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Hip Hop in the Classroom: Light Some Fires!

Posted Mar 30 2006

A paper by a student at Hamline University in Minnesota about using hip hop in the classroom. She addresses both sides of the issue and includes thoughts by many educucators, including yours truly!

magine yourself standing in front of a freshmen-level English class. You look across the sea of faces, acknowledging all the usual players of the high school education game: in the front row, there are a handful of kids who have high standards for themselves in your class, not because they have any real interest in the subject matter, but because they are driven by letter grades. In the corner are one or two students who do have a genuine love of the subject, but often become so bored in class that you catch them wearing their iPods during work time. These two students are eclipsed by the overwhelming majority who go to class simply because they have to, have no interest in the topics at hand, and see no reason to study literature that in their eyes is “ancient.” “When am I ever going to use this?” seems to be their battle cry. Of course, there is also the handful of kids who are clearly behind in their reading and writing abilities, either because they have grammatical issues dating back to past grades, or they have never found a real hook that has attracted them to the subject of English. Scanning the crowd once more, you can’t help but ask yourself… does it have to be this way?

Of course, it isn’t entirely your fault that this group of students isn’t interested in your class. Being able to tell early on that the students needed something more creative than the typical five-paragraph essays in order to light their fires, you asked your colleagues for some ideas and scanned books for English teachers. You used all the “tried and true” methods that were suggested, like dramatizing literature and writing group essays. Even though these ideas seemed good in theory, the students were less than ignited to do these activities. What was the problem? Well, students aren’t dumb. These “tried and true” ideas are just that: tried. Many teachers have used these kinds of techniques in order to spark students’ interests, and therefore, most students have done these activities before. So what can you do as a teacher that desperately wants to try something fresh? As a teacher that honestly wants your students to not only become better readers and writers, but want them to have some passion for what they do?

Teachers around the country and the globe have been asking themselves these questions for some time. One of the freshest and most successful ideas that is currently empowering English teachers is incorporating hip hop into classrooms. Teachers are doing this in a number of ways, mainly comparing songs to literature and writing hip hop songs and poetry. Teachers everywhere are finding that the hip hop technique has immeasurable benefits in classes. Infusing hip hop classrooms has proven to help gain the initial interest of students, help them with analysis of literature, and the facilitation of the writing process. Even though some conservatives disagree with the idea of implementing these “street” ideas into our secondary classrooms, most research shows that more and more teachers across the globe are using hip hop in their own classrooms. One reason is simply because students can relate to hip hop; it has become a key element in our society. Also, this new trend in education is backed by scholars, schools, and major organizations, such as The National Council of Teachers of English. Lastly, it is easy to take those “tried and true” methods mentioned earlier and give them a facelift using hip hop.

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