Last Friday’s class was more than amazing, it was a testament to how brilliant kids are when given the opportunity to shine. We had a slight change of plans when DJ Jelly rescheduled (he will be with us instead on Oct 19th). Despite that hiccup, we decided to still introduce the students to iPads loaded with a DJ’ing app called Vibe DJ. The app is free and allows the user to manipulate music just like a DJ.

We began the class, like always, with our afternoon cypher. The cypher was focused on building family. The greeting of the day: “What’s up Fam.” We discussed how this Hip Hop oral greeting is more than just saying, “Hello.” It is a way to signify that you recognize a person as more than just a friend, but as an extended family member. The greeting also led us to discuss how one treats family, no matter if you are related to them or not.

We then moved into two intense topics: school drop-out rates in GA and decoding “Murder of Excellence” by Jay-Z and Kanye West. I informed the students that over 30,000 students dropped out or were pushed out of school in GA last year. That means over 150 GA students leave school every day. We then discussed how seeing our fellow students as sisters and brothers could help those students stay in school. I asked students what “sisterhood” and “brotherhood” mean. We discussed tactics for staying in school and helping others understand the importance of education. The students came up with the term “familyhood” and started singing, “We are Family” by the Pointer Sisters. I continue to be surprised by how inspired these students are by old school music.

Then we moved on to decoding “Murder of Excellence.” We listened to the first two verses of the song. Many of the students had never heard the song before, but quickly understood the song was about Black-on-Black killings. The song also provided a space to have a deeper conversation about familyhood and the lack of it that leads to Black-on-Black killings. A few students also discussed how people join gangs in search of  familyhood, which can lead to violence. Another student noted that sometimes people feel hopeless and hurt others because they have “I don’t care” attitudes. The conversation at times was quite intense, but was necessary for the students to understand that “familyhood” is more than just words and is seen in people’s actions as well. After that, we took a break to prepare for the students to use the iPads to DJ.

I hooked an iPad to the projector to give the students a quick tutorial. Then each table got an iPad of their own. The night before, I downloaded each iPad with music. I took great pleasure in loading one of the most sampled songs in Hip Hop, “The Boss” by James Brown, the instrumental track of “Amen” by Meek Mill & Drake, and “Fireball” by Willow, featuring Nicki Minaj. After the students played with the DJ app for about 20 minutes, we let them show off their skills.  This portion of the class is where they never cease to blow us away. Two students came to the front of the class to battle; I hooked their iPads to the projector so we all could see their techniques. The students made smooth transitions from track to track; they were scratching and transitioning from one song to the next like li’l pros. We all were amazed. Mostly importantly, the smiles on their faces were priceless. They could not believe how well they did. I was going crazy, jumping up and down like I was at nightclub watching two dope DJ’s battle. It was an amazing experience. The genius of these students continues to be self-evident

The students also demonstrated Georgia Performance Standards in Fine Arts and multiliteracies.  As you watch the video, you can see the students are not only meeting standards, but also doing it in ways that are culturally relevant and using new technologies. This is one of the major goals of Real Talk.

GA Standards:

Creative Expression and Communication

M5GM.4 – Improvising melodies, variations, and accompaniments

a. Improvise rhythmic patterns using a variety of sound sources and answers to given rhythmic questions.

b. Improvise simple pentatonic melodies and accompaniments.

c. Perform simple rhythmic or melodic variations.

M5GM.9 – Understanding music in relation to history and culture

a. Perform, listen, move and/or distinguish between music from various historical periods and cultures from the Civil War to present (e.g., jazz, musical theater, rock-n-roll, country, gospel, new age, rap, heavy metal, pop).

b. Describe the role of music and musicians in various historical time periods.

c. Demonstrate appropriate audience behavior for the context and style of music performed.

(We can all take to task what “appropriate audience behavior” means in turns of Hip Hop music and culture, but that is a conversation for another day.)

The lesson also demonstrates the pedagogy of multiliteracies, which builds upon creating texts that are sites of culture (Kathy, 2009). According to Kathy (2009), multiliteracies is a “situated practice [that] involves building on the lifeworld experiences of students, situating meaning-making in real-world contexts (p. 7). Futhermore, multiliteracies recognizes that emails, tweets, text messages or iPad apps are simply modern electronic writing forms of literacy and learning (Kathy, 2009; Luke, 2000). The students displayed a technological savvy when utilizing the iPads that is based in their cultural DNA of music. The lesson shows me, yet again, that when students are given the opportunity to be great, they will take it and surpass all expectations.

Next week, graffiti and its link to knowledge of self and community. Stay tuned.


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