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04-19-2007

Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada

Educator Uses Music to Promote Literacy

By Lindsay Jones
The Daily News

How does listening to Beyonće improve literacy? Erik cork can rhyme you the ways. The American educator visited a central Halifax school yesterday using rap, rhythm and rhyme to drill literacy basics into students. His goal is help them improve standardized test scores.

“They will get a better grasp because some of them have no grasp at all,” Cork told the Daily News. “Most students who fall between cracks do so not because they don’t understand the terminology.” He leveled the playing field using beat and melody to teach students about paragraphs, run-on sentences and syntax.

Like a DJ, Cork blasted snippets of artist such as Nelly and 50 Cent and amused the students with his animated teaching style. While learning various synonyms to what Cork calls “baby words,” students bobbed their heads to music and belted out lyrics while taking notes.

“People are going to judge you for the rest of your lives based on the words you use and how you use them,” Cork said. “If you’re trying to write a letter to college, get a scholarship, people are going to make decisions about you based on how you arrange words and phrases.

While the event took place at St. Patrick’s-Alexandra, more than 100 students from Dartmouth and Halifax junior and senior high schools also attended. More are expected to take part today and tomorrow, too.

Auburn Drive High student Tanysha James said she would like to see more educators like Cork. The Grade 10 student said the music engages everyone and makes it easier to learn. I feel like this will inspire me to do better when it comes to my writing, to put more of myself into my work, instead revising it all the time before I finish,” said the Grade 10 student.

James said she was relieved to hear Cork differentiate between casual and proper language. “You don’t have to speak ghetto all the time; you don’t have to speak proper all the time. You can speak both. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s doing what you need to succeed,” she said.

Her classmate, Nyshea Sparks, said when her peers say she’s “talking white, talking prissy” she will tell them she’s “talking green.” “I’m talking money. Because I’m going to have a good job, a good career: I’m not going to be working at McDonald’s flipping burgers all day. I want to be somebody.”

Sparks said she never expected the day to be so much fun. “I thought, ‘this is going to be so boring’ – that we were just going to sit ere and learn how to write an essay – but it’s things that I use everyday, like music, my Ipod. It’s such a great way.”

Ken Fells, St. Patrick’s Alexandria principal, brought Cork to Halifax to help African Nova Scotian students and show teachers other ways to teach students.

The recent province-wide test results showed that 50 percent of students at St. Pat’s-A weren’t meeting expectations in reading and 38 percent struggled in reading. Another board-wide survey showed African Nova Scotian students scored below average in literacy.