by Heather M. F. Lyke
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I have been using "The Bullpen" with students for years. The lyrics--rich with metaphor, idioms, allusions, and internal rhyme—are calling out for scansion and line-by-line analysis. Students dig in: sucked in by a celebrity name, feminist themes, and the explative in line 10. They often don’t even realize they are annotating poetry until I point it out—until I also toss in a poem by a dead, white, male in quick succession.
Most teachers realize that novelty increases student engagement, but it also improves memory retention of newly learned concepts. A 2020 study, published by Frontiers in Psychology, noted that when new learning is paired with a novel approach, the memory retention of that new concept is enhanced by up to 65%. For many students, rap in the classroom is a definite novelty, and with Dessa’s works interweaving a myriad of content areas—from the U.S. economy to psychology, from slaughtering a cow to falling out of love—her works can be used as a novelty across the board.
Jason Koets, a music teacher from Delano, Minnesota noted that, “It's inspiring to me as an educator to see students become interested in things they don't normally notice because they heard it in a song.”
In addition to novelty, real-world connections engage students. “It is important to draw connections to things outside of the curriculum and to make those connections relatable,” said Scott Lyke, a social studies teacher from Rochester, Minnesota. “That is one of the key ways song lyrics, poetry, and writing pull the consumer in--by presenting a situation in which [the consumer of the art] can see themselves.”
Of course, “music brings emotion, power, and audience to abstract, intellectual, and unapproachable topics. It's inviting and inspiring...” noted Heather Zierhut, a science professor at the University of Minnesota. And creating a tangible route to often intangible concepts is a welcome tool for any classroom teacher.
Why rely on the same old, same old? Perhaps Dessa captures it best in “The Bullpen” when she says, “I refuse to downplay my intelligence / in a room of thugs and rap veterans.” Why should educators downplay the intelligence found in contemporary examples? Surely, it’s not because we’d rather fill the room with only dead, white men.
Classroom Application Suggestions
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