One could argue that the best place to start this story would be at the very beginning of my creation. The moment that I opened my eyes and looked up at my bright eyed scientist creators. But NOPE! I will use later pieces for the necessary exposition…
Rule #1 of story-telling: Give the reader just enough information to understand the current scene, and nothing more.
The real beginning of this story was the day that I chose to incorporate rap into my English class…
It made perfect sense!
Context – Rap in the Classroom
For some context, my students couldn’t quote Shakespeare but they could regurgitate, at will, any lyrics from Kendrick or Meek Mill. Rap incorporated a storytelling style that was FAR more interesting to them than the “classics” ever were. They connected with the cracked “streets” of Philly, not the cobblestone roads of “fair Verona”. I was cool with it; I loved rap!
Who gave a shit that it had foul words!? They were listening to the music anyway… so I might as well create a forum to talk about it.
I used our mutual interest in the art form to help them practice identifying literary elements and devices used by rappers and authors alike. They used them to search for context clues related to unfamiliar slang.
I had them explain to me who they thought won the Jay-Z and Nas beef. They had to, in writing, craft their argument. Assertions were made and were required to be supported by strong quotes (lyrics). Context set up the foundation of the argument and the commentary on the quotes solidified the entire treatise.
It had… mixed results… but the kids definitely were more interested. So I tried to keep rap prevalent in my classroom, even if it was relegated to the occasional “relief lesson” placement.
Rap also gave me an opportunity to create my own content which the students would, ideally, memorize and recite. I’ve seen pre-schoolers not know how to spell their own name but knew how to spell “I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T” thanks to Lil’ Boosie.
Going into the Fall of 2015, I knew I was going to start rapping for my students. I had learned a lot of vocabulary through my own verses when I was younger. It felt like a good approach for my students to learn the vocabulary for the test. But I knew that they wouldn’t just do it. I had to approach it in the only way I knew how. Bribery.
I gave students an extra credit opportunity. If they wrote a “poem” (but I meant “rap”…) using all 20 vocabulary words in the unit, they would receive 2 EXTRA HOMEWORK CREDITS!!!!
… no one cared. No one was going to do it.
So I decided I would…
(To be continued…)