You know that feeling when you’re standing in front of your classroom, teaching a really important lesson, and all you get back are blank stares? This was me last year during my first year as a public school teacher. I was excited to teach eighth grade history in Houston, Texas, but I was having a hard time engaging my students. So I decided to combine something they knew and appreciated with the subject material. I set out to use hip-hop to teach history.
A Real Dilemma
Almost every teacher I talk to knows and understands that “blank stares” problem. In fact, growing up I was one of those kids who had a hard time reading and remembering information. So when I became a teacher myself, I wanted to find a way to make learning easier. It’s our job as teachers to get students energized and excited.
The first hip-hop song I used in my classroom was Dilemma by Nelly and Kelly Rowland. The song is about two main characters who both want to get the same girl. I worked with my students to deconstruct the song and rewrite the lyrics to understand the dilemma that happened between the North and South during the Civil War.
I used this lesson with just one of my classes—my ELL class—and it worked! I was completely impressed and knew that I had to apply it to the rest of my classes. Since then, I’ve used hip-hop to teach dozens of history lessons.
I haven’t stopped at hip-hop either. I used the theme songs from Bob the Builder and Dora the Explorer to teach about the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments.
People often ask me if my hip-hop lessons have garnered actual results. I’m happy to say they have, but only because I focus on curriculum first. My students’ test scores have improved because we have NOT been focusing on testing.
Because here’s the thing: Students don’t care about testing. They’ve been testing every year since the third grade, so it really doesn’t motivate them at all. In fact, a large percentage of kids at my school have to go to summer school because they don’t pass testing. It becomes demotivating to focus on those scores.
My first year at the campus, more than half my students weren’t passing. Now we’ve been focusing on learning the curriculum in an exciting way. And I’m proud to say that last year, I helped my students increase their passing rate by more than 25 percent. This year, most of my students are passing.
I’ll admit it: A lot of students think history is boring. They don’t understand why they have to learn it. They think it’s just old guys that have nothing to do with today. And today is a very fast-paced world filled with YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat, where everything is available at the click of a button. As teachers, this can be a challenge. I wanted to find a way to reach through that perception.
I did it through music. I’ve been amazed at how far a little hip-hop has gone to inspire my students to learn about topics they didn’t care about before. Now they even come to me suggesting songs and topics to use for a hip-hop history lesson.
I truly believe that we should stop seeing kids as test scores. When we do this and take their interests into account, we’ll all see more success.
You can learn more about Traniece’s approach on her website. You can also check her out in action below.