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  • Reflecting on a Hip Hop 101 Lesson Plan: 16 Barz - the Art of Rhyme

    When I look back at my planning for this unit - I honestly did not think it would take 4-5 weeks to really cover ‘The Art of Rhyme’. There were several factors that came into play:

    • Students’ prior knowledge when it comes to poetic constructs and reading/hearing them in songs
    • How much can be accomplished in 40 minute blocks - some days flow quickly as they got some concepts faster, while some days we had to slow things down and really dig in
    • Comfort-level with being vulnerable to the process: writer’s block, not worrying about ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ approaches, etc.

    Once I was able to meet my students where they were at - they really took the reigns and ran with it.  By the time we reached the end, they were asking…BEGGING…to present to each other.

    Starting off slow: Build-up to writing their rhymes

    The decision to start off slow and not jump into writing rhymes right away was intentional. I wanted them to truly explore the importance of the element and its use of known literary conventions. Inspired by Chase March's Lesson Plan on the Structure of Rap Songs and Paul Carl's Rap Poetry Lesson, I created a Kahoot! fun quiz on “Shakespeare” vs. “Hip Hop” which helped the students see that when you strip the beat away, rap lyrics can often be indistinguishable from a Shakespearean sonnet. We also watched a bit of the Ted Talk where Akala eloquently modeled this. This led to exploring the literary conventions emcees use in their rhymes. 

     

    We looked at several sets of lyrics and annotated them; spotting the different conventions in the verses. We discussed and broke down what they meant. They backed up their choices.  They struggled with spotting the conventions.  After jumping through a few annotations of classic and modern hip hop songs - I hit them with Hamilton.

    Again, saving Hamilton for last was intentional. Their challenge was to find as many literary conventions as possible. Of the 10 conventions on their lists, “Alexander Hamilton” - the introductory song to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s libretto - has about EIGHT.  Feedback from the students was fruitful. They shared their awe with rapping over a live orchestra pit, observations of the different rhyme styles presented by the characters, etc.

    Following our annotations, we looked at the construct of most Hip Hop songs. Hence the title of our lesson, 16 Barz. They learned that most Hip Hop songs are 16 bars in a verse (8 couplets) and a hook. We looked at Run DMC’s “My Adidas” to examine phrasing, aesthetics, as well as the beat.  Through this exercise they learned how to “find the one” and how rap song generally follow a four beat count-off - “1, 2, 3, 4, 2-2, 3, 4…”

     

    Then they were off and attempting to fly on their own. 

    Unlocking the inquiry

    Each section (101 A & 101 B) split into two groups.  Each group was assigned a school-related topic: Books, Notes, Pens, and Class. The requirements were simple: come up with 16 bars (8 couplets) using the “end rhyme” convention aka the most common literary convention in a rap song. To spark their ideas - I had them write the topic in the middle of the poster paper and they were to come up with as many words that could possible rhyme with it. I provided them with 10 classic Hip Hop beats (selected from Complex Magazine's list) to choose from and they worked on matching their rhymes over the beat of their choosing. 

     

    Pushing, but nurturing students to challenge themselves

    Teaching a Hip Hop sociocultural history elective is challenging enough with younger, middle school students, but there is an added layer of challenge when the population is as diverse as an international school. Students aren’t always going to be comfortable with lyrics, much less writing their own - particularly when English is not their first language.  Some days, I felt I was maybe pushing too hard or that maybe I was not mindful of the time they needed to process the information flying at them. Thus, it was helpful to have the list of conventions w/ definitions that they could always reference. Moreover, I required them to only use words that they actually knew the meaning and use in the correct context. Lastly, when they were really stuck - we took time to talk about that frustration and having them unpack it.  Those side conversations were quite informative because I discovered that most of them were anxious about doing it “wrong.” It was a reminder for me - a native English speaker who listens to Hip Hop songs regularly - that my students want to do things well and that they need to be reminded and encouraged that that it was okay for them to make mistakes and that the real lesson is in the process of creating.

    The end result is MAGIC:

     

     

  • Cebu: Thoughts on the Road...

    Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines

    The weeks leading up to Spring Break 2017 were a total whirlwind both at work and at home: student activities, Student Safety Week, trip to Prague (!!! - more on that later), etc. So it seemed absolutely appopriate that I booked a trip to the Philippines for a few days in Manila and a getaway to Cebu. Cebu is the place where Ferdinand Magellan laid claim to the Philippines for Spain - charting the course for 400 years of Spanish colonization.  In addition to its importance in Philippine history, it is well known for its food, beaches, and underwater beauty.  Needless to say, Cebu is on my "Philippines Must-sees" list and a definite "must return".  

    Here's why:

    1. The scenery.

    My fiance and I booked an awesome resort in Moalboal approximately 3 hours from Cebu City. We stayed at a magical locally-owned property called Hale Mana - Hawaiian for "good vibes."

    Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines

    The resort sits right on the reef wall and has a breathtaking dramatic landscape, especially when it's lowtide:

    Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines

    Peaceful comes to mind when I think of Hale Manna. It's not a large mega resort and at times it felt like we were the only ones there. When it rained all day on Thursday (fortunately AFTER our daytrip), we were unbothered. We took advantage of the massage on site and I spent the afternoon writing in the Balinese-style open air lobby; the sound of the rainfall helping to clear my mind as I typed away.

    2. Nature.

    Snorkeling, diving, waterfalls, whale sharks, etc. are all around this great place. We spent a day trekking to Oslob to see the whale sharks, Mainit Hot Springs, and Kawasan Falls.

    4. Lastly, upon returning to Cebu City on our last night, we found a vibrant city full of creativity.

    From our accommodations at the The Henry Hotel:

     

    To fashion with a heart at Anthill Fabric Gallery:

    A great holiday, with the best company! I can't wait to go back and explore more!

    Cost breakdown

    * 1 USD = 50 PhP at time of publishing

    Flights - ~3000 PhP per person roundtrip MNL-CEB on AirAsia.

    Private transportation to/from Hale Mana Resort in Moalboal - 2500 PhP each way for 3 hours drive from Cebu/Mactan Airport (Cebu City) to Moalboal

    Hale Mana Resort - 3850 PhP per night including breakfast

    Southern Cebu day trip (Oslob, Mainit Hotsprings, and Kawasan Falls):

    • Transportation - 3500 PhP for the day
    • Whale watching - 1000 PhP per person (foreigner rate) OR 500 PhP per local to snorkel
    • Mainit Hot Springs entrance fee - 20 PhP
    • Kawasan Falls entrance fee - 20 PhP

    The Henry Hotel - $70 per night

    Incidental expenses - food, tips for driver, Uber/GrabTaxi around Cebu City, and souvenirs

  • The Hip Hop Counselor...

    Hip Hop 101 is now in full swing.  My students just completed their first major assessment task - presenting in groups one of the 4 elements of Hip Hop.  This assignment was a big challenge for students born in the 2000s who have no historical or cultural context of Hip Hop's roots.  For the first few weeks of the class, it was about establishing that foundation.  They learned about the Bronx, Kool Herc, the impact of poverty/redlining/racism, etc. that created this cultural phenomenon known as Hip Hop. As we started to dabble with aesthetics - I felt it would be more interesting that they did their own research on the 4 Elements.  The presentations were a little rough around the edges, but I can see signs of connections they are making to past and present - what it looked/sounded like. So, when my friends Ceci and Nathan approached the SIS staff about joining the 8th grade Humanities classes in their "This, I believe" podcasts...my participation was without doubt and what I wanted to share came quite naturally.

    It had to be about a huge part of my identity and my own experience as a middle schooler. It had to be about Hip Hop.

    My Audio

    2017 SIS This, I believe Podcasts

    Text:

    When I was 12, my cousin Ryan’s bedroom was my first dance club.  There, we taped live DJ mixes off of the radio and he tried to teach ME - a goofy 7th grader with two left feet, the latest dance moves.  I was a quick study on the Roger Rabbit, Running Man, Cabbage Patch, the Wop - but the Walk was my kryptonite.  Every day after our homework was finished - Ryan dutifully brought out the boombox and showed me how to do it.  I could NEVER. GET IT. RIGHT.  My arms were always ahead of my feet or vice-versa.  In hindsight getting that dance move down seems so frivolous, but to my 12 year-old self - it was everything. 

    See music has always been an important part of my existence.  I can associate every family party, school activity, and life drama to a song, singer, or genre.  Dancing and listening to Hip Hop and R&B was common ground for my cousins, friends, and me.  We could have very different interests - but this is how we bonded.  Not getting that move down meant the difference between being cool or not. I had to be able to do it, especially when my younger sister got it before I did. And so when I finally got that dance move right, I was walking on Cloud 9.  It was an important milestone for a middle schooler aiming to be like her cooler, older cousins. 

    While dance lessons took over many afternoons, the primary driver of that bonding time was Hip Hop culture and its aesthetics: the fashion, the dance moves, the artwork, the message, etc.  We looked at clothes, dissected lyrics, and we even started looking at politics - at least as much as our pre-teen and teenage selves could possibly understand. As a child of Filipino immigrants who grew up in a middle-class, predominately white California suburb, Hip Hop music helped me explore why many times I felt different from my classmates.  Through the rhymes layered over sampled beats,  I learned about the experience of Black and brown people in the United States that wasn’t covered in my public school history books.  I started reading Malcolm X and Maya Angelou - attempting to process their words on identity, community, revolution, and social justice.  In turn, I was inspired to start exploring my own background and what it was like to be a Filipino growing up in the United States.  For me, Hip Hop wasn’t just beats making me bob my head or move my feet, the words got me to think and brought me to different worlds and told stories that weren’t always within my immediate reach.  Each group or emcee told tales about love, life, friendships, the inner city, growing up poor, or womanhood - to name just a few topics.  The music that backed those stories was often sampled from Hip Hop’s predecessors and it broadened my interest in soul music.  Underneath those rhymes is the funk of James Brown, sax of Tom Scott and John Coltrane, or keys of Ronnie Foster and so many other music greats who preceded the Hip Hop generation.  I was hooked and never let go.

    25 years since those after school dance lessons, I don’t do those dance moves as much any more unless I’m at a 90s theme party or family reunion, but my belief in the power that music has to transform, heal, and express deep and hidden feelings remains strong and unyielding.  I see it in my students’ eyes as they talk about their favorite artists and debate the importance of which songs are played at the middle school dances.  I see it amongst my friends, loved ones, and colleagues as we discuss our favorite musicians and how we use music to cope with the world’s current events.  I see how it helped an awkward, precocious 12 year old find her rhythm and voice through the emcees and singers she idolized; building connections to the world beyond her cozy, suburban hometown.  Music can mean many things to different people and to me, music is life.  This, I believe.