November 27, 2011

Some Perspectives on Hip Hop for Formative Assessment & Learning

Walking back from dinner in Brisbane last week, Tom and I spotted something brilliant: mistakes. Lots of them.

A group of a half dozen streetdancers were practicing the hard stuff, and it's the part of streetdance that we never see. To get really good at something, you have to practice the hard stuff, not just rejoice in the cool, do-able, 'easy' parts. You have to prepared for a fall, and for your friends laughing at your expense!

Tom had the (Dutch?) courage to go and start asking some questions while I set up the tripod, and Paul, leader of the crew, came over for a chat that he allowed us to record. In it he reveals just how much hip hop practice is a genuinely superb example of formative assessment in action. I don't think he had read Dylan Wiliam's Inside the Black Box, but he might as well have done. Here, you can see talented dancers somewhat hiding away in the dark of a vestibule, practicing the bits they don't want anyone to see. It's a great example of where not having an audience is incredibly important, or at least, only having an audience that one can trust.

You can listen to the interview for yourself, but listen out for these key points:

  • We have the same foundations, it's like the same language to describe what we're doing, and we build on it.
  • If I like what I see then I wouldn't do the same thing - they'd say that I had "no soul". Instead, I'll do something different that's still built on the same foundations.
  • If I see someone not spending enough time on the tricky stuff, then I'll tell them. They might try it slower, faster, higher...
  • Sometimes people "take the Mickey", and tell each other that something's bad, but generally we always try to help each other, keep it all positive.

Meanwhile, Céline Azoulay-Lewin Facebooked me the video clip of a teacher, Sam Seidel, who, with a group of demanding students in a juvenile prison, found that Hip Hop was the key passion they shared, the key mechanism not only of engagement, but in turning these young people who had been told they were at society's bottom rung into responsible leaders with something worth sharing. He asks: what can educators learn from hip hop?


He points out:

  • Aspiring visual artists realising that they didn't need a gallery to promote their work
  • The high school drop out putting his entrepreneurial hustle into action to stop selling drugs, to sell CDs out the back of his car to selling products in Macy's;
  • You don't need a huge number of resources to make a big hit - the hip hop community has a habit of turning something out of nothing, sampling others' music to make new sounds, for example;
  • We can sample and mix multiple teaching techniques, rather than thinking there's a right way to do something;
  • We can try and make a "hot beat for today" - yesterday's way of teaching is yesterday's way of teaching - what can we do to recycle, remix and try something fresh in the hope that it's better than what went before?
  • What refuse could we be dancing on? What is the cutback or the 'trash' of yesterday that can feed innovation today?



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Wow! that is awesome! Elizabeth st is sometimes a scary place after dark (I know, I used to hang out there back in the 'day') - but just stopping and chatting with these guys has led to such an amazing example of how learning so often does not take place in the classroom. I would lay money on the fact that these guys were not particularly 'into' school - and yet they have a better grasp of the learning process than some teachers...Thank you for sharing a gem of wisdom captured from the street - and a Brisbane st, no less!!

Awesome. I watched the Sam Seidel a while back and was very impressed to say the least.

The one aspect that unites both groups of "learners" though is that they WANT to do what they are doing. In other words, a lot of engagement, arguably the core of engagement is done for the teacher. Not so easy when it is a subject they are not interested in.

I guess the counter argument to that is for education to find the engaging interest where the learner can learn a variety of 'subjects', topics, skills etc through that medium (e.g. gaming to teach Maths, English etc). Yet the issue there becomes practicalities for much of education. The logistics of so many students and so much content to get through with such varieties of needs and wants.

Having said all that, I still love the concept and want to embrace it.

@Nick / @largerama - Getting around those very practicalities to achieve what you're talking about has become the bread and butter of NoTosh over this past two years. We're discovering that, generally, when you get a group of enthusiastic teachers together in a room with their principal, amazing things happen. Belief is suspended enough for the Principal to see the potential and the conditions are right to give things a shot. The results have been stupendous. We'll be blogging more on these in the weeks and months to come. Keep your eyes peeled!

Would lurve to see that in a secondary, whole school situ. That must be incredible

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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