Hip Hop and History: Telling Stories of the Past and of Ourselves

By Staci Taustine, Fifth Grade Teacher, F.L. Templeton Preparatory Academy

Jamaal_Oct 2013_blog

During the course of my fifth-grade class’ six-day Hip Hop residency with Young Audiences artist Jamaal “Mr. Root” Collier, walls were broken down, confidence was built up, and the entire context of my classroom changed for the better.

As an educator I work hard to provide my students with diverse learning opportunities that give each child a chance to shine. However, I did not anticipate how effective Mr. Root’s strategies would be for the many different types of learners in my class. I went into this experience hoping that Mr. Root might be able to give a fresh perspective that would help my students summarize and internalize autobiographical texts. By the end of the residency, I knew that my students gained abilities far beyond that, having learned more deeply about how they express themselves and their story along the way.

Our time with Mr. Root began with an interactive assembly where he introduced the history of Hip Hop and taught students about the five components of this complex art form. Mr. Root motivated students by giving them the opportunity to participate in making beats and validated their contributions by recording and using their input right there on the spot. The students cheered and looked on as he mimicked some of their favorite Rap musicians.

The real magic happened when Mr. Root returned to our classroom and engaged with the students in a more intimate setting for a series of workshops. In a classroom of 20 students he quickly learned everyone’s name and became part of our classroom community. The kids shared with him that we were reading “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” and he began to teach them how to summarize the content through the use of rhyming couplets. This strategy challenged students to return to the text over and over (an academic demand that is typically frustrating to them) to fish out the most important information. They reflected on the value of certain facts and determined which details could combine to most effectively summarize the text.

Together the class wrote a rap that brought the story of Frederick Douglass to life. It was truly amazing to see students who are usually self-conscious about participating come to the front of the room to offer input on better ways to write a line or to question if the number of syllables in a line would be best for the flow of the rap. The class later performed their work for the whole fifth grade during our culminating assembly at the end of the residency.

This was their final product:

Listen to the audio here!

Frederick Douglass was born a slave
Maryland-born he knew to be brave

1817 when he was born
When his ancestors left him he was torn

Owned and leased by several masters
Forced to work he had to work faster

Thought they were happy when slaves sang songs
But they sang about pain… Slavery was wrong!

After discussing the components of autobiographical writing in reference to our work with Frederick Douglass, we turned our focus to the need to know oneself in order to write an authentic autobiography. Students shared that sometimes people act certain ways to get attention but this behavior doesn’t necessarily accurately represent who they are as a person. Students brainstormed a number of ways that people wear “masks” on a daily basis to cover up how they are really feeling or to alter the way that the world perceives them.

Mr. Root led the students in an essay-writing exercise about how the “masks” each of them wear impact their relationships with others. Each student considered what they wanted to show the world through their actions and their autobiographical writing. To accompany their essay, students also created actual masks with construction paper, which were proudly displayed at the school-wide literacy fair in October.

In the end, my students learned how to be vulnerable with one another, brave enough to share their feelings, and empowered to use their voices to express everything they learned. Whether through singing their Frederick Douglass rap, expressing their ideas visually with their masks, or by simply having the confidence to think creatively, each and every one of my students came away with a unique perspective on who they are as individuals.

Going forward, I am excited to continue incorporating the components of Hip Hop to benefit my students’ learning and I am so pleased with this incredible learning experience. Thank you, Mr. Root!

Learn more about Jamaal “Mr. Root” Collier’s assembly and residency programs here!

Using arts integration to prevent summer learning loss

By Lucy Coyle

Jack Black

Lucy Coyle recently completed a summer internship at Young Audiences and wraps up our series on Young Audiences’ summer learning programs–and their importance for students who would otherwise have limited opportunities to stay active and engaged during the summer months.

If you’ve seen Jack Black’s teacher impersonator role in the comedy School of Rock then you’ve seen a glimpse of how the arts can engage students in the classroom. In one memorable scene during the movie, Black sings to his class about fractions to come across as a productive and innovative teacher. While in Black’s case the fractions song is all part of a larger scheme to teach students how to rock and not about math, putting mathematic equations to melodies is certainly one way to engage kids in the subject. If you, like me, learned the song “Fifty Nifty United States” at any point in your adolescence–and can still recite all of the states in alphabetical order–you know that arts engagement works.

I had the pleasure of visiting a Baltimore City Public Schools Summer Learning Academy classroom this past July and experienced much more than arts engagement–I saw arts being integrated into the curriculum. Young Audiences again partnered with Baltimore City to provide rising fifth- through eighth-grade students with arts-integrated learning opportunities during the summer months. Through generous funding provided by the Hoffberger Family Philanthropies, Young Audiences was able to expand its role at 10 Summer Learning Academy sites to provide arts enrichment sessions and arts-integrated math and STEM lessons at each site. During my visit to William Pinderhughes Elementary I witnessed how impactful arts integration and summer learning can be when combined.

Young Audiences artist Arianna Ross is a champion for arts integration. She’ll tell you openly that “it’s kind of my thing.” I watched Arianna lead an arts-integrated lesson in a science classroom where students were learning about the concepts of compression, tension, and gravity, which gave me more insight into arts integration and its power to transform classroom learning.

Arianna’s lesson demonstrated that the bounds of arts integration are almost limitless. For Arianna, it’s not just about putting the names of the states or fractions to music, but rather it’s about expressing various concepts in as many ways as possible.

Teaching music notation is an effective way to teach fractions in a classroom.
Teaching music notation is an effective way to illustrate fractions for students.

Although Arianna is listed in the Young Audiences’ Resource Guide as a storyteller, she is the first to dismiss traditional storytelling methods when a dance activity or a poetry-writing session better serves the subject at hand. For Arianna, arts integration is about adapting every day to fit the curriculum. It’s about bringing arts terms into the classroom and using them on a regular basis.

I saw Arianna use various dance and theatre terms during her lesson on physics. Students began by standing in mountain position–the actor’s resting position. They paired off and created physical representations of the concepts being discussed in the class: gravity, compression, and tension. While they explored different poses that communicated these concepts, the students physically connected to the importance of strong foundation and balance. Their choreographed dances helped them make abstract physics concepts concrete, and they were more eager to participate and share what they had learned by performing for one another.

Two Summer Learning students come up with poses to demonstrate compression.
Two students come up with poses to demonstrate compression.

Baltimore City Public Schools Summer Learning Academies were designed to give students five weeks of additional math support during the summer. Many of these students come from low-income backgrounds and are in danger of summer learning loss, the well-studied phenomenon of students losing two to three months of math and science material learned the previous school year during the summer when intellectually engaging activities are not as readily available. As an incentive, the Baltimore City program also gives students free access to opportunities in the arts, sports, and robotics.

While the arts are an incentive for students to join the program, arts integration is doing much more than encouraging students to attend–it is helping students understand tough concepts by engaging them in new ways.

We want to hear from you!

Have you ever taken part in or led an arts-integrated activity in a classroom? Did using the arts challenge your mind to make nontraditional or creative connections in a traditional subject? Do you think the arts can help students gain agency when studying math and science?

Read more posts about Young Audiences’ summer learning programs here.

Lucy Coyle is a senior at Johns Hopkins University, majoring in International Studies, and recently completed a summer internship at Young Audiences.