I bring in my musical ability and sing to my students the numerous Negro spirituals and blues. I recite the poems about the slaves' struggles and the songs that came out of them. This section can be broken up into five forty-five minute time frames or longer periods if you have blocked time for reading and language arts.
Objectives: Students will learn to appreciate the rhythm and rhyme of the music which came out of the Negro Spirituals and how it influenced their lives. They will also hear a rendition of the song ,
Follow The Drinking Gourd, which is also a story with pictures by Jeanette Winter. Students will listen to a selected group of 20
th century poetry about the times, and struggles from
The Poetry of Black America,
Anthology of the 20th
Century, Edited by Arnold Adoff.
Strategies: I always introduce this lesson by playing the guitar and singing, "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" and then I ask students where did that song come from and why? I then give them a brief explanation of what a Negro Spiritual was. Upon completion I sing a song made popular among the slaves by a legendary sailor called Pig Leg Joe who helped free slaves through the underground railroad. This song is "Follow the Drinking Gourd" and it leads nicely into a discussion about the song and the book,
Follow The Drinking Gourd, with story and illustrations by Jeanette Winter. I also bring in Blues songs such as, "The Poor Man's Blues", and the "Walking Man's Blues" which depicts the struggle of black men and women. I introduce these in the form of poetry first and then music. If you think you are not musically oriented you can find much of this music on tapes or discs performed by great musicians and poets such as B.B. King . I then read the ideas about the differences between the types of Poetry and Music and how they shaped the thinking of the black man from the book,
The Dream Keeper and other poems, by Langston Hughes (1902-1967), Illustrated by Brian Pinkney, on page 26,
A Note on Blues. I read the poems
Bound No'th Blues, on page 28,
Po' Boy Blues, on page 37,
Wide River, page 41,
Homesick Blues, page 43, and
Night and Morn, page 44. We discuss the form of these poems and how they are Negro folk songs called the Blues. During the reading of some poems for the first lesson the Art Teacher comes in and draws his representation of the poem I read. The students see the words come alive in pictures and this motivates them toward their own work. We contrast how these poems differ from songs made up called Negro Spirituals. I always begin this by saying that the Negro Spirituals were made up as group songs and usually spoke to the freedom and hope on the other side of this life. The Blues are not group songs and are usually sung or made up by one man or woman and they have a strict poetic pattern.
Activities that the students engage in to conclude these lessons are their own pictures and poems set to music. These works are bound in book form for others. I have an Author's Chair where upon completion of a piece of work a student can read or sing their piece of work to the entire class. We celebrate this achievement and it helps to motivate all.
Conclusion: Students during these lessons learn the poetic nature of words and songs. They are able to write their own poems using the various forms they learned and then I am able to help them put the words to rhythm and music. Evaluation of the student's work is done on the 0-6 scale.