October 30, 2015

Interviewing Affective Educators: Jason R Levine

"Love yourself and your expression, you can't go wrong"

This last August I had the great pleasure of meeting Jason R. Levine, also known as Fluency MC, and working with him during one week in the Gallery Day Camp in Italy. During this week I was able to see Jason promoting learning through rap and I discovered that Jason and I are artisteachers in our own ways. I couldn't have let him go without interviewing him first. Here is our chat: 

Juan: I am really happy that we are working together here in Italy as I had heard a lot about you, but only being here makes me able to better understand your work. Have to tell you that I am your fan.

Jason: Likewise, I follow what you are doing as a teacher and as a teacher trainer around the world. It is interesting to see how my work and your work complement each other. It's really exciting. It's a great feeling to be here.

Juan: I will start our interview by asking the classic question: Who is Jason R Levine?  But don't go thinking that this interview will be an easy one!

Jason: It's funny, there are a lot of Jason Levines out there and I put my middle initial  R to differentiate myself. I do both content creation and also training. I have this persona Fluency MC that I use for the music and the videos.  For me Jason Levine is more the trainer, what is left of the academic side of me.  Fluency MC is the guy that is out there on the ground as well as into content creation and materials design.

Juan: I believe that I identify with you as I believe that I am also a mixture of an artist and a teacher. I can clearly see your very developed artistic side in your teaching. Please tell me how this integration has happened in your life.

Jason:  Glad you see it that way because it hasn't been that long that I have been doing what I do with music. I was a pretty traditional English teacher during the first part of my career. It wasn't really until nine, ten years ago that I really started bringing music and video into it. From the start I was into creating material, in this sense I might be an artist, but what you see me doing is pretty recent. During the first years I was pretty shy.

Juan: I can't imagine you being shy!

Jason: I have a video to prove it, but I am not at the point that I am ready to show that video to people yet! My students used to tease me and they have certainly helped me discover my talent. This is a beautiful thing about teaching, when both students and teacher support and encourage each other in the process.

Juan: What do you take into account when you write your raps?

Jason: I am a big corpus linguistics guy, a collocation guy, and definitely for me what sparks me and gets me going is the lexical side of what I am working with. So if I receive a unit with certain vocabulary, certain structures, I love what I can do with these. I am also very motivated when I see what frustrates teachers and students, such as boring or difficult grammar structures, things that even with a lot of studying and learning students usually do not make much progress with.

Jason: I enjoy thinking about the acquisition, the repetition, and the humour in the songs. It's definitely the linguistic side that moves me in the beginning, but then as I write the songs I often get into storytelling.

Juan: I can see you put a lot of humour in the pictures you choose as well as in the lyrics.

Jason: Humour absolutely! I think that every good artist in some level does something with humour.

Juan: I really like the secret messages that you put in your raps. How do you go about these?

Jason: Thank you. I'm always moved by social messages in art, whether about inequality or about the environment or other important issues. I believe that the subtle messages are the ones that strike you, if it's a comedian who sneaks it in a joke or a singer that inserts it in a song. I don't like it when the message is explicit and  hits you in the head as it is hard to reach people that way. I want people to discover it themselves. To tell you the truth, I don't always notice myself doing it. The other day a teacher pointed it out to me. I can say that I am really influenced by many singers and authors and I like to do it that way.

Jason: Stick, Stuck, Stuck is the first song that I wrote and it is still the most popular song. People point out that there is a message within it and when you listen to other songs the messages are definitely more out there.

Here you have the famous Stick, Stuck, Stuck by Fluency MC :

Juan: I follow your career and I see that you have been travelling a lot and you have been in contact with lots of students around the world. How do you make sense of all this? How has this experience touched you?

Jason: I've been thinking a lot about this lately. The other day I saw some pictures of when I was with students in Palestine and it seems it was such a long time ago. I'm sure you also have this experience of feeling time in a different way when you travel and you have lots of intense encounters. On the other hand, I feel it is strange sometimes as I have had these intense encounters but I haven't seen these people again and I'm not sure what they are doing. As fun and as interesting it is to travel, it can also be hard.

Jason with students in the Palestine!
Jason: What grounds me is the fact that we are all connected through social media, like one student from Palestine can write me tomorrow and say "Hey I watched your video and I remember when you were in Ramallah". I feel really lucky about it. In the past, without this new media, it would have been tougher. I feel lucky to be teaching at this time in history.

Juan: I heard you are coming to Brazil next year, tell us about it.

Jason: I have wanted to come to Brazil for a really long time. Mainly because many Brazilian encouraged me when I taught in New York and also because I have many loyal followers from Brazil. There is certainly a musical connection between American and Brazilian hip hop and I believe the idea of practicing with music appeals a lot to Brazilian teachers. People tell me all the time to come to Brazil so I've got to do it. And it is great to be connected to you and also to other teacher trainers who supported me.

Juan: You are going to have such an amazing time in Brazil, Jason. By the way, I know that you have created an innovative language learning program. Please tell us how the Weekly English Workout Program works and how you have come up with this idea.

Jason: Thank you for asking about the Weekly English Workout. I'm very excited about it as it's a new project.  It's a speaking practice program based on Video Workouts, live classes, and a private Facebook group. It provides intensive practice to enable you to use English in your everyday life. This practice, I believe, is the missing piece for most people. It's been a lot of fun and I'm excited about getting the program into schools around the world so that students can use it out of class to improve their English fluency.

Juan: What message would you leave people that have a talent and would like to fuse it with language teaching?

Jason: That is a wonderful question. Just get out there and do it.

Juan: Any message for the students?

Jason: Wherever I go, I meet one or two students that are really fluent, really excited about English. Some people would assume that they have lived in the country where the language is spoken, that they must have had these great lessons, or that they have the gift for learning another language. But nine times out of ten it is because they really got excited about English from media, they watch a lot of movies, they listen to a lot of music, they read a lot of comic books... The best use of time for teachers is to get their students excited to get out there and go for things that they really enjoy.

Juan: Thank you so much for this interview!  It's been great working with you here at the Gallery Day Camp.

Jason: That was fun!

Do you have a special talent you have incorporated in your classes?
Let me know and you can be the next teacher  interviewed here in the blog!

Sending you a big hug from Hokkaido in Japan,


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1 comment:

  1. Great interview, Juan. Great to get to know the Fluency MC himself a little better. I'm sure it's no surprise to you that I'm a fan :D
    Hugs to Buddy


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