How one teacher is using hip-hop to keep students engaged during virtual learning

As millions of educators navigate the new normal of virtual learning and trying to keep students engaged amid the coronavirus pandemic, one teacher has tapped into a creative flow with his students through hip-hop.

Michael Doggett, a sixth-grade teacher at Hallie Wells Middle School in Clarksburg, Maryland, has been encouraging his students to respond to questions and prompts with original rap verses.

“I was blown away by the things that I got,” he told ABC News’ “Pandemic: What You Need to Know.” “My students feel really engaged. My students feel really connected.”

Doggett, 38, said he started out as an English and reading teacher but that he leaned into one of the school’s values — creativity — through hip-hop.

“We have this program called empower hour, where the hip-hop program started. I’ve been creating songs and making music videos with students for a number of years now,” Doggett said. “We had a couple of projects that stopped when the closure happened. And it’s really hard to continue them, so I had to sort of figure out another way to channel that creativity that I have and also be able to highlight what the students are doing.”

“There’s a special thing that happens when you bond together through music,” Doggett continued.

He said that with the kids learning from home, he wanted to find a way to continue working with them on music. By encouraging his kids to rap in their responses, he said the practice has given them a chance to think outside of the box in a way that they probably couldn’t inside the classroom.

“Teachers create magic because they’ve been building these relationships with their students since the beginning of the year. I’m telling you, it’s saving me during this time, too, because I need this to get through [the pandemic] as much as they do,” he said. “To be able to have that connection, to be able to have that back and forth with students, has been great for me as it has been for them.”