Applying Hip Hop Instructional Practices


Return to: ETAP 623 Spring 2020 (Zhang) | Applying Hip Hop Instructional Practices

Welcome to my course "Applying Hip Hop Instructional Practices"! By completing this course, you will gain an awareness of how to use the hip hop elements as a means to scaffold instruction for students who are typically reported in the so-called "achievement gap". These practices rest within an impetus to challenge the dominant narrative that there is an achievement gap rather than an education debt. It is a subtle shift in framing that has the potential to assist students in making significant gains in education. Enjoy the journey!

About me

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Adrienne D. Oliver is an English educator at a community college in Oakland, CA. She uses hip hop instructional practices to infuse her classes with a student-centered learning perspective. Her approach to building a sense of community among students promotes a culture of high engagement. This year marks her second year studying Curriculum and Instructional Design at the University of Albany.

She eats plant-based, watches documentaries, and writes poetry.


The purpose of this course is to provide training for educators of all levels wishing to better understand equitable practices to teaching both online and face-to-face. My entrypoint into equitable instruction utilizes a critical hip hop framework rooted in critical theory. In this course, educators will experience this framework in a demystifying way, with the aim of being able to make direct applications to their own teaching practice.

Needs Assessment

Within the “organization” of the teaching profession overall, a problem that needs to be solved is the persistent “achievement gap” more aptly called the “education debt” by Gloria Ladson-Billings. There is persistent data pointing to high dropout and low retention rates for minoritized students. What I think has contributed to the problem are current instructional strategies and implicit biases against students of color, alongside systemic issues that contribute to these learning gaps. This system of bias examined through the lens of critical race theory becomes institutional racism (Ladson-Billings, 1995).

Analysis of the Learner and Context

The prior knowledge that educators bring to the classroom is often based upon a teacher training program that does not focus on non-traditional modes of pedagogy, such as hip hop pedagogy. Critical theory, critical hip hop pedagogy, offers an even more unique lens that educators may not have explored in their training programs. Additionally, the emphasis on self, student, and community preservation also addresses non-instructional components within the profession that are often are not addressed in teacher training programs. Collaboration, self-care, and community connection are three primary nodes within this training model, frameworks often ignored. However, educators innately use these frameworks within their everyday life, more than likely, thus they possess a rich frame of reference for applying these skills to teaching. Often, the teacher education program itself teaches educators to compartamentalize and sanction off these elements of self from teaching in favor of a more objective approach. This approach does not consider the community cultural approach to education and teacher reference for framing how they think about pedagogy. In this frame, students bring the pedagogy with them to class rather than the other way around, echoing theoretical concepts offered by Freire, who offered a non-banking approach and a more problem-posing approach and Dewey, who offered a constructivist approach.

Performance Objectives

  • Participants will reflect upon ways to challenge the dominant narrative of US Education.
  • Participants will learn about the hip hop elements.
  • Participants will use newfound awarenesses to infuse a current lesson plan with at least one of the hip hop elements in a critically conscious way.

Curriculum Map

The mini-course consists of three modules File:Instructional Curriculum Map Oliver.pdf

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Module One: Understanding the Critical Lens

Essential Question: What is a critical lens?

Need to know awarenesses to develop this lens: Critical theory

  • Challenges status quo, dominant narrative
  • Prominent theorist include Paulo Freire and Paul-Michel Foucault, though this module focues on the work of Freire
  • Paulo Friere challenges the dominant narrative by suggesting that education move away from a "banking method" to a "problem-posing" method of education
  • Freire defines the banking method as teachers depositing information into students like an empty bank account. He names the practice as teaching within a "deficit" minded model.
  • Friere's problem-posing method is a remedy for the banking method. One researcher breaks it down in the following manner: "...poblem-posing methodology includes five general phases: (1) Identifying a problem, (2) analyzing a problem, (3) developing a plan, (4) implementing the plan, and (5) evaluating the plan" (Akom, p. 57, p. 2009). Akom (2009) furthers that "…problem-posing methodology creates opportunities for young people to engage in what Freire (1970) calls “critical praxis”—reflection and action" (p. 57).
  • For Friere "praxis" is arguably the most important notion of his philosophy. Praxis is the point where education and personal observation must coincide to complement the work of the other.

Who is critically conscious pedagogy for? This theory works well as an educational framework for educators interested in helping students challenge the dominant narratives in education. Social-justice themed courses will find this approach useful. It works especially well in classrooms that include traditionally marginalized students.

Activity #1: WRITE
Consider the following list of top five problematic words in education today:

  1. Drop out
  2. Achievement gap
  3. At-risk
  4. Minority
  5. Standard

WRITE a reflection that answers the following questions and includes a proposal for an alternative way to explain what the above terms imply:

  1. What is meant by the term "dominant narrative"?
  2. What's the status quo in American education?

Module Two: Understanding the Hip Hop Elements as Lens for Education Critique

Essential Question: What are the hip hop elements?
Need to know awareness to develop this lens:
History of how hip hop elements developed

  • Five Elements: Deejaying, Emceeing, B-boy/B-girl, Graffiti, Knowledge
  • In this module we will cover two of the five elements
  • Deejaying or DJ: Considered the foundational element; short for "disc jockey", the person spinning record discs for a crowd of active listeners; DJ Kool Herc often credited as founding forefather of modern hip hop deejaying as known today; Break beat plays an important role, rooted in Jamaican dub, leads to "breaking", a type of dance at extended breaks created by the deejaying craft of mixing records to create an extended break; the art of sampling becomes important to find the perfect beat to extend for a break dance
  • In teaching deejaying becomes--spinning the record discs = readings & activities.
  • Emceeing or MC: An offshoot of deejaying; Radio personalities famously developed the cadence of the MC; Also known as "master/mistress of ceremony" suggesting a role to connect to the crowd and guide them through the experience of an event; today's "rapper", though there is still a distinction between the rapper and emcee, in the hip hop elemental sense of the word, which suggests that the call and response with listeners/audience is essential for someone to be a true "MC"; African roots in signifying & early performers such as The Last Poets and Gil Scott Heron
  • In teaching emceeeing becomes making connection with the "listeners/audience" or moving the student "crowd".

Activity #2: CREATE
Review the "In teaching becomes..." section in the descriptions of each hip hop element. Create a statement about how each hip hop element could serve as a scaffold for learning that supports a new narrative of success that challenges the dominant narrative.

Module Three: Creating Space for a New Narrative

Essential Question: How do I apply the hip hop elements to my current instructional practices?
Activity #3: DESIGN
Select one of the statements you created in module two and design a lesson plan that uses the element in the way you suggested. Choose a current lesson that does not currently use of one of the two hip hop elements explained.

References and Resources

Akom, A. (2009). Critical Hip Hop Pedagogy as a Form of Liberatory Praxis. Equity & Excellence in Education, 42(1), 52–66. Ladson-Billings, G., & Tate, W. F. (1995). Toward a critical race theory of education. Teachers College Record, 97(1), 47–68.
Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). From the Achievement Gap to the Education Debt: Understanding Achievement in U.S. Schools. Educational Researcher, 35 (7), 3–12.