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Transform student engagement: Discovering Lyric Lab and sharing with teachers

Discovering Lyric Lab

For a teacher, sometimes educating students is a process of letting go. As educators, we spend so much time keeping a firm grip on a student’s path to learning. Working for the past few years with a student base that is 99.6% “economically disadvantaged” and difficult to captivate can, and often does, leave me exhausted at the end of each day. A rigid structure in the classroom worked for me for a time; on paper, my students improved. Test scores were up and I was confident that this made me a successful teacher.

But I had lost something important with my students: creativity.

While there is a time and a place for structure in the classroom, my students and I truly felt at our best when we are able to express our creativity, have fun, and learn simultaneously. I could feel my students becoming disinterested in their education by creating this constant, rigid structure in the class—I had stripped students of their critical thinking and unique voice. It was my third year of teaching 8th grade social studies, and I had to change.

“What could I do to show my students that their creativity mattered to me? Let alone, how do I convince the rest of my team and administration that something different was a productive use of class time?”

That’s when I learned about Flocabulary’s Lyric Lab.

The idea was simple enough: with some assisted rhyme-making and pre recorded beats, you create your own rap using the provided vocabulary words. In only 20 minutes I had made a little rhyme about Pilgrims coming to the new world. I set my lyrics to a beat and I… was amazed. This was new and exciting and, dare I say it, fun!

As a joke, I performed it for my class, and immediately they were literally jumping out of their seats. They asked me right away if they could make a rap, too. The excitement I witnessed is difficult to put into words, but for a moment I saw the same passion in their eyes that I saw in myself, and I had to act. My next step was to  share Lyric Lab with everyone in my department.

Overcoming Skepticism from Colleagues

Despite my excitement, my team had their doubts that their students would be able to handle this creative process, and worried at the thought of a loss of control. In a school where many students are English language learners, how, the teachers thought, could students come up with something as complex as lyrical rhymes on their own?

I opened Lyric Lab and showed them the process: putting words to music, and how the program recommends a list of rhymes for the writer. “Well that doesn’t seem too hard, but you’re a very theatrical person. I could never do this,” teachers said. I performed my rap four to five times at staff meetings and the excitement was apparently infectious, as teachers wanted to know more — just where was all this fun coming from, and how could they do it too?

Once the teachers knew how to use the program, I gave them the challenge to write their own Lyric Lab rhymes—just 20 minutes to see what they would come up with. I was thrilled with the outcome. They performed for the department, and we all laughed and shouted at how fun it was. Yet more than just being entertained, once teachers had used Lyric Lab themselves, they realized their understanding of the vocabulary and content was stronger than ever before.

The next goal for Brett and his team was to bring a rap battle to all 8th-grade social studies classes. Were they able to pull it off? Stay tuned for the next post in this series, Transform student engagement: Writing academic rhymes.

Brett Tackett

Brett Tackett is an 8th grade social studies teacher at Aldine ISD in Texas.