On Monday I introduced the avoir rap to my Year 7 students. I’d made the brave, some might say foolish, decision to introduce this to them by doing the rap myself, rather than getting them to watch the youtube clip. In the staffroom at briefing, I tried to entice my fellow Year 7 LOTE teachers to do the same, but they decided to go for the safety of the clip as an introduction.
When I told my Year 7s we were going to do some rapping as a way of memorising irregular verbs, some looked positively terrified. You could almost see the awkwardness leeching out of their pores. Not wanting to step away from a challenge, I was determined to convert awkwardness into awesome- I just wasn’t sure how successful I would be in doing this.
I began to rap- my woefully out of tune voice alone in the classroom. Students shifted in their seats, a mix of fear, shyness and probably a healthy degree of scepticism as they looked at me moving around the room, tapping out beats on tables.
The silence from the students was almost deafening.
In these moments I am always interested in which students leap in first to participate and which ones hang back, waiting on the edges of the classroom, waiting to see what their peers think before they decide to act. The students who would probably not be considered ‘popular’ by their school yard peers were the first to leap in, voices raised, they used their hands on their desks to create a beat. Their ‘popular’ counterparts stayed silent, eyes flickering around the room as they battled internally to work out how they might be altered if they chose to join in.
More voices chimed in. Hands tapped desks. The noise level rose.
I wandered around the room, stopping to tap on different desks, reminding students that we were all taking a risk by using our voice in this way, encouraging them to join me in the risk taking. It’s harder for them than me, much harder for a self-conscious 12 year old to join in when crippled by fear of what peers might think of them rapping with their dorky French teacher.
More voices joined in. Hands tapped desks. The noise level rose.
Looking around the room again I saw laughter, smiling and relaxed students. The girls were at ease before the boys, who took longer to get caught up in the wave of sound, looking at their shoes, they mumbled before finally giving in and allowing themselves to be swamped, and suddenly, for one moment, we rapped as one.
Later that day my year 8s were introduced to the rap battle as a way of learning verbs. Unlike the year 7s we were not simply using the rap someone else had created, we were going to create our own rap to learn the parts of the irregular verb faire. Once again, I began by showing students the avoir rap, my voice warbling, my hands tapping to show them the concept. I told them we were going to create a rap and before I could say it, they chimed in with ‘And we can have a rap battle!’. I then told them we’d also be battling with students from another school, causing more cries of ‘It’s a cross school battle!’
I got them to work in small groups to come up with their own ideas for faire and in this room there was a difference between the girls and boys, but this time the roles were reversed. The boys were excited and enthusiastic about the rap, while the girls were more hesitant, using the avoir scaffold as their model and having difficulty in moving beyond that. The boys meanwhile, chatted enthusiastically about possible lines and rhymes. I have two students who joined the class this year, entering French at Year 8 without the Year 7 learning behind them, one of them has been quiet, seemingly reluctant to participate in activities where his lack of knowledge might be on display. On Monday a broad smile was on his face and he asked if he could use music from his USB as the backing track to his emerging rap. Ideas were shared and mix together. We decided to revisit our ideas next week and the students filtered out of the classroom and on their way.
On Tuesday Year 7s filed into class and their first words were the words from the rap. ‘We can’t get it out our head Madame!’ They laughed, they moved their arms and they began to rap without thinking of what others in the classroom might think.
This week we have begun to learn the way we might remember verbs and how to conjugate them, and we have begun to join our voices, ideas and experiences together. I’m hoping that we have embarked on more than just our rap battle.