLE, that they are beautiful and worthy of our acknowledgement (no matter their size or hue) and what could be more important than doing that (especially in our classrooms)at this moment in time? So, I thought to myself, “This is ridiculous. I need to follow her, I’m going to follow her. And if someone has a problem with that then they need to ask themselves, (just like I did, why)- Why do I have a problem with that?””

In short, instead of judging , or being in fear of judging (as I was) I decided I was going to be part of the solution. Even if that solution is just a “micro action”- micro actions are important too. And they are especially important in our second language classrooms. The whole point of learning a language is to C O M M U N I C A T E and how can we communicate and learn from one another if we ignore each other? So, I’m here to say that we have to bring inclusiveness into our classrooms ON PURPOSE. It’s not going to happen without us and if we can help even ONE of our students know that we see him or her, then we’ve won. And in the end, that means that everyone has won.

Danielle P. Browne

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