Passion is Contagious: A Success Story
Donna McMeen is an 8th grade English Language Arts teacher near Dallas, Texas. A passionate teacher dedicated to making sure her students stay motivated in the classroom, Donna decided to try using hip-hop to connect to her students. She started out with some Flocabulary materials, and soon had students singing along in class and writing and performing their own songs for various projects. Here is Donna's feel-good story.
"Mrs. McMeen, do you ever use rap music in class?" An inquisitive student who loved the fact that I used music in my classroom posed this question; however, I avoided rap music because of inappropriate lyrics and content. My immediate response was, "Not yet because I cannot find any without bad words, but I will certainly keep searching!" Ironically in January of 2005 I attended a Texas Counsel of Teachers for English Language Arts (TCTELA) conference in Houston, Texas. As I scanned the program that displayed all workshops being presented one caught my eye, "Flocabulary: Shakespeare is Hip-Hop." As a veteran educator, I continuously search for workshops that could actually improve my teaching techniques and introduce me to something that could engage my students in ELA education. I wondered if this workshop could aid me when I was teaching Shakespeare by showing me how to incorporate music.
Sitting in the room reading the handout given to me as I entered, I looked at Alex Rappaport and Blake Harrison wondering just how these two wholesome looking white boys could pull off rap music. Then they told their story. Two young men sitting around after high school discussing the boredom they felt when they were in school especially in relation to mundane and complex content such as vocabulary and Shakespeare. From that discussion the Flocabulary journey began and has proliferated in the past 5 years. I was blown away! These young men taught us how to write a rap then took the raps created by the workshop participants and rapped them extemporaneously. What fun! I was certainly impressed and fervent! I literally RAN to the area where Alex and Blake said they would be after the workshop to purchase their CDs, workbooks, and of course a Flocabulary t-shirt. I believed then and it is still my contention today that these young men ROCK, and I told them so repeatedly. My inquisitive student's question now had an answer!
I took Flocabulary back to my classroom donned in my new Flocabulary: Shakespeare is Hip-Hop t-shirt, and immediately implemented it with Holocaust vocabulary that students had always struggled with in the past. Understanding the Holocaust requires a certain comprehension of the vocabulary in order to retain and find significance in its study. The assignment included working with a partner (or alone if they chose) the students had to look up a synonym for 15 of the Holocaust vocabulary words on a list I generated. They then took the vocab word and synonym and wrote them into a rap with a Holocaust theme. They typed the rap in the correct format in Word, chose a beat, revised the rap to fit the beat chosen, practiced the rap orally, and then presented it to an audience. This particular assignment developed collaboration skills, critical thinking skills, using a thesaurus, technology skills through Word and downloading beats correctly, as well as evaluation skills and oral skills when presenting. Some even experienced use of RhymeZone.com if they chose to create a rhyming rap. Flocabulary employed all learning styles as well as multiple intelligences. I was astounded! The students were energized, animated, and some even dressed up and created choreographed movements to go with their raps. They presented their raps in front of other classes who also became excited about creating raps in other classes. Each year I incorporate more diverse assignments with Flocabulary.
I sent an email to all educators in my building then later the ones in my district telling them that Flocabulary was something they needed to at least try. In 2006 my district inservice for teachers required that we share something to all ELA teachers that had increased engagement and achievement of students. Two of my students volunteered to go to the meeting and present their Holocaust rap for the entire ELA department. They received a standing ovation. I was so proud! Since then ELA teachers in my district email me for instructions concerning how I use Flocabulary in my classroom. Social studies teachers in my district have now incorporated Flocabulary in their classrooms; moreover, I am still working on the math teachers.
I am at the end of my Masters program; all graduate students have been asked what programs or applications they have learned about that they will continue to incorporate into their classes and instruction. I felt great satisfaction when I noticed that many of the students in my class noted that they were excited to learn more about Flocabulary and would continue to utilize it in their classrooms.
It's now been almost 5 years since I met Alex, Blake, and Flocabulary; my classroom has never been the same! I currently have students who ask if they can create raps for projects I assign, and my answer is a wholehearted YES! We all remember our ABCs because of the mnemonic element, we sing or hum when at play or in the shower, we remember Schoolhouse Rock including "Conjunction Junction"; it is because of the ingenuity and courage of two bored young men that today we have at our fingertips the educational weapon that that has altered education as we once knew it and obliterates illiteracy, monotony and apathy-Flocabulary!
Flocabulary truly rocks!"
8th grade Language Arts Teacher