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Teaching Fellows host researcher on hip-hop in the classroom

Christopher Emdin's visit to Elon included an evening talk and workshops on theories supporting the use of hip-hop culture to reach students.

Assistant Professor Christopher Emdin of Teachers College, Columbia University, during a March 8 morning workshop in LaRose Digital Theatre.


An expert on the use of hip-hop culture to better teach students in urban schools visited Elon University this month for public events that shared with faculty and students the science behind his innovative methods.

Christopher Emdin, an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University, spoke March 7 for the annual Teaching Fellow’s Speaker Series event in Whitley Auditorium. The talk, “Reality Pedagogy: Teaching & Learning from the Student’s Standpoint,” centered on his thesis that “teaching is not divorced from the cultural things that are going on.”

He followed his evening presentation the next day with two workshops for Teaching Fellows on hip-hop and education. The workshops offered Emdin an opportunity to build on his remarks from the Wednesday night lecture.

Emdin on Wednesday evening introduced five researched-based tools for implementing reality pedagogy: co-generative dialogues, co-teaching, cosmopolitanism, context and content. He said that in order to be able to get to a level where students are both engaged and responsive, there are several realities that future teachers must acknowledge.

“Teaching is not ignoring those issues [cultural differences], it’s embedding yourself in them,” Emdin argues.

The first reality, he said, is that teachers are different from the students they are teaching. Differences come in the form of age, race, ethnicity and gender, among other traits. Teachers must also recognize that students are able to communicate with each other more effectively than teachers are able to communicate to their students.

Teachers have to be willing to accept that content cannot be taught successfully without this acknowledgement, he said.

To teach our students effectively, educators have to not only accept their differences, but tailor education to these differences. For example, Edmin claimed that hip hop is a structure that many students are familiar with, so teachers should be using this structure to help students to learn, as opposed to using more traditional teacher-led and student-absorbed models.

“Teaching is not ignoring those issues [cultural differences], it’s embedding yourself in them,” Emdin said.

Emdin said that many minority students, particularly black males, are not succeeding because of what education has done for them; rather they are succeeding in spite of it. To reverse the cycle, Emdin said, teachers must reach students through the means by which they are already learning and absorbing information, such as social media and hip hop.

Emdin gave the example of the popular DJ Khalid song where he says “hands go up, and then they stay there,” and listeners move to the words of the song. In addition, Emdin said that while social media such as Facebook and Twitter have been a taboo in the classroom setting, teachers need to infuse classrooms with such tools to help students learn how to use them appropriately as a means to express the content they are learning.

While Emdin acknowledged that hip-hop is not for every teacher or every classroom, he said he strongly believes that no matter what the cultural influences that are meaningful to students may be, they are the tools that we must use to reach students.

Emdin has ties to Elon University; his niece is a scholar in the Elon Academy college access and enrichment program for students in Alamance County.

- Written by Julie Tonnesen ’13, North Carolina Teaching Fellow

Eric Townsend,
3/15/2012 12:18 PM