International Education
  • 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:



  • 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" 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


    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.

  • #NoPassionLeftBehind

    #sishiphop101 gets a taste of The Big Payback by James Brown #hiphopeducation #sisrocks #passion

    — Yvette Cuenco (@YvetteCuencoSC) January 19, 2017 

    Shortly before Winter Break, my assistant principal approached me about teaching electives in Semester 2. Not only did this opportunity give me a chance to have more face time with my students, but it also gave me the challenge of figuring out WHAT I was going to teach and HOW I was going to do it. Within about an hour after that conversation, I asked to run something by her. I decided I wanted to teach an elective on Hip Hop - but it won't just be about performance, it will give the students a foundation of where Hip Hop began and explore how it got to where it is now.  I got the greenlight.

    Begin panic.

    "Will they like it?" "How am I going to make this interesting for middle schoolers?" "I don't want to sound like I'm preaching." "I don't want to sound...OLD." 

    For the first time in quite a long time, I was nervous.  So how did I respond? I talked to my colleagues and I watched/read the news.  My colleagues seemed more excited about the Hip Hop class than the students. Through my conversations with them, my creative juices of what I will teach and how started flowing. Ideas of beat making, annotating rap lyrics, etc. all started to turn my anxiety to excitement. Watching/reading the news (particularly news from the United States) fueled my inspiration for the students to explore how external factors such as poverty, racism, disenfranchisement can manifest into a whole culture known as Hip Hop.

    @YvetteCuencoSC sharing her passion and spinning talents in her History of #HipHop class! Ss are loving it! #SISrocks #nopassionleftbehind

    — Carlos Galvez (@clos_gm) January 25, 2017

    My goals became quite clear:

    1. Exploring the foundations of Hip Hop gives them cultural context of not just the music, but also the sociopolitical factors that resulted in the artform.
    2. Learning by doing makes it FUN and complements our inquiry-based curriculum. We were going to explore the 4 Elements of Hip Hop Culture: MCing, Grafitti, DJing, and Bboying through experimentation and research.
    3. Lastly, outside of teaching/counseling - music is a passion of mine and Hip Hop culture is a huge part of who I am. This class is a great opportunity to model for my students how to take something your passionate about and challenge yourself to use it in different ways.

    We've only just finished the 2nd week of electives and already as my students and I warm up to each other, my pre-class jitters are slowly starting to go away.  When you let the internal mind chatter quiet down and you look at what's right in front of you, you will often see that "the work" isn't so difficult after all.

  • On Being an International School Counselor and #BlackLivesMatter


    I say this with every fiber of my proud, WILD (Filipina) American self (Galang 96). I state this at the risk of losing readership, but not at the risk of losing face. If you haven't figured out by now from the premise of my blog (identity, travel, living abroad, etc.) that I might have a thing or two to say about intersectionality and race - then MAYBE you haven't been reading my blog too well.

    Why now? WHY NOT?

    I just read a personal narrative by a teacher in Tulsa, Rebbecca Lee, on her school's response to the killing of Terence Crutcher. Her school, Knowledge is Power Program Charter school in Tulsa, Oklahoma is where Mr. Crutcher's daughter is a 5th grade student.   Her post reflects many of the questions, concerns, and fine lines I constantly contemplate as an international educator/counselor:

    • How can I authentically engage students in exploring these topics when they may or may not understand these issues as deeply as students back home in the United States?
    • Is it necessary for international schools to create a safe space for their school communities to delve into these issues?
    • Why should it matter to me?
    • How can I cope with my own feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, guilt, etc.?

    I've been wanting to write about this for as long as I can remember. I just couldn't find the words and for the sake of self-preservation, I busied myself with other things. Lastly, everytime I wanted to write about this before, it devolved into a curse-ridden pile of gibberish.  I was too angry, too sad, and everything in between.  Now, after a few months spent recharging and thinking about my role as an international school counselor/lifetimesocialworker/FilipinoAmerican/womanofcolor and the role I play with my students and colleagues, my mind is clear. 

    #BLACKLIVESMATTER - because even if at the end of the day I believe that all lives matter, according to the Washington Post, just in 2016 alone, Black citizens dying via police shootings represent 25% of total police-involved deaths and they're only 12.5% of the population. (U.S. Census Bureau 13). In plain speech - in the United States, police-involved deaths happen more to Black people than anybody else. Anecdotally, most - if not all - of my Black friends in the United States are afraid to walk out of their homes and those with sons are tearing their hair out trying to protect them.  The pain of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and countless others too fresh, too close, too young, too soon.  

    Moreover, as a student community service volunteer at UCLA and social worker for 5 years in Brooklyn, a routine part of my role was teaching children and teens (Filipino, Black, and Latino) about their rights and how to respond when confronted by police. When I moved abroad, I began to engage students/colleagues (who aren't always familiar with the US history of oppression) on discussions about what is going on back home and how they might be perceived in the United States, especially if they are considered minorities. Or fielding comments/questions from parents about the safety of their children IF they were going to visit the United States.  Furthermore, working at an international school also means looking at world events and social justice issues, patterns of oppression, etc. While I am eager to take this on, I am also quite tired.

    Each day I think - I shouldn't have to do this. 

    I should not have to teach children how to manage interactions with people meant to protect and to serve them and their families.

    I should not have to field questions from parents about their children's safety because of the news.

    I should not have to explore privilege, class, race, gender, etc. with my students - NOT IN 2016.

    BUT I DO.

    If I don't, then it would not only be a betrayal of my own personal background and cultural history of resistance (Constantino 76), but I'd be betraying my friends and the actions Black people took on during the Civil Rights Movement which afforded the opportunity for my family to emigrate to the United States. I would betray the reason why I became a counselor/therapist in the first place - to help people for the greater good.  I've transitioned that desire into international school counseling because I want to see the world and I firmly believe that Third Culture Kids (Pollock & Van Reken 9) have the agency to effect wider societal change. They need the social emotional tools to empower themselves and their communities to dig deep and think critically about how to make our world a better place to live.

    Because of this - I harness the anger, sadness, confusion, and other emotions I may be feeling and I redirect it towards helping my students explore issues surrounding identity, race, culture, gender and our place in all of it. I write and I engage in productive dialogue with people face to face or on social media. It's the least I can do when I am so far away from home. 

    If Black lives didn't matter to me, I'd be a hypocrite. 


    Literary Resources:

    A History of the Philippines by Dr. Renato Constantino

    Her WIld American Self by M. Evelina Galang

    Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds

    White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Dr. Peggy McIntosh

    Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? - Dr. Beverly Ann Tatum

    Web/Organizational Resources:

    Black Lives Matter

    Define American

    Interrupting Racism: Race & Equity in Your Program - American School Counselors Association

    Learning to Give

    Letters for Black Lives: An Open-Letter Project on Anti-Blackness

    People's Institute for Survival and Beyond

    Teaching Tolerance