EPISODE 01: THE STORY OF

Rap in the Classroom

with Dwayne Reed

More Ways to Listen:

Subscribe on any of these popular channels.

Podcast Transcript

Download the transcript

Your classroom is like a rap concert. Your classroom is like, a stadium for a sporting event and the fans are your kids.

Jamie Hipp

The thought of rapping in front of or with your students can be intimidating. I’m Jamie Hipp, and this is Teaching Trailblazers, a show about teachers, artists and leaders in arts integration and STEAM. On this episode, we’ll be discussing the use of rap in the classroom, even if you’re not a rapper yourself with YouTube sensation Mr Dwayne Reed, America’s favorite rapping teacher. He has appeared on Good Morning America, CNN and MTV’s  TRL, and inspires educators to make learning fun again. So, Mr Reed, tell us a little bit about your background, Um, school background prior to teaching, were you singing, rapping and making music in elementary school?

Dwayne Reed

Hey, Jamie, thanks for having me on. And yes, I was I was that kid who was always singing, always humming, always banging on desks. You know, I always had a pencil in my hand trying to make a cool beach free standing with my friends at the lunch table. That was just kind of my life, since I can remember and you know also going up. You go in the church, he would sing in church. And your mama and your grandma will make you come and sing but everybody So I’ve got a lot of experience entertaining, if you will. And I guess being entertained myself because I don’t want to pay.

Jamie Hipp

Absolutely. How did your teachers feel about all of that body percussion and those rhythms happening with pencils on desks?

Dwayne Reed

Man, I can clearly remember one teacher. She was actually an after school teacher. She would always see me do it. And it wasn’t like a mad at you, but it’s like a Hey, you’re making noise again. Please stop.

Jamie Hipp

And now she’s probably wanting your autograph. I mean, look, look at how far you can you come and those are the things that she helped instill in you.

Dwayne Reed

Yeah, I definitely with her, my mom, um, other people, I definitely was able to learn how to have self control, you know, at the right time.  Use my talents and my gifts. When’s the right time to be singing? When’s the right time? We’re making a sing song about something and when is not the right time? I think the wrong time is when you’re in trouble. That’s not the right time to make a song. So they definitely helped. It shaped when was the best time for me to do me.

Jamie Hipp

So I’m so intrigued by that concept of when to make music and when is the right time versus not so great of a time. So talk to us a little bit about using rap in the classroom with your students. Do you use it every lesson every day across disciplines? I’ve seen your amazing welcome to fourth grade video on YouTube that everybody should watch. Every educator who’s passionate about creative learning needs to get on YouTube and watch Mr Reed singing and a little bit of movement rapping about fourth grade science. But do you use it in English language arts and promote it in math and social studies as well?

Dwayne Reed

Yeah, so I don’t use rap in every single lesson. Um, not at all. I feel like that would be a lot, but as I teach English language arts, I do use a lot of rap. It’s in a lot of the stories that we read, or if it’s not in the stories that we read, I’ll find, um, poems to supplement the teaching that I’m doing. So I’m saying so. It’s not that every single lesson has rapping or has hip hop has poetry in it. But I try to bring some element into that like freestyling. A lot of times are, Ah, freestyle an idea or a concept off the top of my head, or I’ll invite my students to do the exact same thing that is, hip hop. That’s hip hop culture or I know we’ll be bouncing off of one another. And again, that’s hip hop culture. So there’s a lot of times that I use different elements of hip hop and rap in my lessons, even if I don’t use rap for every lesson.

Jamie Hipp

I see. Okay, so what changes have you seen in the students you work with after introducing rap? Maybe for some of them for the first time? Or introducing hip hop?

Dwayne Reed

Yes. Alright, man with my kids, a lot of them. This isn’t the first go around with hip hop. Um, teaching at 100%. My kids are black right and 100 kids have listened to and are fans of hip hop music so they aren’t new to it. Um, I think they’re new to the idea of using it in school. I think they’re new to the idea of like, oh, shoot. We’re gonna listen to a rap, a popular rap song, and dissect it and make annotations on it. What? Say what? So I think they’re new to the idea of doing something like that in school because they’re so used to doing it outside of school. So they’re like, Oh, so we’re doing this here with the teacher and we’re being graded for this or this is helping us reach our standard. So I think they really like that idea.  And then also I use different chants and different rhymes throughout the day as we transition from point A to point B here from subject to subject. So we’re always kind of end are moving and grooving hip hop mold like every day, every second I can hit you with the song and you’re like, Oh, shoot, there it is. This is cool.

Jamie Hipp

Oh, I’m so intrigued by this idea of using it in transitions because I know a lot of our teachers, maybe as they get started with rap and hip hop and even music in their classes. Maybe it would be more accessible to them to not flesh out a fully integrated lesson with music. But knowing they can use it in a transition space might be their intro to using the art form for the first time. Can you give us a couple examples of transitions through hip hop or rap?

Dwayne Reed

Yeah, absolutely. On one. That’s my favorite. So my scholars all standing up say we did Ah, ah, go noodle where we’re moving around and then it’s like a time for us to transition back to our desks. I’ll say something super simple like Take a seat, Take a seat, take a load off your feet, Take a seat, take a seat, take a load off your feet. So that’s simple. I’ve done that with kindergartners. I’ve done that with up to high schoolers. It’s something simple. It’s something that they could say in their head, and it kind of, um trains them or conditions them in the idea that hey, it’s not for me to sit down somebody away. It’s not just like Mr Reed. Sit down and shut up. It’s not. Take a seat, take a load off your feet. So that’s something that we do. Another thing that we do to kind of feel the time is. Last year I sang a song. It was a remix of Bruno Mars a song, and it was like reading and writing All right, homework. I do it all night. Lucky for me, that’s what I like. That’s what I like. It’s crazy, though, because I don’t give my kids homework. But it was just something to pass the time as they transition back to their desks. So I think teachers who aren’t like hip hop heads or wouldn’t consider themselves artists by any stretch of the imagination. I think they can easily use little quips, little nursery rhymes, even that your kids are going to enjoy and use videos on YouTube. And I think there’s a lot of materials and resources out there that they can use to supplement their classroom and make it into a hip hop classroom.

Jamie Hipp

Wow. Okay, I know when you were Ah, take a seat. Take a seat. I was jamming over here with you. I was moving to the beat. And I’m sure you have 28 29 30 students who are all chanting that out loud as they transition back to their seats. So it’s not necessarily, it feels like from what you’re saying, teacher led, but it becomes almost the student led process. And are they taking ownership over it after a couple of weeks of, of hearing it and it getting ingrained in their body and in their voices?

Dwayne Reed

Oh, yeah, absolutely. It becomes something that if I say, say, I’m thinking of something else there, remind me, Mr Reed, we do this and Mr Reed, we say that or one of them will kind of start a chant that all of them, no. And then I’ll be like, Okay, should go and then they go for it. So it’s like they become like, the embodiment of excitement when they get to say these chants because that’s what all of us want to do. Every time we go to a concert and you hear, do do do do, do you know we will. We will rock You was coming like no way. We all want the moment we here, uh, I got a feeling like every single time we hear that we’re ready to go. So it’s like your classroom is like a rap concert. Your classroom is like, Ah, stadium that for a sporting event and the fans are your kids and they’re ready to participate. They’re ready to go. You just got to give them something to go off of positively.  

Jamie Hipp

They sound ready, engaged and motivated. And also, you spoke about this a few moments ago, where you teach and that all of your students are black students. Um, have you seen the cultural responsiveness aspect of rap at play in your work with students in your school and in your work with teachers and students across the country?

Dwayne Reed

Yeah, definitely. I think rap music as a whole is transcendent. If I start playing some Michael Jackson rock with you right now, you’re gonna start tapping your foot. Doesn’t matter if you’re in South Africa if you’re in South America, if you’re in the south of the U. S. Um, and I think hip hop as a whole is one of those. I don’t want to say niche markets, but it’s definitely a genre that’s just completely transcendent, like I don’t care if you’re white, black, Asian, Latin, ex, wherever you are, hip hop is going to hit you hard and you’re gonna want to do it. So I’ve definitely seen it here, teaching in Chicago that my kids are just ready to jump on, and I’ve even seen it in rural America. So I’ve taught in rural America under presentations to kids all over the country, and they just love hip hop. They just love rap. They just love rhymes and poetry and things written in prose. And I think you see that that’s true. Based on the popularity of my video, the welcome to the fourth grade video I’ve gotten so positive of a response from so many different people because rap rap reaches the heart of anybody, you know, I’m saying, If it rhymes, we like that just naturally. We you know, like that things rhyme in our head. Um, so, yeah, I don’t think anybody is is out of the reach of rap reaching their heart in the classroom,

Jamie Hipp

and I will agree 100% When you say that music is transcendent, I’ll be the first to say, from my own time in the classroom that music reaches everyone early childhood through college, when instructional strategies in different art forms or with no art whatsoever might not. So for teachers looking to get started in using music, specifically hip hop or rap in their classrooms, what’s a good place to start? I know we could watch your YouTube videos, but I think particularly for elementary and middle school teachers, the thought of elementary and middle school students composing rap lyrics in their classroom can seem a little daunting. Are those students capable of writing their own rap lyrics at that age?

Dwayne Reed

I absolutely do believe, Jamie, that those students are capable of composing their own rap lyrics. So I was writing raps when I was in third grade. I would look at my Yeah, I would look at my spelling list. I remember I would look at my spelling list, and I saw all of the words. And then I made a rap, too. Not only. Tell me all of those spelling words, but kind of give a definition each one, and that was third grade, 3rd 4th grade, so I think that you can definitely kind of tweak the needs. You can tweak the assignment to the needs of your scholars. It’s super easy using rap with vocabulary words using rap to help you do, um, math. I just wrote a rap song about the quadratic formula. 

Jamie Hipp

We have to hear it. We have to hear a little snippet.

Dwayne Reed

Man. Um, I’ll sing the chorus. I won’t do the rapping part, but, um, it’s catchy goes negative B plus or minus the square root of B squared minus for a C all over two. A. That’s the quadratic formula away, and you’re gonna remember that. Oh, yes, I remember that. So, um Man, I think the quickest way to start would be with bell work with do now assignments and that’s assignments as your kids just walk in. Hey, write me four lines that rhyme about this problem or about this issue or that talk about the main idea of this text. It’s really easy, like there was a boy whose name was blue and he loved me Isamu. And he didn’t have a clue until he figured out the truth. Like, you know, I’m saying, like, Boom, I just freaked out boom. I just told you the main idea. It was a boy. His name was blue and he didn’t figure out the truth until he found the clues like it’s so easy. So I started with bell work. Another thing I would do is go straight on YouTube. Oh, my gosh, YouTube. It’s such a great resource you’ve got You’ve got things like Go Noodle, which uses raps and rhymes. You’ve got sites like Flocabulary, which uses hip hop to explain all of these academic topics that are easily understandable for kids like you can cheat as a teacher, and I always recommend the teachers cheat and steal information from other people. You can cheat and use videos that are already out there, and then you can start. You know what? Let me try to do my own song arrived, and your kids are already gonna be like, Okay, cool. We’re in the move. We’re in the groove for it. Let’s hear it.

Jamie Hipp

And working smarter, not harder. We love that as teachers and to think of all of the standards that you just embedded in such a quick bellringer main idea Details summarizing in retail character development. Incredible. All right. So for our listeners who probably want you to prove that this is possible can I be your rap guinea pig and try out some rapping with you?

Dwayne Reed

Oh, yeah, Absolutely.

Jamie Hipp

Okay. All right. All right. Let’s do it. Where do we start?

Dwayne Reed

Okay, give me a topic. Um,

Jamie Hipp

can we say rapping in the classroom?

Dwayne Reed

Okay. Rapping in the classroom. So what I want you to do is, um, craft some ideas about rapping in the classroom. So get your pen and your pad or your phone book. And I want you to type out three or four different ideas about rapping in the classroom. Just anything that comes to mind.

Jamie Hipp

Okay, I’m thinking about how it’s a great teaching tool. So maybe music is the best teaching tool. And earlier you alluded to rhyming words. So tool rhymes with school, maybe make your students want to come to school. Um, and if you’re not using rap in the classroom, you’re a fool because it’s really cool.

Dwayne Reed

Okay, so let’s see what we’ve got so far. Okay? Top of the hand music is a teaching tool. Don’t be a fool. Just be a jewel. If you use it in class and you’re using the school than all of your kids are gonna think you’re cool.

Jamie Hipp

A round of applause. Fantastic. Well, Mr Reed, it was a pleasure. Where can we find more about your work?

Dwayne Reed

You can check me out on YouTube at Mr Reed. You can check me out on all social media’s at Teach. Mr. Reed, I’m really popping on Twitter, so make sure you’re gonna be a follower, and I’ll give you a shout out on it man. Got a lot of stuff coming. I’m working on two books, a kid’s book and a book for teachers. I’ve got a podcast with my beautiful wife here in Chicago called Two Teachers in Love. And, man, you could just see me all over the Internet loving on these kids. So go check me out.

Jamie Hipp

We cannot wait to see more of you. Teaching Trailblazers is a production of the Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. And I’ve been your host Jamie Hipp. This podcast is produced, edited and mixed by Jaime Patterson.