HCC Professor Uses Hip-Hop To Jazz Up His Classes

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Rizoh
William Moore in his element at HCC
William Moore can recite The Roots' "How I Got Over" from top to bottom, down to Black Thought's rhythm and cadence. The only thing he's missing is Thought's mean mug and dark shades; he prefers an amiable smile and rimmed glasses.

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Moore, a Houstonian by way of New Orleans, has been around music his whole life. His siblings played everything from gospel and jazz to country and rock. His neighbor in New Orleans was Grammy-winning jazz maestro and film score composer Terrence Blanchard.

Moore teaches College Reading and Career Planning at Houston Community College's Southeast campus. Yawn. Given the option, some students would rather have a lobotomy than take such boring classes, but Moore may have found a way to make reading irresistible: He uses hip-hop and jazz as instruments and teaching tools, an idea that came from another idea.

"When I was working with elementary school students, they would say all these interesting rhymes and songs and remember that stuff," says Moore. "Then, they'll read a paragraph and totally forget what it was about. So I understood that these songs and rhymes and all these games that they're playing, this stuff has a flow. It has a rhythm. So that's how I started using songs in my class."

Moore challenged his students to apply the same skill to a different topic: Reading. Same concept, different context.

"If you analyze one of Jay-Z's songs or if you analyze a song from the Roots or take a love song from Maxwell, then you can understand exactly what that means," offers Moore. "The idea is that if you can understand this verse, then you can understand the intricacies of this language or this poem or this article."

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The process is simple. Moore plays a song, puts his students in groups and tells them to discuss the content of the song. What comes next is the most crucial part of the technique.

"I also ask them to generate questions, because one of the responsibilities you have as a reader is that you have to respond to the reading," he says.

This is what makes Moore's approach unique. Most students read to find answers, but his students read to find answers and generate questions of their own. Naturally, Moore also stresses reading between the lines. He cites Jay-Z's "Moment of Clarity" as an example of a song with a meaning that isn't always obvious to passive listeners.

"I was trying to teach them the author's tone. And by tone I mean the author's attitude towards the subject," he explains. "I really wanted them to understand that in order to be a good reader you have to be very attentive.


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