Paul R. Lehman, Flocabulary, a fad or effective teaching tool

October 3, 2010 at 7:29 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments
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Recently a number of teachers in the Oklahoma City school district voiced some concern about a new program introduced into the school system. The program is called Flocabulary and uses rap, its main ingredient, as a teaching tool. The program is used primarily for at-risk students in grades 3 to 12. The program is designed using hip hop and rap music as a way to help student learn facts. As with any new program disagreements will exist questioning the program’s merit and this one is no different. Some teachers find some aspects of the program positive, some find parts negative. After viewing the promotion video and listening to some of the sample raps of the program, more questions are created than answered concerning the program’s merits. These questions involve the teacher, the student, and the parent.

For the teacher, any program introduced into the classroom will naturally address three specific areas—time, creativity, and control. Depending on the subject-matter and the students, the teacher must budget the time to try and complete the objective established for that period. If the program that is being used consumes a large segment of time that conflicts with the period, then both the students and the teacher are deprived. The teacher must decide if the investment in the program is worth the valued the students receive. Since time is the most valuable element at the teacher’s disposal, it must be used to the students’ best advantage.

The next concern for the teacher deals specifically with teaching and creativity. If students could acquire the necessary skills without a teacher, then there would be no need for one. However, we all know that teaching is an art and each teacher has his/her own special way of approaching their students and objectives. A knowledge of each student’s strengths and weaknesses always factors into the teacher’s teaching technique. The teacher must decide for the students’ benefit if a program meets the needs of all the students or just some of the students. Programs alone cannot challenge students; only teachers who are aware of their students’ capabilities can accomplish that undertaking. The very nature of most programs is objective and not student specific. The teacher must decide if using a program diminishes his/her ability to utilize the skills and talents needed to address the students’ needs. Programs like Flocabulary might serve as a form of entertainment for some students after the object material has been presented by the teacher, but not as a substitute.

The third question the teacher must deal with involves control of the students, the material, and the atmosphere. For most, if not all, of the students today, the Hip Hop name and sound reflect a form of entertainment. If a teacher introduces such a program into the learning environment, he/she must know that the students’ behavior will be affected immediately. If the teacher is to control the students’ behavior during this time, he/she must prepare the students in advance. In addition, the teacher must be conversant with the material to be presented in order to ensure that the object is being met in the manner expected; that is, the students understand that the Hip Hop program is a teaching/learning tool and not simply a form of entertainment. If the teacher fails to control either of these elements, losing control of the environment is a certainty.

Before teachers choose to participate in a program such as Flocabulary, they must ask and answer the questions concerning the program ability to stimulate, motivate, and continue the students’ learning. How will the program stimulate the students to learn or address the objective? If the program’s objective is to simply challenge the students to recall information instead of incorporating the information into a development form, then the students are being underserved. In addition to the program offering material that stimulates the students, it must also serve to motivate the students to accept more challenges. If the program fails to motivate the students to go further, then it does not meet its objective. For the program to have merit, the teachers must recognize the effective qualities of the program and how and if they benefit the students. If the students are not left with a desire to continue their investigation, search or inquiry relative to the program’s objective after the program has concluded, then the program served only as entertainment for the student.

One of the teacher’s dissatisfied with the Hip Hop Flocabulary program stated that she believed the teachers, students and public has been cheated in the use of the program. While we cannot speak to the specifics of her concern relative to the program, we can acknowledge that the parents as well as the public should be aware of the program’s objectives, the expectations for the students, and a sense of the outcome of the program’s use relative to the students’ who participated in it. The students should not be used as guinea pigs relative to the program. For example, does the program seek to promote correct grammar and word choice? Does the tone of the speakers engender respect and appreciation for the material? Will the students be prepared to transition from the program to a traditional teaching format and atmosphere? What is used to determine the success of the program; that is, is the emphasis on the success of the students or on the success of the program? Does the program benefit all students exposed to it or is it designed as a tool for some special students?

The chairperson of the Oklahoma City School Board as well as the Superintendent both registered concerns relative to the program and promised to become better informed before allowing its continuance in the classroom. If a mind is truly a terrible thing to waste, then this word to the informed is sufficient.

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13 Comments »

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