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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Hip-Hop in Music Education

After periodic posting on the topic of hip-hop over the last few years I decided it was time to compile all of my writing on the topic in one place. If and when I write more posts related to hip-hop in the future, I will add them back here, so if you're interested in the topic this is the post to save! 

This post is dedicated to the late Jarritt Ahmed Sheel. He was a driving force in research and advocacy for hip-hop in music education, and a trusted mentor for me as I embarked on my own learning journey a few years ago exploring ways to authentically, respectfully, and effectively incorporate hip-hop music into my own teaching practice. 

Reflections on how to incorporate hip-hop in music education appropriately and holistically:

Lesson ideas for K-12 general and ensemble music classes, resource list, and school-appropriate song examples:

Lesson plans and resources for teaching the history and context of hip-hop in an age-appropriate way (an important step to take when teaching hip-hop):

Lesson plans and resources for teaching break dancing, DJing, and beatboxing:

Lesson plans and resources for teaching rapping and rap writing in elementary music:

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Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Decolonizing Our Approach to Hip-Hop

I've been reflecting on how we approach the hip-hop genre in US American schools, and the many ways that we tend to caricature, devalue, and ostracize the genre in our attempts to include it in our school music curricula. It is a long and arduous process to get to where we need to be, but that shouldn't stop us from embarking on the journey! Here are my thoughts on what needs to change.

1. Holistic Approach

We need to teach hip-hop holistically, teaching students the context and culture of hip-hop and all of the major pillars and elements that are a part of the genre. Too often we pull out the one element that sticks out to outsiders- rapping- and think that giving students one isolated experience with rapping, or writing raps, means we have successfully incorporated hip-hop into our music curriculum. Compare that approach to the hours and hours we spend teaching the elements and "pillars" of Western classical music, from music history to music theory, repertoire to instrumentation. 

2. Scaffolded Skills

Just like we sequence out our instruction on reading Western classical music notation, and understanding fundamental concepts from Western classical music like steady beat, tonality, harmony, and skills like singing or playing instruments, we need to incorporate skill development in the skills and concepts that are at the core of hip-hop musicianship into our teaching as well. There is definitely some overlap between the skills and concepts we teach already and the skills and concepts that are a part of hip-hop, but things like flow, rapping, mixing, and beatboxing etc are separate skills that need to be scaffolded and embedded in our scope and sequence. And time spent on skills and concepts from one genre will only improve skill development and understanding in other genres as well- rather than stealing time from one area to teach another, we will be enhancing student learning.

3. Regular Examples

This is a much easier fix than the first two and many of us are on our way to doing this already- make hip-hop music a part of the regular course of learning alongside any other genre. When we're practicing steady beat movement with Kindergarten, playing rhythm examples, learning about famous artists, or playing a Bb major scale as a warmup in band class, hip-hop music should be incorporated not as a "special topic" but as a part of regular instruction along with a broad range of other genres.

4. Teacher Education

I am far from the first person to say this but we will never embed change in music education practice until we start training teachers how to do things differently. We need music education programs across the country to start including training in how to teach hip-hop skills and concepts in our school music programs so teachers enter the profession with some background in how to do so effectively and appropriately. That means bringing in people who know what they're talking about to help re-write the curriculum for music education courses, serve on faculty, and come in as guest speakers.

5. Listen and Learn

Hip-hop has not been a part of classroom music education, so it can feel like talking to someone in a foreign language when you talk to hip-hop artists and educators about the culture and genre to try to learn how to incorporate it authentically in your teaching. It might seem easier initially to just listen to people like me and just absorb the "translated" information second-hand, but we all need to be learning from culture-bearers directly. It took a few years for me to wrap my head around how to take what hip-hop artists and educators were telling me and bring it to my classroom, but the time, effort, and trial-and-error process were necessary for my journey, as they are for all of us. 

What are your thoughts? I know this post is a departure from my usual- I'm not at the point in my journey where I can offer concrete, specific steps towards solutions yet, I just have gotten some clarity on where I'm headed. I know I'm not the only one thinking about and reflecting on this topic and trying to bring about change in music education- I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, November 21, 2022

24 Days of Family Christmas Activities

One of our most treasured family traditions is our advent calendar. Since my daughters were 2, I've been putting together an advent calendar with a small holiday-related activity to do each day leading up to Christmas. I never thought it would become such an important part of our lives but now, with my girls about to turn 11, they start asking about the calendar several months in advance! The last few years our options were a little more limited by the pandemic, but this year that's less of a concern- here's what I'm planning to do this year (and you can too with very little prep work).

Because I am all about low-maintenance, especially as a music teacher in December (if you know you know), most of the things are things that might normally be considered "chores", like decorating and sending cards, but now they are fun family activities! It's a great way to really focus on the small joys of the holiday. Here is a list of what we're doing this year:

1. Put up the Christmas tree

2. Decorate the tree with ornaments

3. Hang the Christmas lights

4. Make gingerbread truffles

5. Make hot chocolate with all the fixings

6. Put out the advent wreath

7. Make plastic cup ornaments

8. Decorate the front door

9. Make and send Christmas cards

10. Write gift idea lists (to receive and to give)

11. Bake cookies

12. Decorate sugar cookies

13. Put up the rest of the decorations around the house

14. Shop for/ make gifts to give

15. Read some Christmas books

16. Wrap gifts

17. "Jingle" a neighbor (here is an explanation and free printable)

18. Watch a Christmas movie (this year will be Hip-Hop Nutcracker)

19. Do this salt crystal snowflake experiment

20. Go caroling to friends and family's houses (in person and video call)

21. Drive through a lights display

22. Hang the stockings

23. Make a gingerbread house

24. Set out cookies, milk, and carrots for Santa and the reindeer

This kind of Christmas countdown / advent activity calendar is so easy to set up because the activities are low-prep, low-mess, quick activities, most of which are things families celebrating Christmas would do anyway. If you want to do something similar this year but don't have time to make a calendar, all you really have to do is write down each activity on a piece of paper and fold it up with the number for the date you want to do it on the outside. Then open a paper each day to reveal that day's activity!

Here is how I made the calendar we use every year (so easy if you have the supplies)- click the image to see the tutorial:

And you can see how my list of activities has evolved over the years as my daughters get older in these posts from previous years: my list for 9 year oldsfor 7 year oldsfor 6 year oldsfor 5 year oldsfor 4 year olds, and for 3 year olds.

If you're looking for ways to add a little cheer without a lot of effort I hope these ideas will help! 

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

(Further) Toward an Inclusive Holiday Sing Along

Holiday sing-alongs are something many music teachers are tasked with. They can be a lot of fun, and they're a great way to bring the entire school community together. But they also inherently center certain religions and cultures while ignoring others, and that is problematic. I have been reflecting on my practice and seeking input from culture bearers and educators from a range of backgrounds, and after doing a lot of thinking over the last few years I have made some changes that have certainly brought it a long way in making it more reflective of our school community and our world. I have shared a couple of times in the last few years about what I'm doing as I continue on this journey to hopefully help other teachers think critically about their current practice and encourage others to join me in my journey- here is my latest update on what I'm planning this year.

A few important thoughts I've had as I continue to reflect on this that I think are important for everyone to consider in planning a holiday sing-along:

1. The songs we choose should invite students to learn about the holiday more than they invite students to participate in celebrating them. 

I used to be a little uncertain about my choice to include the Eid song in particular, because it isn't traditionally sung by culture bearers during the actual holiday as part of the traditional celebrations. I've since come to understand from the culture bearers I've spoken to that this is fine and in fact better. The song was created by culture bearers to teach others about the holiday and that's exactly the way that they want the holiday to be presented in school- trying to have students experience each holiday by participating in them does a disservice to the religious meaning of each one and can put students and families in an uncomfortable, offensive situation.

2. Any decision to include songs about holidays in class or in a whole school sing- along assembly should be accompanied by deliberate communication with families to ensure anyone who objects to all holiday content can be accommodated, the actual holidays celebrated by the community is represented, and families understand the intent and purpose behind the lessons and/or event.

I do have a very small number of students who do not participate in recognizing or learning about holidays at all, and I'm very careful to make sure those students have alternate assignments (and the one time I had more than one student in a grade I changed the lessons entirely). But I've also found that when I explain that students are learning about the holidays rather than participating in songs that celebrate them, several of the families who originally were hesitant actually were excited to have their children participate.

My song selections for this year have not changed since last year, when I hosted it on zoom, but it will be great to get to have students fully engage with the activities for each one as a group with us all physically in the same space this year!

1. Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah (we do a very simple circle dance- each class in a circle)
2. Feliz Navidad (I use this song as a jumping off point in class to talk about the ways to say "Merry Christmas" in different languages. in the assembly one grade level will have maracas to play with the Spanish section.)
4. Diwali is Here (we will sing in canon, and one grade level will have mini flashlights to wave around as we dim the lights for this song)
5. Gong Xi, Gong Xi (we sing the verses in English standing in a circle with hand motions that match the lyrics, then on the chorus in Mandarin turn to one side and shake hands, then turn to the other side and shake hands on the beat)
6. Eid Mubarak (we stand in scattered formation and do a clapping pattern with a partner at the beginning of each verse, then while singing the last line quickly find a new partner to face for the next verse)
7. Happy Kwanzaa Song (one grade is assigned to stand and sing each of the 7 principles during the verse, then everyone drums on the floor during the chorus)

This is a topic that we need to continue to engage in professional discussions on as music educators, and we need to continue to be open to new insights and thoughts on how to do it, and even whether or not to continue the practice, to be as inclusive and respectful of all of our students as possible while giving students opportunities to learn about different cultures. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, and you can catch up on my ongoing journey of learning how to do this better in my previous two posts on sing-alongs: