Tag Archives: instructional design

Blog Post No. 4,001: A Tentative Start to a Unit on the History of Hip-Hop

OK! I published my 4,000th post on this blog two days ago, which is something I’ve been pushing toward since the COVID19 pandemic began in March. Now that I’ve reached this point, I’ll be taking a break to look for a job, and to begin to review works in progress with an eye toward finishing some of them. And reading and resting, with an emphasis on resting often. I’ll continue to publish, just not at the frenetic pace I’ve set in the past five months. And, again, I hope I’ll have some new materials for your consideration, review, and use.

Before that, though, as has been my custom each time I’ve passed another thousand posts, I’ll publish some unfinished materials to store them for future use, and to offer users and readers of this blog some preliminary documents to develop from the ground up should they be so inclined.

Throughout my career as a teacher, and in every school in which I’ve served, you probably won’t be surprised to hear, my students have been deeply interested in Hip-Hop music. Since I’ve been present for the entire history of Hip-Hop–I remember vividly discovering the first album by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and its electrifying single, “The Message”–but I’d heard Kurtis Blow and The Sugarhill Gang before that, I knew at the beginning of the genre’s life I was hearing something new, original, and, man, oh so danceable. I started playing Hip-Hop records in 1981 when I began to DJ the occasional party. I still have Hip-Hop songs in my playlists (have you heard the song and album “Back on the Block” by Quincy Jones? You should).

So, when I showed up to teach at a school on Jackson Avenue in the South Bronx in the fall of 2003, I quickly started to think up ways to reach the students in my classroom. One thing that always stuck with me, as I watched Hip-Hop develop as a genre, was the remark Chuck D made that Rap music was the CNN of young, urban Black people (and I thank Quote Investigator for clarifying that paraphrase).

Chuck D’s aphorism became the guiding principle for the development of my unit on Hip-Hop. Broadly, I saw this unit as an exploration of the oral traditions that are common to cultures worldwide. Moreover, I wanted to situate Hip-Hop in the context of global oral traditions so that students would be able to move between the general (oral tradition) and the specific (Hip-Hop music). In any case, I knew that I could use Hip-Hop to engage my students.

When I first conceived of this unit, as I say, I was a new teacher in New York. Instead of outlining a unit plan, which at that time I still didn’t fully know how to do, let alone understand the purpose of, I just improvised. I can tell you in that improvisation, the first lesson involved a choral reading of the first twenty-five lines of Homer’s Odyssey, which I presented as the world’s first Hip-Hop song. My students were very self-conscious about choral reading, so I subsequently shortened that exercise to eight lines. I proceeded to the medieval troubadours as messengers, hewing to the greatest extent possible to the idea that musicians could be deliverers of the news in that (or any) world. From there I moved on to the Griot tradition in West Africa, then on to a review of  popular music in the United States, particularly blues songs from the world of Chess Records. Then, while continuing to focus on the oral tradition, I included material about and by The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron as the progenitors of Hip-Hop. Finally, I moved on to the earliest Hip-Hop recordings, as above, by The Sugarhill Gang, Kurtis Blow, and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Later, as I began to deepen my research into the history that informs this unit, I also would include material (as below) on the Black Power Movement and DJ Kool Herc.

After running through this a couple of times in an improvisational mode, I began outlining a unit and preparing reading and writing work for its lessons. It was at that time that the New York City Department of Education, alas, abruptly changed the approach we were using with special needs students and struggling learners. Teaching to the Regents Examination became de rigueur, and this unit fell by the wayside.

As I look over the documents I accumulated in the run-up to writing out this unit, I can see that I envisioned an interdisciplinary reading and writing unit that analyzed the sociology of language, knowledge, and culture, and how all this was held together by music to synthesize Hip-Hop. I definitely wanted to focus on DJ Kool Herc’s ability to bring communities together in celebration with music–i.e. his famous block parties. To sum up, and move on to the documents, let me say this: the history of Hip-Hop offers a trove of possibilities for conceptual instruction that deals with continuity and change, poetry and poetics, tradition and innovation, mythology and earthbound humanity, modes of communication within and across cultures, the sociology of culture, registers of language from vernacular and dialects to the rule-bound and stylistically formal, the business of the music industry, what constitutes “news,” and the politics of, bumantity, equity, and liberation. As the music changed over the years, and I discussed these changes with a colleague (thanks for your insight, David) in New York, I saw that there was room in this unit for a discussion lesson on the corporatization and commodification of Hip-Hop driven by a question about how we got from the socially conscious lyrics of “The Message” (or, earlier, but lesser known among younger people, Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” or the beautiful “Lady Day and John Coltrane“) to songs glorifying murder, mayhem, and misogyny.

Anyway, let’s get on to the documents. First, the planning materials: here is the preliminary unit plan, which shows its age by my citation of New York State Standards. Those standards mean I started writing this before the Common Core Standards arrived and were adopted in New York State (if you need something shiny to show to an administrator, here are the Common Core English Language Arts Standards for grades 9-12 in Microsoft Word, so you can copy and paste from this document); this is the lesson plan template and this is the worksheet template. And here, as a do-now exercise, is a Cultural Literacy worksheet on the troubadours.

Now the texts I accumulated, haphazardly, for this unit: here are three pages of mixed text, including a definition of “Oral Tradition” from The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theorythe first eight lines of The Odyssey from the Fagles translation of that work by Homer, and the lyrics from three classic songs–one from Willie Dixon and two from Elias McDaniel (aka Bo Diddley)–from the Chess Records catalogue that anticipate the good-natured, playful, boasting of early Hip-Hop songs. This reading on The Last Poets, that I all but certainly took from the pages of either The Source or XXL magazines–and which I did a very bad job of scanning and citing–outlines the history of these proto-Hip-Hop writers and performers. Here’s a reading on DJ Kool Herc along with its vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet. From elsewhere on this blog, here is a reading and comprehension worksheet on Public Enemy, the seminal Hip-Hop group. Finally, here is a reading on the Black Power movement and its accompanying vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet.

As always, I seek your peer review on this material. In this case there isn’t much to review. But if you do use this material or its ideas to build a unit of your own, I would be interested in hearing about that. If you need or want anything in the way of ancillary materials to develop this unit, for example a context clues or Cultural Literacy worksheet, please advise; if they’re not already available on this site, I’ll write something for you and attach it as an addendum on this post. As far as typos and the rest, if you think it’s important, please advise. When or if I use this material, I’m sure I’ll revise it extensively.

Get well soon, Jacob Blake. I deeply regret and am ashamed of the assault on your dignity and your life.

Now: on the Blog Post 5,001.

Adapted Research Papers 5: Darfur and the Government of Sudan

I’m fairly certain that I intended that this structured research assignment on Darfur would be informed by the Wikipedia page on “The War in Darfur.” To be honest, though, I am not entirely certain about that. Part of the problem with the series of research papers I was adapting was that some of them were highly dynamic, changing situations.

In any case, this is a seven-page document that can, as everything else in this series of Adapted Research Papers posts, be manipulated (it’s in Microsoft Word) to the needs of you and your students.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Adapted Research Papers 2: Children During the Industrial Revolution

As below, this adapted research paper assignment includes this readings on children in the Industrial Revolution along with its questions and structured citation blanks. The material works together, but if students are able, they might be better served, in order to develop the kinds of procedural knowledge for research and writing this assignment aims to inculcate, to find their own sources to answer these questions.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Adapted Research Papers 1: Supporting Documents

By 2008, when I started my third and final job working in the New York City Department of Education, I was (or at least I thought I was) beginning to hit my stride in preparing differentiated instruction for struggling learners. When I arrived at my new posting, however, I found I needed to create some sort of differentiation for a research paper project that was a joint requirement of the global studies and English departments.

So, I got right to it. The theme of this research paper assignment was oppression, and there were at least a dozen topics from which to choose. I chose three, made adapted research papers for them, and worked with students on them.

The next year, the scope and content of the assignment changed; the following year, it changed again. I tried to keep up, but in the end I thought it best just to write a set of broad assignments and use those. I’ve posted those in slightly different formats elsewhere on this blog.

Anyway, here are two documents I prepared as supports and instructions for working on these assignments: the first is a learning support that explains research topics and the second is the rules for completing these differentiating assignments. The five posts above this one are the assignments themselves. Let me forewarn you that this is not some of my best work; but rather than throw away these assignments, I’ll post them here in the possibility that someone might be able to use them. Like everything here, these are formatted in Microsoft Word, so you can edit, rewrite, and manipulate them to suit you and your students’ needs.

This series of documents continues for six posts above.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Document-Based Questioning Unit: Coda

All I know about this document that is ostensibly a DBQ exercise on ancient Egypt on ancient Egypt is that is was something one of my co-teachers used when I worked with him several years ago. I also know that it and the teacher’s copy of the same document were by themselves, without lesson plan or short exercises, in the folder that held the ten-lesson unit posted immediately below. And looking at them now, I think I know I never developed a lesson around this because I didn’t think there was enough primary material in it.

Rather than throw them away, though, I post them here. As with about 98 percent of the documents on Mark’s Text Terminal, these are in Microsoft Word format, so you can manipulate them to suit your circumstances.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

A Ten-Lesson Unit on Document-Based Questions

OK, this post begins a run of eleven (twenty-two including the interstitial quotes) that comprise a global studies unit dedicated to the document-based question (DBQ).

I wrote this unit in the late summer and early fall of 2018 after a late-spring meeting that year with the assistant principal of humanities at the school in which I then served. He stressed the importance of DBQ work in our classroom. The next year’s New York State Global History and Geography Regents Examination, he assured us, would require students to possess a strong ability to interpret primary source material–i.e. complete the standard DBQ.

Because I was a doctoral candidate in history before becoming a high school teacher, and because I respect the importance of inquiry in primary sources, I knew I needed to get to work on creating DBQ materials for the struggling students under my purview–even though in principle I fervently resent teaching to tests. (Aside: I am still surprised at how many of my students, past and present, link their sense of themselves as students, and indeed their self-esteem, on achieving “success” on the kinds of crude instruments that constitute our standardized testing regime.) The problem I faced was at once simple and complicated: DBQs require interpretation, which means students completing them must be able to think abstractly. Many if not most of the students I served struggled with abstract thought. I knew they could learn to deal with DBQs, but I also knew it would be a careful, even painstaking process that would take place over a relatively long period of time.

So, I started with the standard textbook we used in social studies classes in my school, to wit, McDougal Littell’s World History: Patterns of Interaction (Beck, Roger B., et al., Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell, 2007) and wrote materials based on the primary documents in that book.

Unfortunately, I never used this unit. When I returned to school that fall, I found I’d simply had enough of working (after ten years of it) in a building without windows, an hour-long commute twice a day, and living below heavy-duty partiers in The Bronx. I resigned, sold my apartment, moved to New England, and forgot about this unit.

But now it’s back. I’ve spent a few hours revising the lesson plans and making sure everything is formatted correctly and consistently–something I think is important in meeting the needs of struggling learners. If you’ve made it this far, here is the payoff–the documents.

This is the unit plan with all the scholarly and pedagogical apparatus–i.e. standards and works consulted page. If you want to rewrite or edit this unit for use in your particular classroom, here is a lesson plan template, a context clues worksheet template, and a primary worksheet template for your use. Finally, here is a couple of pages of assorted cut-and-paste text to prepare new lessons.

Let me close with this unsurprising statement: there is a lot of room for expansion, adaptation, and improvement in this unit. As with the lion’s share of documents on this site, all of these are in Microsoft Word, so you can revise and edit them to suit your classroom’s needs.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

On Leveled Literacy Curricula

“Leveled reading emphasizes students’ current limitations, rather than increasing their possibilities, especially for the least advantaged of our students. We can do better.”

Timothy Shanahan

“Limiting Children to Books They Can Already Read: Why It Reduces Their Opportunity to Learn.”  American Educator 44.2 (Summer 2020): 17. Print.

A Learning Support on Note Cards for Research and a Structured Note-Card Blank

Over the years I’ve been assigned to “co-teach” many classes; in New York City, I was a regular fixture in social studies classrooms in which I was charged with supporting struggling learners. In the last school I worked in in the Five Boroughs, I worked with three different teachers with three different approaches to the curriculum. Because the assistant principal in charge of the humanities regularly changed the form and content of the curriculum, my duties required me, as a colleague once put it so cogently, to constantly “reinvent the wheel.”

One of the most contentious, and therefore most subject to change, was the synthetic research paper. One of the teachers I worked with assigned students the task of writing, and turning in for assessment, a set of 3 x 5 cards with sources and notes that would eventually end up in students’ papers. For that reason, I contrived this learning support with examples of note cards for research along with this structured note-card blank to aid struggling learners with this task.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Research Topics Explained: A Learning Support

Here is a learning support on topics for research that I wrote to support students in a college writing course I co-taught several years ago. I’m all but certain I’ve posted this elsewhere, probably in combination with some other materials on synthetic research papers. Here it is as a stand-alone post.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

The Milgram Studies: Lessons in Obedience

While I have found Stanley Milgram’s studies on obedience to authority fascinating (and the lost letter experiment is also interesting), I do understand that it isn’t exactly high school material. That said, I did, in 17 years of teaching now, have one kid ask about Milgram.

So here is a short reading on Dr. Milgram’s study along with its vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.