Process Through A Playlist

By Ashley Seidel Potvin and Rebecca G. Kaplan


Inspired by this recent blog post, we (Ashley and Becca) thought we’d try to take up the final question the blog author posed, “Do you consume or do you create?”  We decided to take on a create task. At a recent design team meeting, Bud Hunt shared this idea of creating playlists as a way to engage students in thinking about and connecting to texts.  Students could create a playlist from the perspective of a character in a novel or they could create a soundtrack connected to their experiences within a unit, either thematically or chronologically.  With this idea in mind, we thought we’d try our hand at making one of the potential products that students might make.  Our playlist is a multimodal introduction to the Composing Our World (COW) project.  We used the “About” page on this blog as a text to guide our work.  

This product could be created within many mediums, and it lends itself well to multimodal making and creating.  It is a nice way to express thinking through audio, visual, and written modalities (this connects well with our Universal Design for Learning principle).  Linking the songs to a text can convey feelings and emotions of the maker or what the maker imagines a character might be feeling (this connects well with our Social and Emotional Learning principle).  Additionally, it can evoke feelings for the reading or consumer who interacts with the created playlist.  Creating a soundtrack requires complex thinking: starting with an idea that is either concrete or abstract, linking it with a song, and justifying choices made.  This endeavor felt authentic to us, as it was an opportunity to deepen our own thinking and connections to the COW project (this connects well with our Project Based Learning principle).  We hope it is authentic to others as it introduces the project to a public audience (via the blog) in a different form.  Additionally, exploring media making/ creating and composing within the blog fits with authentic to tools.  

Who Are We?

We are a group of researchers, teachers, and technology experts who are collaborating to co-design a project-based learning approach to 9th grade English Language Arts that integrates social and emotional learning and universal design for learning. The research and development involves a collaborative team from University of Colorado Boulder, Colorado State University, Clearview (CO) Library District, CAST, Inc., and educators from a range of Colorado school districts.

What is the Compose Our World Project?

The Common Core State Standards set a high bar for literacy learning for all students. Yet standards alone are unlikely to be sufficient to support learning and develop the social and emotional awareness and skills students need to succeed as readers, writers, and composers of media in today’s world. Moreover, amid the turmoil of reform, many classrooms have lost the aspects of learning that stir up students’ passion, enthusiasm, and drive, especially in schools serving students from marginalized communities. Recognizing a need to engage students in deep learning, reflection, empathy, and fun, we are developing and will study a project-based learning (PBL) ecosystem to support ninth-grade English language arts (ELA).

This ecosystem will include a full-year curriculum that is highly adaptable to student interests and community concerns and that provides supports for teacher adaptation. Specifically, this work will revitalize ELA in ninth grade by engaging in the following actions:

  • Creating an overarching project focused on the unifying theme of composing our world, the idea that reading, writing, and multimodal composing are central to making our world and our way in it.
  • Fully integrating literacy and social and emotional learning goals — centered on collaborative activities and shared habits of composing, iterating, and revising text together — with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) support.
  • Creating embedded supports for teachers and a model Design Institute for extending the professional-learning community of teachers engaged with PBL in ELA.
Who is funding the project?

We are funded by Lucas Education Research, a sister organization to Edutopia at the George Lucas Education Foundation. Our project is part of an initiative to develop and evaluate rigorous project-based learning. You can learn more about LER here. Visit Edutopia here.

How can other teachers become involved?

Our goal is to make the Compose Our World curriculum resources available online as soon as possible, so that other teachers may take them up, adapt them, and hopefully, share their stories in an online Compose Our World community. We want to “crowd-source” innovation in project-based learning ELA. Together, we can transform ELA and benefit from participating in a PBL-ELA community.

If you’re a Colorado teacher and would like to potentially participate in our project, please contact us.  Contact form coming soon.



Song Artist Text Connection Song Connection
Join Together The Who “collaborating to co-design” I want you to join together with the band
There’s a million ways to laugh and everyone’s a path
Come on and join together with the band ….
You don’t have to play and you can follow or lead the way
I want you to join together with the band
Sir Duke Stevie Wonder “social and emotional learning” Music is a world within itself
With a language we all understand
With an equal opportunity
For all to sing, dance and clap their hands ….
You can feel it all over
You can feel it all over people
You can feel it all over
You can feel it all over people
Wonderful World Sam Cooke “standards alone are unlikely to be sufficient” Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book
Don’t know much about the French I took ….
Don’t know much about geography
Don’t know much trigonometry
Don’t know much about algebra
Don’t know what a slide rule is for
Eye of the Tiger Survivor “passion, enthusiasm, drive” So many times, it happens too fast
You trade your passion for glory
Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them alive …
It’s the eye of the tiger
It’s the thrill of the fight
Risin’ up to the challenge
Unwritten Natasha Beddingfield “Recognizing a need to engage students in deep learning, reflection, empathy, and fun … we are developing and will study a project-based learning ecosystem” I am unwritten, can’t read my mind, I’m undefined
I’m just beginning, the pen’s in my hand, ending unplanned
Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find …
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins …
I break tradition, sometimes my tries, are outside the lines
Building a Mystery Sarah McLaughlin “creating an overarching project …unifying theme of composing our world” ’cause you’re working
building a mystery
holding on and holding it in
yeah you’re working
building a mystery
and choosing so carefully
Across the Universe The Beatles “fully integrating literacy and social and emotional learning goals” Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup
They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe
Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my opened mind
Star Wars Theme Song John Williams “Lucas Education Research”
Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger Daft Punk “together we can transform ELA” Work It Harder
Make It Better
Do It Faster
Makes Us Stronger
More Than Ever
Hour After
Our Work Is Never Over
Do You Want to Build a Snowman? Kristen Bell “would like to potentially participate in our project” Do you wanna build a snowman?
Come on let’s go and play …
They say “Have courage”, and I’m trying to
I’m right out here for you, just let me in
music-304644_1280Reflections on Our Process

As we worked on creating the playlist, we reflected on and discussed our process.   Here’s what we noticed along the way:

  • We needed a prompt to get started. Once we decided to create a soundtrack connected to Composing Our World, we realized that just having a general topic was not enough. We ultimately decided to create a soundtrack introducing COW and this focus allowed us to move forward.  
  • Media making / creating is fun and engaging! It also requires cognitive work as we had to get clear about the content (Composing Our World overview) and make many choices about songs and their connections to the content.
  • At some point we went off on a tangent, no longer just looking for and listening to songs connected to the project.  We realized, amidst a fit of laughter, that this could happen with students too.  Projects, such as this one, are great opportunities to practice reflection, self-awareness, and metacognition.  
  • This particular media making project lent itself well to collaboration.  As we worked together, we refined our thinking, examined a variety of songs, and challenged each other on song choices and their connections to the content.  We believe we created a stronger product through this process than had we worked individually.  
  • There are a number of ways teachers could use this project with students, depending on the goals.  This could be a quick activity in which students select just a few songs or it could be a larger project in which students create an entire playlist connected to a unit objective and shared with a public audience (such as through a blog).  Rather than including the “Song Connection” column in our playlist chart, we could have written a short paragraph justifying each song selection.  
  • Finally, we realize that this playlist represents our interpretation of the project and that there could be many other interpretations. We could imagine students creating playlists around the same topic or prompt and then comparing / contrasting their playlists with one another. This would encourage self-awareness around their own processes, reflection around their products, and consideration of multiple perspectives.


Images from Pixabay


November 2015
« Oct   Dec »

Recent Posts

Recent Comments




One Comment

  1. Ruth Kaplan
    November 17, 2015

    I loved this project! I can see the students being engaged in the process and learning on so many levels

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *