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03-01-2004

Danville, Indiana

Rap, Rhythm & Rhyme:
Danville children learn about writing as they jump, jive and jam

Caroline Wadsworth
Hendricks County Flyer

DANVILLE – Third-graders at Danville North Elementary School are swinging and shouting; gyrating and giggling; jumping and joking. And their teachers aren’t the least bit upset. In face, they even joined in a little.

These students are actually learning to write. Erik Cork, a former newspaper editor, created “Rap, Rhythm & Rhyme: Rebuilding the Writing Foundation,” to teach children across the nation the tools of writing.

“This is a learning party,” he said. “Who said learning has to be boring?” DJ-ing his own party, he lets a play list loose and starts jumping wildly up and down, his hands following the motion of his feet. In the audience, the children do the same.

“OK, OK, sit down,” Cork said over the microphone. “We’ve got to get serious.” The play list timer releases the pause and music blares out again. Teachers watched, exhausted, as order evaporated and children leapt to their feet and sprang into the air.

“OK, no, really,” he said as the music abruptly stopped. But then the rap interrupted him again- again he followed the rhythm, hopping up and down. The students, of course, joined in.

About five minutes later, the music faded away and Cork moved on to the next theme: Who, what, when, where, why and how. Tracing his hand on an overhead chart, he filled out the questions and explained why real writers follow such charts. The students dutifully wrote down his advise just the same as they spent 45 minutes earlier in the day writing down synonyms for words such as cold, good, bad, and said.

Principal Kathryn Raasch said she was more than impressed. “That list of words,” she said. “No way would they have done that in the classroom.”

Cork got started as a teacher when his daughter, now a second-year college student, was in first grade. He said he wanted to enroll her in an enrichment program that was already full. In exchange for teaching one day a week, Cork’s daughter was enrolled in the program and he’s been teaching since.

Music became part of his curriculum when he realized children love music and thy love singing. “My kids sang the words I taught them,” he said. “So I thought I should teach the way they learn.” Cork now spends every day in schools around the country teaching the mechanics of good writing using music.

Raasch said the children here barely even noticed they were learning. The children had different opinion. Delaney Shirven lapped up the music and the education. “My favorite part is to learn with the music,” she said. “You actually learn stuff.”

Will Beaty also said the event was worthwhile. “We get out of class,” he said. “Sometimes we get out of class for no real reason, but this is just fun.”

Whitney Taylor agreed with her classmates. “Sometimes he’s funny,” she said. “I’m going to tell my parents today this was the best day of my life in school.”

Cork said teaching objectives are three-fold: he wants to give the students the tools to improve their ISTEP scores and writing skills; get students involved and energized about writing; and show them how to find their own voice when they write.

“I let them know the rules,” he said “And this allows them to have a voice.” Students can’t develop a voice until they know the rules of writing, he said. Too often, Cork said he thinks this fact is overlooked. “I try to put the students all on the same page, he said. “Don’t start a composition if they don’t know what a sentence is.”