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Rockhaq | March 22, 2017

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English Literacy Workshops Update: Come As You Are

secondary school english literacy workshops
Michelle Dhillon

I’ve finished the first of four music journalism and English literacy workshops at Judgemeadow Community College in Leicester and have made it out alive! I’m teaching a mixed group of Year 9 students with a range of interests and abilities which helps keep things surprising. For these workshops, I am a ‘we’ as both English Literacy co-ordinator Naheed Iqbal and English Teacher Azma Qamar are actively assisting, so a big thanks to both of them for their time and commitment to Rockhaq music journalism and English literacy workshops.

English literacy workshops

Today’s music journalism workshop reminded me of when I was 14! One student is writing about Green Day’s American Idiot album. I used this prompt to talk to them about Green Day – how they had their ‘first wind’ of popularity with 1994’s Basket Case single and Dookie album and how they faded into relative obscurity until the release of 2004’s American Idiot, which propelled them to a new plane of superstardom. It wasn’t until after today’s workshop that I realised the student I spoke to is 14, and that I was 14 when I was obsessed with Green Day. What a nice coincidence.

Now to what we did. I asked the class to tell me which artist they were writing about as well as the song or album title. Most of the class had already decided what they would do beforehand, although some changed their minds during it. This is absolutely fine! I encourage students to choose an artist or song they love, and I have no problem with them changing their artist afterwards, providing that they focus on that one artist from there on. I encouraged another student to go home and think about who they felt passionately about, and if they wanted to change their artist while at home and write a catch up paragraph and notes, they could do that.

Talk That Talk

I started with two major concepts, which most of the class grasped better than expected. I told them to think about their introduction – breaking this down into facts, genre/s and news/background. However, the most important thing for me is the second concept, which is learning to write ‘how you talk’, informally or to a friend. Essentially this is about finding your own voice as a writer and journalist. I’d like them to develop their own personalities in these English literacy workshops. To quote Nirvana, students should ‘Come As You Are’. Students may well prefer to write more formally, but that approach isn’t going to engage everyone in the class.

To highlight informal writing I used Ashton’s review of Rihanna’s Talk That Talk album:

Pop princess Rihanna has smashed it yet again with her sixth album Talk That Talk….‘Where Have You Been’, ‘Cockiness’ and ‘Birthday Cake’ are definitely ones to flick to if you like a mix of electro-pop, dance and R&B and that is one heck of a combination.

The class successfully identified several phrases that made this an informal music review, which was great! I love it when students can engage with me over a music review, often about an artist they may not care for. There are several students in the class who are writing reviews on UK grime artists like Stormzy. I told them to use grime vocabulary in their reviews, tell me if that song gets you skanking – and why!

I’m now taking a back seat while Azma and Naheed lead the next two music journalism and English literacy workshops. They’ll be working from our upcoming KS3 lesson plan on How to Write A Great Music Review and letting me know how it works for them. Initial feedback from today’s session has been resoundingly positive, however it’s not over until the fat lady sings 😀 Looking forward to next week and seeing how the students’ progress – which is a bit scary as a lot of them have written over a page of A5 so far 😥

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