Imagine learning the English language through rhythm, rhyme and rap!
Yes, English language specialist Jason R Levine has been doing precisely that and more. He has developed an approach to English language teaching based on songs that he writes and performs.
In Oman for a trip put together by the US Embassy in Muscat, as part of the US Department of State's English Access Microscholarship Program (Access), Jason shared his teaching methods with students and teachers throughout the Sultanate's governorates, using songs and hip hop to promote accurate and fluent use of the English language.
What inspired him to develop this unique approach? Jason said, "In the past I was a hip hop DJ and worked in the music industry a little bit. I did that as I was also studying psychology in education. Though I began teaching without using music, I had these two separate interests and experiences.
The reason I started making songs was because I saw students struggling to learn the basics in the language which really needed to be learnt through repetition. So if you are in a natural environment where you hear and read English over and over again you can build that foundation without any external help. In most cases that is not what happens; when you learn a second language you need more input and exposure.
"Traditionally, the ways of doing that was very boring. It was just repeating sentences from a book or listening to a same conservation. So I wanted something that students would enjoy and really repeat. Songs are things we naturally repeat.
But I realised that high school college students didn't want songs because they felt songs were for kids. That is when I realised that I can take what I know about making music and making songs that contain the kind of grammar structures and vocabulary that they needed to achieve their goals in that particular curriculum or country.-
For the past several years, Jason was developing and working on this song approach. These songs, called 'ColloTunes', and the supplementary materials he creates for them, promote the acquisition and use of collocations to enhance proficiency across the four skills. ColloTunes focus on areas of grammar and vocabulary learning that teachers typically find difficult or boring to teach. Jason makes videos for his songs, which he posts on YouTube and promotes them on Facebook, where he is an active administrator of a number of English language teaching/English language learning groups and social media pages.
Jason, however, stresses that this is not a method. "What really interests me is material design and trying to fulfill a need that teachers may have -” whatever the age of the students, whatever they teach students or whatever the goals.
"My approach is about how I can make materials that teachers can bring in to supplement what they are already doing. Any teacher could use the song or the video or the book to supplement what they are doing,- Jason said.
After earning an MA in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL), Jason taught at several schools before becoming director of curriculum development for a number of State Department English programmes. Then, in 2002, he cofounded a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) preparation school for international students in Manhattan. He is currently the academic director of CAMPUS Education, a privately-owned English language institute with centers in the US and overseas.
"The US Department of State was really the impetus for everything to get going and I started with Morocco. The nice thing was they knew my work through YouTube and Facebook. I have been to Tunisia too,- he said.
He is currently on a six-week tour visiting and making presentations in various countries including Bahrain, Oman, Palestine, Jordan, and Morocco.
"But I have reached students in Indonesia and Malaysia whom I have never met through social media. The great thing is we can connect this way. The reaction has been generally positive and if teachers have not liked something or wanted to change something, they have given me their feedback and I have changed it. That is what has been rewarding about reaching out through social media,- he explained. Talking about his interaction with students in Muscat, Sohar, Buraimi and Nizwa, Jason said, "It was nice being able to represent my ideas.
Mentioning that he would be thrilled if teachers in Oman decide to use his material, Jason said, "Teachers know that students are watching videos on YouTube and they like to see the sub-titles or get the lyrics. That is a very powerful combination of reading and listening to learn. The more easily students can recall information, the more confident and curious they become. When repetitive practice is relaxing and enjoyable, they want to do it. They are motivated to learn and are ready to take it to the next level.-
The best part of his materials is that they are designed in a way that teachers don't have to chant or rap in class. "Their primary role is to follow and monitor student progress. Besides, if students are motivated and see the video outside classroom, then they are doing homework,- he pointed out.
In 2011, Jason wrote the chants for the upcoming edition of the Oxford English Picture Dictionary for Kids. He is currently writing songs for a new OUP series for adults and a series for children in Turkey. He is chair-elect of the TESOL interest group Video and Digital Media.
"I am also writing English language learning materials for several publishers, including Oxford University Press,- he informed.