DAY 1: Book(let) 1. “Blazing Arrow” by Blackalicious

What by who?  That’s exactly what Jonah would say.  Who the heck is Jonah?  Jonah is the hero of Summer Heights High, a comedy series by Chris Lilley, an Australian comedian.  Jonah is Polynesian by birth, loves break dancing, has a lot of problems at school and is struggling to read.  How can we help the Jonahs of this world learn to read?  Here’s a novel idea.  We could help them to read by thinking about what they do like.  In Jonah’s case, hip hop and break dancing.  Blazing Arrow by Blackalicious is one of the finest examples there is of “positive” hip hop.  I love this album to death.  I think it’s absolutely amazing.

Yeah, great, Grant- you like music, you like hip hop:  What does that have to do with reading and literacy.  Well, this is how you teach literacy.  Teenagers like Jonah know all of the words to this music, so it’s the best example they have of a book on tape!  How about that, hey?  That’s right.  So what we do is we copy the lyrics for them, in large print.  And we have them read along as they sing.  Here’s another thing you don’t know, miss! say the Jonahs of the world, you can’t rap for sh#t.  You ain’t no good at breakin’ neither.  Sorry mate, you help me get better and I’ll help you with your reading. This empowers people.  Using preexisting knowledge, and GIFTS to connect with people so they can work safely towards correcting weaknesses.

So, I’m just going to choose one random song,  “Make you feel that Way”.  Here are the lyrics of that wonderful gift to lyricists everywhere, The Gift of Gab.

“Make You Feel That Way” words and lyrics by Gift of Gab

[Chorus x15] Make you feel that way.
[Verse One] Up and early for the hope of a brand new day.
See a homie you ain’t seen since back in the days.
Fresh haircut, fitted with a fat ass fade.
End of work, we chilling on a Saturday.
 How you felt when you first heard the Daddy Kane
Rakim, KRS, hey I had that tape.
Cooling out with ol’ girl on a fat ass date.
Find a hundred dollar bill, wow man that’s great.
Get promoted at your job up to management.
Plot a long time finally your plan has made it.
Times I feel I wanna shout,   man its real that way.
When I think of things that make you feel that way.
[Chorus x15] Make you feel that way.
[Verse Two] Christmas day when your mamma got your first bike.
Type of feeling when you went and won your first fight.
How your team felt winning championship games.
Celebrate in a huddle dancing in this rain.
Have a thought, see a shooting star cross your screen.
Put in hard work, finally you’re living your dream.
Deaf man, get his hearing now in come vibes.
Blind man get his sight, see his first sunrise.
Dumb man, speaking out, now he’s load and clear.
Birth of your child, smile so proud ya wear.
Going in your third eye for the styles ya hear.
Making music that’ll bump for a thousand years.
Eating right feeling conscience like health is first.
Said a prayer that’s sincere and you felt it work.
Times I feel I wanna shout, man it’s real that way.
When I think of things that make you feel that way.
[Chorus x15] Make you feel that way
[Verse Three] All up in her vibe, something coming over me.
Summer days more likely that you notice breezes.
Winter days more likely that you notice heat.
When I’m warm, more likely that you notice me.
In the dark it’s more likely that you notice light.
In the light more likely that you notice night.
Hungry, more appreciation for that meal.
Dead broke more appreciation for that skrill.
A bad day’ll make you really notice ones that’s good.
And that’ll make things a little better understood.
Times I feel I wanna shout, man it’s real that way.
When I think of things that make you feel that way
Make you feel that way…
(Ya know its like ahh like the most greatest feeling you could ever feel you like just total elation. Sunny day, just that day. You know its just like you know just the most joyous feeling you could ever comprehend. You know, chilling with your family. You know just you know just really really feeling, feeling the moment, with the folks. Ya know really really really just chilling. It’s love. It’s love. It’s love)
Points to consider: 1)The most important thing is that kids either are already familiar with the music, or they would be willing to learn it first.  2) Now some people would say that it couldn’t work because the beat is too fast.  So… change the beat.  “Hey, Jonah, do you think you could beat the beat.”  Set that kind of challenge first.  Now, how about this, lets slow the tempo down, like jazz.  bam de de bam de de bam de de bam.  Give them some Endtroducing by DJ Shadow to listen to first.  3) But, it’s hip hop.  So?  They already listen to it, they already know the words.  Just gently introduce them to some positive hip hop.  PS:  A lot of hip hop has a lot of positive messages.  Including Eminem : )  Moreover, hip hop is essentially spoken word poetry, which is why I love it.  Those guys are storytellers, man.  4) But it’s not grammatical, or it includes mispronounced words.  So?  Draw two columns, the left would be headed HIP HOP and include words like ya or “wrong” expressions, the right would be called SCHOOL, and have grammatically and morphologically correct words and expressions.  Explain the language is different, HIP HOP is about flow, school is about precision.  Both are important.  5) Sir, you can’t rap for sh#t.  So, Jonah?  You can’t read.  What’s the difference.  We’re all good at different stuff.  You teach me to rap and I’ll teach you how to read. What do you think Jonah?  Is that a deal.  No sweat.
POSTSCRIPT:  I made a promise to try to do this thing at least for a while.  Now I’ll go and read a bit, and just chill out for a while. I have a very specific reading plan in mind.  Expect Dr Seuss and Phonics and later Flowers for Algernon and literacy.  As well as tomorrow’s review.  Teaching Like your Hair’s on Fire by Rafe Esquith.  Wonder what he’d say about my stuff.
Hip hop and music are underrated, undervalued and underused as source materials for teaching literacy.

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