For the 2015-16 school year, the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation has partnered with 11 educators who we selected to participate in the Rock and Roll: An American Story pilot program. The teachers span middle school, high school, and the university level, teaching in seven states including New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Ohio, Colorado, and California. All teachers are leading either a semester-length or yearlong course using the Rock and Roll: An American Story curriculum.
We recently interviewed Frank Faconti, one of our pilot educators. Frank teaches a course entitled "Musical Poetry," an English Language Arts class, at FDR High School in Brooklyn, NY.
When did you begin teaching Rock and Roll: An American Story (RRAS) in your classroom?
I began teaching a variant of “Musical Poetry” in 2014. When I did a search and found teachrock.org – what a discovery! I began using the lessons for that term. Initially it was only a semester class, but this past summer I created a yearlong course, using the structure of the four Curriculum Books. I teach two Books each term. I am blessed to have an Assistant Principal, Mr. Poska, who had the vision to support the yearlong course so that I could cover the entire curriculum.
What has been the greatest strength of incorporating RRAS lessons into your courses?
I think the greatest strength of this curriculum is that you have done such a masterful job of gaining access to so many clips of artists from every genre to tell the story of Rock and Roll. In addition, I love the fact that these lessons are aligned with Common Core State Standards and ready for administrators. Finally, the lessons provide multiple entry points for various learners to get involved with the rich and rigorous curriculum.
Is there a particular lesson or discussion you recall that really engaged your students? How so?
The video resources are what most students prefer. They are mostly hearing music that they have never encountered. I also think that the descriptions of historical moments are very important to the students. Today I was discussing The Birth of the Electric Guitar and I focused on Les Paul and told some personal trivia about hearing how he had taken phonograph needle, a telephone mouthpiece and a radio speaker from his own home to begin the process of developing the electric guitar. They seem to appreciate that I have this personal knowledge to share with them.
What are some ways you've innovated or added onto the lessons?
I love to improvise with the script. Because I am a musician, with the knowledge of growing up with the early Rock and Roll influence of an older sister in the late ‘50s, I can add some of my own experiences. This year I taught Thematic Lessons: Love Songs which features an interview with Dion. I showed the students his performances of “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer,” which showcased not only the incredibly electrifying music of Dion and The Belmonts, but two opposing types of love songs! When we heard Dion mention in the interview how he flew to Chicago to play on the tour with Buddy Holly and Richie Valens, my students said, “Wow!” They didn’t know that he was on that tour with those artists just before the plane crash tragedy. This was fascinating because we had recently completed the posters of Buddy Holly, There are so many connections these lessons make for the students. Even I am learning new facts in the process. It’s awesome!
Do you have any advice to a teacher just starting to use the RRAS curriculum?
I would offer the advice that teachers should consider spacing the lessons out. Plan to extend them for more than a day or two, as most of the lessons are very deep and if you try to cover everything in one period, you may leave out some of the best moments. Try to use what you are familiar with when choosing which lessons to teach, but I also think it’s essential to begin at The Birth of Rock and Roll to show where the music came from, the evolution. It’s been laid out so well; those early lessons are essential.
What piece of student work would you like to share with us?
I am so excited to be able to share some posters that have become instant hits with both students and faculty. We not only did the Chuck Berry posters, but I also added the new Electric Guitar posters with Elvis, Chuck, Buddy and Bo! I spent my Teacher’s Choice money on materials for the students to make these posters and it paid off. In total, there are 25 posters hanging in the hallway; their work is inspiring.