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Using music to motivate and engage teenage learners: The story of the Jean Monnet Broons Cup Song project
In June 2013, during the end-of-year party, a group of girls performed a cover of the Cup Song in front of all the members of our school. They had been inspired by Anna Kendrick in the film Pitch Perfect which started off an internet craze of 'Cup Songs'. These students brilliantly showed how they could manage to play percussion with plastic cups while singing along. We were all quite impressed, to be honest, and I thought I might as well use it in one of my English lessons.
A few months later, in November 2013, after I had seen other Cup Song videos on the web, I decided to set up the project but on a larger scale. My idea was to involve each and every student in Year 10 (14-year-olds) in both a linguistic and artistic project, but perhaps more importantly to take part in a great collective adventure, shared by all the students at the same time.
The linguistic part of it was central. As an English teacher in a secondary school in the north of France, my goal was to show my students that the English language could be seen from a different perspective. Developing speaking skills in the classroom is not an easy task at all, so I thought that getting the students to sing in English would show them the beauty of the language and how it feels to let it all out, within the timespan of a song.
As a musician myself, I knew how good it felt to sing and to take part in a collective experience.
All of a sudden things changed. The English language was no longer seen as a barrier preventing communication but rather as a helpful means to deliver the song.
First of all, we needed cups – but not just any cups. We wanted something that students could relate to, with colours and an attractive logo. The idea was, at the time, to give each student their own cup at the end of the shooting as a souvenir.
So we decided with the art teacher to design our own Cup Song logo, wrote the name of all the students involved on the back of each cup and sent it all to a printing agency. Within a few weeks, we got the cups, in six different colours. After each student was given their own cup, one of the students came to me with a sad look on her face and said, ‘Sir, my name’s not on it’. For some reason her name had been forgotten. I could feel her disappointment, even more so as her classmates were all so happy to see their names on the cups. I knew it was too late to order new cups and had to find something quickly. Without thinking too much, I told her, ‘Right, you’re going to be the lead in the video clip’. Her name is Mona, and she’s the girl with long straight hair you can see at the beginning and at the end of the clip.
Then rehearsals started and lasted for about five weeks, mostly at lunchtime and in break times. We rehearsed in four groups of 25 students or so. With the help of the music teacher, students were taught the Cup Song, both the percussion part and the lyrics. Synchronisation was probably the hardest bit. Playing percussion is fairly easy to learn, but singing along required quite a lot of practice.
The last afternoon before the Christmas holidays was dedicated to the recordings and the shooting. The school canteen was emptied of its chairs and tables to fit us all in. We honestly didn't know what the outcome would be. The kids were so excited, but we didn't know if they could do it all together, sing along and play music as well. So far we had never tried to do it all together, as we could not find a room big enough for all 105 students. So yes, it definitely was something of a gamble.
But once again the magic happened. Everything went smoothly, as if we had done it for years.
I wanted the video clip to look good and also to tell a story, not just film the students performing their song. The problem was I had never directed any kind of video clip before and we needed enough material to be able to edit it later on. With the help of the art teacher, we had ideas, plans, scenes we wanted to shoot, some sort of storyboard, but that was theory, not reality. Both of us tried our best to capture the moment. As we couldn’t afford professional filming equipment, we used our two ordinary personal HD cameras which we simply taped onto canteen trolleys to make our tracking shots look as smooth as possible.
During the Christmas holidays the art teacher and I edited the clip. It took us about seven or eight hours to do it.
And here we are now, willing to share our experience with you.
I think what probably accounts for the success of our clip is that it proves that teenagers are able to express their talent and creativity. They have proven to us that that they can share and show positive values, that they can smile, just smile while performing, with nothing expected in return.
People tend to forget that schools are places which are supposed to help you grow up, not just lead you through the curriculum. I believe that group work where learners have to co-operate and work together will help our teenagers become kind, balanced and positive adults-to-be.
Watch the video below:
Stéven Huitorel is a secondary school teacher and singer-songwriter from Brittany. He has a Masters degree in English from Queen’s University where he studied how the rehabilitation of young learners can be enhanced through positive affective language learning environments.