Never Enough?

For the last month, I have been helping two other teachers get our middle school chorus ready for their spring concert and Fine Arts night in May.  They are singing three selections from The Greatest Showman.  I have been listening to the soundtrack this afternoon as I finish weeding a vinyl piece I cut with my Cricut.  Oh, my goodness!  The lyrics to some of those songs are so powerful!  I think my favorite might be “This Is Me,” and “Never Enough” comes in as a close second.

What does this have to do with teaching English, reading, and ELA?  Well, nothing.  It’s just “one more thing” on my list of things I do along with teaching my ELA classes and doing the administrative work as academic dean for the school.  Yet, I found myself teaching the texts of those songs to my young singers.

We’ve all had the experience of our students just mouthing the words on the page without “meaning” them.  We ask them to read aloud, and they do, but in a monotone voice.  We model reading aloud ourselves, giving the characters voices and expressions, but our students haven’t found that yet.  Words are just black markings on a white sheet of paper. My singers were mouthing the words but without emotion.  The musician in me cringed at the lack of dynamics.

So, last Wednesday, I asked them to think about the words they were singing.  I told them that they had ” to sell” the songs.  We talked about not being satisfied with things as they are and wanting something more from our lives and experiences.  We talked about the way the world judges people based on appearances.  Then I asked them to sing “This Is Me” from that place of wanting others to know “the Real You” that outward appearances often camouflage, about wanting to do and have more.  And Friday, those children belted out those songs with emotion.  They sold the songs!

Making meaning. . . . that’s what I want to do with the reading and literature instruction in my classroom.  I want students to read their world and to see that their lives are reflected in the texts they read.  In Lucy Calkins’s Critical Literacy Unit of Study, there is a lesson that asks students to read literature as mirrors and windows. Our classes should be invitations to students to climb through the windows and walk through the doors of literature and to gaze at the mirrors in stories.  I am convicted that literature has the ability to teach us what it means to be human, to have empathy for those the world sees as “different,” to help us reach our dreams.

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