St. Maria Goretti teacher Michael Grandsoult, aka MikeAll, uses hip hop culture to reach his students. Photo by Michael Swan

Teacher MikeAll uses hip hop culture to help students find voice

  • June 24, 2022

In Michael Grandsoult’s eighth grade classroom, students are encouraged to use music and rhymes to tell the story of their lives.

Better known by his rap name MikeAll, the St. Maria Goretti Catholic School teacher is a member of the Hip Hop HeadUcatorz, a group of Ontario teachers who believe in using hip hop culture to inspire and engage students. A self-proclaimed student disciple of hip hop culture, Grandsoult was raised on the genre and, as a hyperactive youth, says he used it as a tool to help him concentrate and find his voice.

“Listening to rap really helped me focus because I wanted to pay attention and really understand every word, syllable and breath that (the artists) were saying,” said Grandsoult, who was honoured with the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s Innovative Exemplary Practice Award for using hip hop to influence students.

“It kind of calmed the noise in my mind and helped me to focus and listen. On the flip side it also gave me a voice to share my own story through my own poetic talent and channel my energy. The same way hip hop spoke to me as a youth and caught my attention, I feel that it’s a great way to engage students to hook them.”

As an MC, Grandsoult says the art form hails from the legacy of the griot in West African culture. The griot were the oral historians who would hold the knowledge and the history of society and pass it on through story and song.  

Traditionally, students of diverse background haven’t always felt themselves represented in curriculum. Grandsoult says using hip hop as a tool in his Scarborough classroom helps meet Catholic education objectives to reach children of all backgrounds.

"Some of the Catholic objectives are making sure every child feels loved, all stories are accepted and everybody is embraced. I think hip hop does that."

“Some of the Catholic objectives are making sure every child feels loved, all stories are accepted and everybody is embraced,” said Grandsoult. “I think hip hop does that because it’s about giving a voice to people who are marginalized, whose voices are suppressed. By sharing that mic and platform it shows that everybody’s story is valid, and everybody has the opportunity to express themselves. It’s creating positive works of art that are hopefully able to inspire.”

Grandsoult starts by teaching his students the history of hip hop culture followed by a lyric analysis for reading comprehension and critical media literacy. Students then move to writing original pieces where their creations are recited in class to develop oral communication skills and even shared school-wide. The rhyming mnemonics also help with memory, and the creation and performance of the music helps with confidence and creativity.  

In a collaborative project, Grandsoult and students from his class performed on the recently released song “Misconceptions” aimed at debunking negative preconceived notions society puts on them based on age, race and other superficial factors. Grandsoult’s students, David Bolarinwa and Marley Warner, wrote and performed verses. Warner’s lyrics were about being young and contending with people’s assumptions that he lacks the wisdom to make good decisions, while Bolarinwa’s verse included the lyrics, “I’m a Black man, no I’m not a street thug. Yes, I can be successful, yes I do deserve love.”

Both students say having Grandsoult as a homeroom teacher has helped to build their confidence.

“Being in MikeAll’s class really helped me find my voice and really encouraged me to speak out and be a leader,” said Bolarinwa.

Warner, who lists his teacher as his favourite rapper, says as a fan of hip hop, having the art form integrated into curriculum has helped him enjoy school work. As a class they have done in-depth reflections on songs, exploring the lyrics to find the meaning and historical context behind them. They have deconstructed songs like “Nothin’ At All” by rapper Maestro Fresh Wes about anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in Canada. They’ve also broken down “Africville” by Black Union, about the injustices done to the once prosperous African-Canadian village north of Halifax that was demolished in what many believe was an act of racism in the 1960s.

“I’ve always had a passion for music and having a connection with something that you are learning, it definitely engages you more,” said Gabrielle Agbayani, one of Grandsoult’s eighth graders who goes by the stage name Gift of Gab in the classroom.

“I’ve learned more about the music language and about beats and rhythms. I’ve learned about lyrics and how they make up part of the song and what it’s trying to say to the viewer.”

After various demonstrations and live examples, the students are encouraged to write their own story, struggles, successes and whatever they might be going through. This is meant to empower students, Grandsoult says, to show them their stories matter and provide them with the tools to express themselves.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.