I bought the CD “The Dusty Foot Philosopher”, by K’naan. With a large multicultural presence in our school, I thought he would be a good role model. I wanted to help the children, although they fancy themselves to be nearly-adults, to reflect upon the music to which they listen and the graphic images they see on Hip Hop and Rap artist’s music videos! Someone has to educate them on what it means to be in “the ‘hood”, what life is really like. When they saw the CD cover this is what they thought to songs would be about – not mindful of the reality of the words. They hear words like “pimp”, “gay”, and “whatthehell” and use them in conversation not knowing what they mean.

Teaching Rap is an excellent page by some creative teacher. It outlines the structure of a poem/song, applicable to many genres and it reviews metaphor, simile, symbolism, etc. It also has a great rap about creating rap. We had spoken of symbols both of the days we had been examining the poetry in this song, they could pull it out quite easily, either by clever teaching by previous teachers or by listening to so much media!

I modeled the reading of K’naan’s “Wash It Down” song, giving the students printed copies. (I had the permission of K'naan's manager at the time. He were thrilled!) They were impressed that I could read it as quickly as the artist. Many do not read well or fast. We listened to the drumbeat, which is a wonderful sound. I took my djembe into the class.
As we chanted (is that the right word?) the first stanza in Wash It Down, I mimicked the drumbeat. I placed a student by the CD player with instructions to be DJ and rewind the song when we made it to the end of the stanza. By the third playing of the first verse they had the drumbeat going on their desks.

I assigned them the task of creating their own poem/rap. I had not taught this skill yet, I assumed (yes – trouble, I know) that they could do this. It was difficult. I should have prepared this part and scaffolded it a lot more, or created a group verse first. Even with a lot of work in prewriting skills, it was a bit of a reach for them. We should have talked about the number of syllables in a line, matching the lines; we only touched on internal rhymes, which they purportedly understood.

I guess it was some progress. Two groups, self-selected, and an individual, managed to put together a verse, I played the drum for the first group, and the other two appointed a drummer.

We copied the rhythm from the song, at first, then as they became more confident and asked to try the drum. They found it as tricky as I. I did take a set of beginner lessons last year and have a vague understanding of slap, pop, etc, rather impressed the kids, I’ll tell you!

By the third set of students, they thought they might try accompanying their peers with their rap. What a blast. It was a painful process, however, exacerbated by the fact that I did not break it down into a manageable task of assigning 4 or 8 lines of verse, checking out the syllabification. I learned my lesson, which is 90% of teaching: lifelong learning!