2009-05-07 / Features

Before State Exam Time, Pa. Children Bust A Rhyme


HERMITAGE, Pa. (AP) - Flo Rida, Taylor Swift, Lady GaGa and Carrie Underwood might have a hold on the singles charts these days, but they surely will have to step aside when "Homophones and Hyperboles'' starts its chart ride.

The little ditty, written by Hermitage Elementary School music teacher Marcia Grim and her fourth- and fifth-grade students, is a hair- (and a hare-?) raising good time. Hermitage is located near Pennsylvania's western border, roughly halfway between Pittsburgh and Erie.

"A hare has big feet and jumps about, the hair on my head will make you scream and shout. Hare and hair they sound the same, they're homophones which one you can tame? Hy- perbole, oh you exaggerate, to be dramatic and overstate.''

The composing of this future chart classic was part of a strategy to pump up students for the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests, by pumping up the volume.

Mrs. Grim worked with students to write rap lyrics using the terms they would see on the tests.

"Angles are formed when lines intersect, this isn't new now I would suspect,'' goes the rap on "Angles,'' which also blended right angles, acute angles, straight angles and obtuse angles into the lyrics.

The three Rs of traditional schooling have nothing on "The Three As,'' which steered the exercise in a literary direction.

"If you say hot and you say cold, that's an antonym and you've been told. To inform, entertain and persuade, that's the author's purpose, his point's been made. I'll write a story about myself, my autobiography sits on my shelf.''

The kinds of angles, terms such as "homophone'' and "antonym'' and the concept of author's purpose are known as "eligible content'' in the jargon of educators, and students need to know them to do well on the PSSAs.

Using the exercise of writing lyrics, key concepts from reading, math and English were "embedded'' in the music program, said principal Eric Trosch.

Once the songs were written, 18 students performed them at an assembly in March, a few days before the PSSA tests were given.

The music project was part of an overall effort to prepare students for the tests so they can meet the adequate yearly progress benchmark required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

For children in fourth through seventh grades, school officials have offered incentives - such as Nintendo video game systems, Apple iPod music players, board games, sports equipment and school supplies - for having perfect attendance, being on time, using math and reading strategies and displaying positive attitudes during testing, Trosch said.

The students and staff deserve recognition for their hard work and dedication, he said.

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