Today’s posting is a guest post from my husband, Jeremy, who is an at-risk youth educator and administrator.
During my college years I studied Intercultural Studies and Sociology. In my entire college career the most impactful sociology text wasn’t one from the classroom, it was Rising Down by legendary hip-hop group The Roots. I listened to the album intently, analyzing lyrics with a sharp focus. I wondered why it was used in my classes instead of dull textbooks written by career academics.
Hip hop can be used in so many ways to teach, recently exhibited in the Broadway hit musical Hamilton. The art form draws students in, and gives the classroom excitement and energy. In my own experience, I find that hip hop reaches students of all backgrounds and cultures. This includes students who I never expected to engage with lessons on poetry and literacy. It helps to connect especially with minority students, many who are not represented in traditional curriculum.
How can you integrate hip hop into your classroom?
Use Rap For Addressing Current Events and Social Issues
Rap music has a rich history of addressing social issues. If students are studying current events or social studies, encourage them to find rap lyrics that address what they are studying. I love this story about Brian Mooney, the high school teacher who uses Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly to address issues of racism and inequality. Flocabulary is an excellent resource for this, I highly recommend using it in your classroom. Flocabulary creates educational rap videos with new ones every week to coincide with current events. They aren’t cheesy, and there are tons of pre-made activities and quizzes that are included. It’s well worth the annual subscription, Elizabeth and I use it constantly. It’s a great way to keep students engaged with what’s going on in the world.
Here’s an example of how Elizabeth uses Flocabulary in her classroom to teach Point of View in Reading class.
Using Rap to Teach Literacy
Rap is a great tool for teaching literacy, since it is essentially spoken word poetry to a beat. When teaching figurative language I like to use examples from different rap lyrics, it always gets the kids excited. Here’s an example:
-Definition: A figure of speech using like or as that compares two things
-Example: “Coming from the deep black like the Loch Ness/ now bring apocalypse like the Heart of Darkness.” -Talib Kweli, “We Got the Beat”
-Definition: Purposefully exaggerated statements not to be taken as literal
-Example: “I’m raw as a dirty needle, choke an eagle/ Just to feed all my people, lyrically I’m so lethal/ Plant thoughts in they minds just to defeat you/ Ice Cube is a saga/ y’all spit saliva I spit lava/” -Ice Cube, “Gangsta Rap Made me Do It”
Flocabulary has a great free resource that highlights this same concept. Rap Genuis, the largest rap lyric database online, has a tool that allows you to find songs that feature certain literary devices. If you are interested in lessons that compare “traditional” poetry texts to rap lyrics, I highly recommend Hip-Hop Language Arts: Thematic Textual Analysis and Hip-hop Poetry And The Classics. Each book is full of high quality lesson plans from award winning educators. Young Chicago Authors also provides their spoken word poetry curriculum, Louder Than a Bomb, free of charge. It’s now taught in the Chicago Public Schools and Young Chicago Authors is doing some amazing things in the Windy City.
If you are interested in learning more about research behind this topic check out the work of Morrell and Duncan-Andrade. They have pioneered fascinating research on how teaching hip hop can improve literacy.
Here’s a short clip of how we utilized spoken word poetry and rap influences in Elizabeth’s classroom this past school year when her students were studying the Civil Rights Movement.
#TBT when Ty from @themixatarborplace shared his original spoken word poetry with us. We were eating up every word and loved every second! #spokenword #poetry #civilrights #class #presenter #iteachsixth #iteach456 #iteachtoo #teachersofig #teachersofinstagram #teachersfollowteachers
A video posted by Elizabeth Raff (@elizabethraff) on Jun 9, 2016 at 12:00pm PDT
Hip Hop Highlights Often Ignored Voices
One thing that is very cool about rap, is that it focuses on voices that often are outside the mainstream and ignored. (Kelly, 2013) These unique voices offer perspectives that are often overlooked or overshadowed by large movements in society. There is great value in learning these perspectives, and it helps to present another facet to the mosaic of American culture. Share these perspectives, have students debate them, and get students engaged in something new! You might be surprised by the students who perk up and show excitement, I know I have!
Jeremy Raff is the Assistant Executive Director at The Mix at Arbor Place, a nonprofit youth development center in Lancaster, PA. He holds a Masters in Nonprofit Management from University of Central Florida and recently co-authored a chapter on spoken word poetry and youth development in Global Youth: Understanding Challenges, Identifying Solutions, Offering Hope by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
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