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 Nelia Wolosky, one of our pilot educators from Brooklyn, New York. Nelia serves as a curriculum coach, teaching Social Studies and English Language Arts at Middle School 88.
When did you begin teaching Rock and Roll: An American Story (RRAS) in your classroom?
I encountered the Rock and Roll: An American Story curriculum back in the spring of 2013 while doing research in an attempt to write my own music curriculum. Imagine my surprise when I found that the Rock and Roll Foundation had already written one and it was exactly what I had envisioned. I explored the site further and notice that they were looking for educators to participate in the first Summer Institute. I applied, was accepted, and began using the curriculum that September.
What has been the greatest strength of incorporating RRAS lessons into your courses?
The curriculum has been so intuitive in anticipating all the angles of a topic. As an educator I know that one can begin a lesson on a topic and the conversation can go in an entirely different, yet related, direction. The resources are so valuable when this happens.
Is there a particular lesson or discussion you recall that really engaged your students? How so?
The Elvis and Race in 1950s America lesson, was extremely engaging for my students. We went from an introduction to Elvis and the fact that he was born and raised in the South, to a deep conversation about race. Students took the discussion forward to the Civil Rights era and debated whether Elvis was breaking norms. We even discussed current events in the South today. As a result of this lesson, students explored race through time, space, and music.
What are some ways you've innovated or added onto the lessons?
When teaching lessons from British Invasion I: The Beatles, I engage the students in something I refer to as an “influence exercise." The students name their current favorite artist and then research who influenced or inspired that artist. Going back further, who influenced or inspired their inspiration? And so on. It typically stretches back to early Rock and Roll or Rhythm & Blues. This exercise keeps the curriculum relevant to the students’ own music interest and inspires respect for artists of the past. In addition, it meets the Common Core research standards.
Do you have any advice to a teacher just starting to use the RRAS curriculum?
I strongly recommend developing a large timeline in your classroom. When teaching some of these lessons, it will be necessary to jump around time periods in order to establish context. A visual timeline keeps students from getting confused.
Photos from Neila Wolosky's Class, 2015: