Blowin’ in the Wind

[Taylor]

The textbook for my Oral Communication class features lyrics to songs in English at the beginning of each lesson.  Musicians ranging from Hillary Duff to Bette Midler have songs published in the text.  In other words, mostly artists that don’t come to mind when I think of music that captures the essence of the culture of the United States.  So, naturally, when I saw the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” I couldn’t resist the opportunity to teach them a classic American folk song.

The First Time

Although “Blowin’ in the Wind” is one of the few songs I can play on harmonica, I thought it would be better to stick with the guitar (another ALT gave me a guitar she wasn’t using a few weeks ago).  I still think this was a wise decision.

As I mentioned above, the lyrics appear in the textbook.  However, just to be safe, I made individual copies in case the students forgot their books, which they did.

I played and (*gulp*) sang in front of 40 first grade high school students.  For those of you who do not know me very well, I can play chords on a guitar just fine but I cannot carry a tune with my voice.  My strategy is usually to sing as low as possible because I like to imagine I have better control with those notes than the high or mid-range ones.  You would have to ask Julie is this is actually true.

Anyway, I played the song once by myself and then invited the students to sing.  As I began my mediocre strumming and terrible crooning the students decided not to participate.  They did a great job of listening but were too nervous to sing.

When I was done they gave me a round of applause.  I should have stopped there but I was set on having them sing a little bit.  I went through the lyrics with them and starting singing the song one more time.  Again, nobody participated.  When I finally finished one person gave me two courtesy claps and we moved on to the next activity.

The Second Time

The teacher I worked with told me that they (understandably) had a difficult time with the song because they had never heard it and did not know what the lyrics meant.  She surprised me a few days later with a translation of the lyrics in Japanese alongside the lyrics in English!  After I thanked her profusely she explained that she has always loved music and used to translate songs in English into Japanese to figure out what they meant.  She enjoyed it so much that she continued to study English and eventually became a teacher because of it.

Armed with copies of the song in English and Japanese, we made another adjustment.  Rather than have the students sing each verse, we decided it would be best to just have them sing the chorus.  We practiced the phrases without the music beforehand and then cued them when it was their turn to sing.

Did it work?  Yes!  They participated and sang a little bit of “Blowin’ in the Wind.”  Was it the best use of our time?  I’m not sure.  I wish I could adequately explain the cultural significance of the song and it would also be nice if it was more well known in Japan.  Nevertheless it was fun and I plan on performing the song in my other two first grade (high school) classes.

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