10. Songs about Women's Issues
* * * * * * * * * * by Dharini Abeysekera * * * * * * * * * *
DHARINI ABEYSEKERA began teaching English as an Additional Language to children in 1975. From 1981 to 1989 she co-ordinated the Intensive English Program for university freshmen at the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. From 1990 to the present Dharini has been working at the Toronto ALFA Centre as a literacy worker. Over the years she has been involved in tutor training, curriculum development and program evaluation in a variety of language instruction settings.
The four songs developed for use in this chapter are recorded on the audio tape included with this book, thanks to the four singer/ songwriters who gave us permission to reproduce them.
Songs are a good way to introduce variety to lesson materials. They are also an excellent means of introducing difficult topics to learners in a non-threatening manner. Still, this does not mean that we would introduce topics indiscriminately. As facilitators of learning we need to be aware of our learners, their lives and how they look at life. This is especially important if our learners' cultural background is different from our own.
There are other points to consider before using songs. If your learners do not have a strong auditory learning style, using songs could be more of a hindrance than a help. Some of the examples that follow take this factor into account by providing visual back-up in the form of written text. Even so, in the case of a strong auditory disability, using songs as lesson material would not be possible.
Other factors to consider are the learning environment and equipment. If a regular cassette player is being used, an enclosed, quiet space is required. This would be especially true in a group or classroom situation. In a one-to-one tutoring situation, headphones could be used. The exercises for each song are divided into "Warm-up," "Understanding the song," and "Word study" and "Guided discussion." The lessons are for learners at an Intermediate or Grade 3 level and higher. However, they can be easily adapted for use with beginners. For example, beginners, both literacy and EAL, could follow the printed lyrics while the song plays. If the learners are EAL, they need to be able to take part in a conversation in English. As well, providing an opportunity for discussion of the cultural information and assumptions that the songs. embody is important. When you are using "Lies" by Moon Joyce, for example, it would be important that everyone understand that different countries have different laws regulating pornography, and different definitions of it.
You could use these four songs together as a unit, or you could use them as additions to other work you are doing. More songs appear in Chapter 7, "Women and Work."
"Singer of the Sacred Heart" by Connie Kaldor addresses the issue of gender and survival. This song worked for learners who live in an urban context or have experienced it. One group that worked with this song talked about street kids and the reasons why kids run away from their homes. Again, discussion based on the questions outlined in the warm-up exercise was helpful to those who were not familiar with the issues.
"A Cautionary Tale or Aren't you glad that you know Wen-Do?" by Jane Field addresses gender, ability and the issue of violence against women. When it was field tested in a mixed group, the facilitator felt that there would have been more in-depth discussion around the issues of violence in an all-woman group. The male learners in her group felt it was "too militant" and the female learners were silenced by their reaction. When you use this song, you might want to prepare a strategy to deal with this reaction, should it come up.
"Lies" by Moon Joyce talks about the way women are portrayed as objects of desire in pornographic magazines, a starting point for discussion of the ways in which the media exploits women. This song was field tested in mixed groups. It worked in both an intermediate literacy class and a basic EAL class. However, the discussion was more detailed in the literacy class. As well, differences in cultural backgrounds need to be taken into consideration. One instructor felt that this song would not be suitable for basic level EAL learners due to the subject matter and cultural differences.
"I, Black Woman" by Faith Nolan addresses the issues of stereotyping; in particular it deals with the name-calling black women have to deal with on an everyday basis. However, this song has a broad- based application, since most of us have been called names at one time or another. If you do not know your learners and want to use this lesson, use the warm-up to test their reactions before proceeding.
Having articulated the necessary warnings, I reiterate the point that my experience with using songs as lesson material has been positive. Learners relax. Good discussion and writing have resulted. When using this medium, it is best to use songs that are familiar to your learners or your learners' experience. Asking learners to bring in their favorite song is a good way to involve your learners in the process. The learners' choice of song might not deal with an "issue." However, it will help you to know your learners' musical preference and introduce a new way of learning.
In closing, I would like to leave you with two words, which I consider very important when it comes to learning: Have fun!