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32 – Turn It Up: Writing from the Playlist


  • Jacob Martens, Writing Studies, School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, UW Tacoma
  • Minwoo Cho, Undergraduate Student, UW Tacoma
  • Teresa Dennerlein, Undergraduate Student, UW Tacoma
  • Khadijah York, Undergraduate Student, UW Tacoma


My research seeks to “Turn the Beat Around” (Robinson, 1976) by inviting students to choose songs to add to a course playlist. How does this autonomy in song choice improve motivation in the writing process? University of Washington Tacoma participants included eighty First-Year Writing students, twenty-five first-year Introduction to the Humanities students, twenty transfer-level writing students, and twenty 200-level writing students.

About 10% of students responded to optional, anonymous, quarter-end, online surveys; sixty percent self-identified by name. Respondents reflected on efforts involved in their song selection, how song choice influenced their engagement in the writing process, what they learned, what they found surprising, and if they would recommend other professors utilizing playlists. Since 90% opted out of the online surveys, I reviewed formal student-evaluations for additional evidence of playlist effectiveness.

Responses on optional surveys unanimously suggested writing inspired by a song of their choice increased their motivation in the writing process. Unexpected feedback from several students shared how music improved student-to-student and student-to-teacher relationships, which improved their learning. Some suggested that using playlists in other courses could benefit the learning community but that it would need to be incorporated purposefully.

Logically, when students started writing and conversing about a song of choice, to draw from the model of research as an unending conversation (Burke, 1967), motivation in the writing process increased. Learning motivated by autonomy is consistent with psychological research on self-determination (Deci and Ryan, 2000). My study, inspired by SEED, University of Washington Tacoma’s Strengthening Educational Excellence with Diversity Program, invites ongoing discussion of how the four SEED pillars can be employed various ways in interdisciplinary courses to increase student motivation and learning through inclusion. SEED’s pillars are 1) amplify diverse voices, 2) create an inclusive classroom, 3) enhance critical thinking and analysis, and 4) nurture personal cultural competency.

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