Harnessing ‘Hamilton’: 6 ways to use hip-hop pedagogy

Hip-hop connects with student teachers and guides them in engaging young learners, professor says
Nolan Jones
Nolan Jones

Hip-hop as a teaching tool is not limited to Lin-Manuel Miranda and ‘Hamilton’—it’s works in at least one college of education.

A hip-hop approach connects with student teachers and guides them in engaging the young learners they will eventually serve, says Nolan Jones, an assistant adjunct professor in the Online Master’s in Educational Leadership program at Mills College in Oakland, California.

With renewed energy behind the Black Lives Matter movement, hip-hop pedagogy is effective because it transcends class, culture, and gender, and can be a catalyst for positive changes, Jones says.

“Hip-hop is more than just music, hip-hop is also a creative, resilient youth culture that incorporates deejaying, break-dancing, graffiti art, knowledge, fashion, language, entrepreneurialism, and health,” Jones says.

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“With so many creative elements to choose from, there are endless pedagogical possibilities in the classroom,” Jones says.

Here are six reasons, Jones says, why hip-hop pedagogy is effective:

1. Different elements appeal to different students. 

The political messages behind graffiti art speak to some students, the technological savvy of a DJ intrigues others, and hip-hop dance can be liberating in the face of discrimination, Jones says.

2. One component resonates with everyone

Health and wellness. Jones uses this topic to guide student discussions about food and environmental justice, mental health, and climate change, among other issues.

3. Hip-hop pedagogy works in three ways.

Instructors can teach hip-hop history, culture, and current events as a subject. They can also use hip-hop to explore identity development from a political and social lens.

And, hip-hop can also serve as an interdisciplinary bridge to other academic subjects.

“The third approach is what Lin-Manual Miranda used when he created the Broadway show Hamilton,” Jones says. “This was an example of using hip-hop to teach a history lesson. The only limit is in our imagination.”

4. The application of hip-hop pedagogy in higher ed and K-12 is the same.

First, instructors must study hip-hop before bringing the pedagogy to the classroom. Then, whether it’s college or K-12, instructors must develop student-centered lessons that are authentic and provide autonomy

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“Be yourself and have fun,” Jones says. “Make sure your students are co-creators in selecting songs, graffiti art, spoken word.”

There are several hip-hop-inspired learning tools, including Rhymes with Reason, Flocabulary, Gifted and Lit, Jones notes.

5. Hip-hop focuses on students’ strengths. 

“What this style of teaching can do is move away from deficit teaching, minimize microaggressions, and create a more inclusive classroom environment that validates all voices and cultures,” Jones says.

6. Race and social justice are a natural part of hip-hop pedagogy.

Hip-hop artists have always “sounded the alarm about social injustice and racism in America,” Jones says.

“Both K-12 and institutions of higher ed have the potential to dramatically shape the learning environment in a positive way,” he says. “If hip-hop pedagogy is implemented in the right way, at the classroom and institutional level, students will respond and experience an infectious sense of belongingness.”

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Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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