New College Alumn Launches Hip Hop-infused Language Program

Arts & Culture

Pictured: Miles Iton (second from L) and his Lo-Fi team receive 1st prize at Taiwan's Be Young! Beyond! Startup Pitch Competition in 2019

A cursory glance at Miles Iton’s LinkedIn profile raises more questions than answers. What is a multimedia writer and creative? A social entrepreneur? Is Iton a filmmaker, a marketing whiz, an educator or a scholar? The simplest answer is “yes.” And beginning next week, Iton will be stitching all of those hats together when he and a combination of New College students and community applicants set out to co-create an English instruction course called Lo-Fi Language Learning.

The program uses the freestyle ethos of hip hop as a tool for language instruction. Iton conceived of the program as a New College student, refined it as a Fulbright Scholar at National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan, and will now put the work into action with the first cohort of aspiring teaching artists. “The goal is for us to come up with the pilot program to create a creative teaching experience,” says Iton.

In Taiwan, where the government has begun implementing a comprehensive push for English language instruction, Iton made his mark by studying ways in which art can be used in language instruction. As a grad student, he fashioned himself into the template for a hip-hop educator as both a private tutor and community workshopper. The plan now is to shape the first crop of teachers into a similar mold.

“Part of the approach is to help build confidence,” says New College’s director of community outreach Stacey Campo, “so we try to demystify this idea that rapping isn’t for everybody.” Though she’s quick to point out that she will never be caught trying to rap, the idea is to package the language instruction in an environment of fun and experimentation while activating more areas of the brain and immersing the learner in the language. The same goes for the instructors themselves, who will finish the semester-long program with a TEFL certification free of charge.

For Iton, another wrinkle comes in the form of cultural literacy and awareness. “There’s been a lot of focus recently on painting Black Americans as separate from mainstream American culture,” says Iton, who is Black. “But if you look at [hip-hop] now, it’s super powerful that the underdog of the American story ends up dominating the world’s music landscape. In a way, the program helps show how times are changing.”

Pictured: Miles Iton (second from L) and his Lo-Fi team receive 1st prize at Taiwan's Be Young! Beyond! Startup Pitch Competition in 2019

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