Lesson Plan: Shakespeare via Rap
The Importance of Aesthetic Education by Maxine Greene
"Education,"as I view it, is a process of enabling persons to become different, to enter the multiple provinces of meaning that create perspectives on the works. To enter these provinces (be they those identified with the arts, the social sciences, the natural sciences), the learner must break with the taken for granted, what some call the "natural attitude," and look through the lenses of various ways of knowing, seeing, and feeling in a conscious endeavor to impose different orders upon experience.
"Aesthetic education," then, is an intentional undertaking designed to nuture appreciative, reflective, cultural, participatory engagements with the arts by enabling learners to notice what is there to be noticed, and to lend works of art their lives in such a way that they can achieve them as variously meaningful. When this happens, new connections are made in experience: new patterns are formed, new vistas are opened. Persons see differently, resonate differently; as Rilke wrote in one of his poems, they are enabled to pay heed when a work of art tells them, "You must change your life." (1940/1974, p.93).
Excerpts taken from Maxine Greene's work, Variations On A Blue Guitar: The Lincoln Center Institute Lectures on Aesthetic Education
Reframing a Rigid World
We have all heard of and used the adage, "it is written in stone," in so many instances. In fact, it has been overused in my opinion because nothing should be unmovable or petrified. The act of living and learning are processes that need to be fluid, exponential and fertile like the beings who embark on these journeys.
To that end, as educators, we must be mindful of the fact that the products in our care, those we have sworn a dedication to academically enrich are organic living beings. And, like all living things, they need to be given experiences that will extricate them from stagnation and enable them to grow.
Unfortunately, the sad state of affairs in our educational system today, the current reforms, have devolved academia into a "genericized"conveyor built product that is only fit to service a fixed institutionalized setting. It is why we no longer hold a position of strength in this sector of the marketplace globally.
It is my fervent hope, that during my lifetime, I would love to see a return to authenticity in education that parallels current needs, where the arts will be embraced, uniting subject matter across many disciplines, captivating hearts, illuminating minds, elevating discourse and provoking learners to want more than the mundane.
Shakespeare via Rap
The most important thing we can do as educators is to facilitate learning by making the learning, "student centered." We must also make the learning relevant to the students we teach.
So, how do we go about morphing critical works like Shakespeare's, Romeo and Juliet into a palatable feast? Well, simply put, we configure it to the culture we are educating. And, that culture feeds off of reality shows and musical competitions.
Having said that, creating a learning experience aligned to this structure is easily executed and I will blueprint the steps for you as follows:
1. Decide which reality show interests your students the most. Yes, take a vote. Align it with the election process. Work with the social studies department and hold an election (America Votes!).
2. An Exemplar: Let's say you are going to reconfigure the program, The Voice. Students are assigned the homework of watching this program and understanding its dynamics. A review of the show will be conducted in class, possibly seeing a DVD version if time permits. Have the class vote for 4 judges. The four judges will be responsible for the blind auditions (and that means that the judges will have to understand the passages being auditioned---does the rap align with the essence of meaning from the original work?). Students will read passages from the critical work, digest these passages and then they will spin them into "rap" versions and sing them (or recite them) for the judges. A side bar: You have to understand what you have read in order to transform it into a rap version (comprehension).
3. Once the class has voted and has studied the format being used, the critical work is to be divided among the student body. Every student then becomes a "peer tutor" to the rest of the class by virtue of having to convey meaning borne from the verse they are responsible for delivering.
4. Executing this mission will have to be divided into the periods you allot for this critical work to be covered (a bells and cells approach, unfortunately). However, wouldn't it be cool to conduct it in the auditorium and to the totality of the student body in the building? Just saying.......
5. This process should evolve until the entire work is completed and digested.
Summing it all Up
This lesson should help students to not only enjoy Shakespeare, but to understand his work and be able to articulate its meaning in a very palpable way.
This can be elevated even more by creating an open forum for the audience, opening it up to questioning by audience members and/or underscoring important verses from the raps, drawing connections to the original body of work, much like a Socratic circle. Getting everyone involved is essential (the motivational aspect).
In any event, have fun with the learning (you and the students). Teach them that although we read bodies of work from other eras, these pieces have relevance in today's culture.