Teacher Spotlight: John Soi from Accord, New York

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 John Soi, one of our pilot educators from Accord, New York. John teaches a high school Social Studies elective called History of Rock and Roll at Rondout Valley High School.



When did you begin teaching Rock and Roll: An American Story (RRAS) in your classroom?

I have been teaching for 18 years.  For eight years I have taught a Social Studies elective called History of Rock & Roll. I started incorporating RRAS into my lessons three years ago.  I am currently planning on teaching the entire curriculum.

What has been the greatest strength of incorporating RRAS lessons into your courses?

RRAS has helped to legitimize the study of Rock & Roll.  Lessons are aligned with school district’s standards but allow teachers to personalize instruction. I believe the combination of audio, visual, graphic art and high quality lesson plans with worksheets make the curriculum very strong.

Is there a particular lesson or discussion you recall that really engaged your students? How so?

The lessons that include contrasting images are extremely effective in stimulating discussions, such as The Blues and the Great Migration which includes photographs of Muddy Waters in rural Mississippi and, later, in Chicago. During The Rise of the “Girl Groups” lesson, we had a very thoughtful discussion about whether “Girl Groups”  represented a new era of empowerment for women or a continuation of traditional roles. And Punk as Reaction is perfectly presented and illustrates the contrast between big Rock bands and the emerging Punk scene in the 1970s. Students have left that class encouraged that they can play their own music.

What are some ways you've innovated or added onto the lessons?

Students put their name and a few songs they are currently enjoying on an index card. At the end of each class we randomly pick a card and play a song.  We first try to guess whose song it is, we then ask that person to identify early influences they can hear in their song i.e. Gospel, Blues, or Folk.  We call the activity “Favorite Song of the Day.” The students really enjoy the activity and never let class end without reminding me to pick a song.

Do you have any advice to a teacher just starting to use the RRAS curriculum?

Use it! You do not have to follow a script and be a teacher-robot. The resources are abundant and high quality.  There are plenty of opportunities to adjust the lesson to fit your classroom.  Students of all types are engaged by this curriculum. This is the curriculum to connect with hard-to-reach students.

Photos from John Soi’s "History of Rock & Roll" classroom: