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Children struggling with reading? Dump Shakespeare's sonnets and Katherine Mansfield and instead concentrate on Scribe and Nesian Mystik.

A Rotorua speech therapist and literacy expert is bringing rap music into the classroom - and in just one term children's reading ability under the programme is at least a level higher than before.

Annette Stock came up with "Rap on the Road to Reading" after working with disaffected students who "spent more time outside the classroom than inside it".

She wanted to come up with a way of catching students' attention with a subject of interest and relevance to them.

"Most of them are fascinated that a grey-haired 58-year-old is listening to rap," Ms Stock said. "It is what they are listening to so it makes sense to bring it into the classroom."

But Ms Stock has set her own strict rules.

The music must be by a New Zealand artist, it has to have a relatively slow beat and the lyrics must be clear.

Anything with sex, drugs, violence, swearing or degradation of women is banned, which Ms Stock admits can limit the choice.

"My older kids could not believe it when they found mum listening to hours and hours of rap, but it has all the features you need to develop literacy."

The project has been piloted with a class at Rotorua Intermediate School. It is designed to engage children who are struggling with reading and have been through other remedial programmes which have not worked for them.

Children listen to the music, are even allowed to demonstrate break-dancing, and then are set comprehension tasks around the lyrics.

Rotorua Intermediate principal Garry de Thierry said the programme had been an enormous success. Struggling students were suddenly interested in reading and were studying language structures, rhyme, word recognition and word patterns.

"They are able to see a link between their life and their school work, and they are getting the recognition they want that they are no longer children."

Although there had been no formal assessment of the programme's impact, Mr de Thierry said all students in the class had improved by at least one level in their reading ability.

"And their attitudes have changed," he said. "They are actually looking forward to it."

Other schools were now interested and together they were drawing up a funding proposal, he said.

Ms Stock, who outlined the project as part of her speech at the Early Education Council's annual conference yesterday, said learning from rap music also empowered the children to be in control of their learning.

"I don't always know what the rappers are saying, but the kids do. They teach the teachers."


Scribe - Dreaming

(About his childhood)
From a teenager trying
to make it rapping this way
Ever since I was a kid,
I had something to say
Rocking mic's was a dream,
I didn't care about pay
I sacrificed late nights
and going out with my friends
Just to stay home alone
with my pad and my pen
Had my eyes on the prize,
and my mind on my goal
As I carved these rhymes out,
with my heart and my soul
I didn't have a CD, all I had was a tape
On the dole, through my flow
was my only escape
From a world where they didn't
want to see me prevail
Don't wanna see me take it all,
they'd rather see me fail (it's like)
I was down and out
Struggling
Wondered how I'm gonna make it through
I've got a dream
Holding on
Can't let go
'Cos I've got to make it come true


Shakespeare - Sonnet 5

(On growing up)
Those hours, that with gentle work did frame
The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell,
Will play the tyrants to the very same
And that unfair which fairly doth excel;
For never-resting time leads summer on
To hideous winter, and confounds him there;
Sap checked with frost, and lusty leaves quite gone,
Beauty o'er-snowed and bareness every where:
Then were not summer's distillation left,
A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass,
Beauty's effect with beauty were bereft,
Nor it, nor no remembrance what it was:
But flowers distill'd, though they with winter meet,
Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet.