If your child tells you he wants to be a famous rapper, tell him he should be paying lots of attention in English class. In a recent interview with David Letterman, Jay-Z credited his sixth grade English teacher with fueling his love of language: “Her name was Ms. Lowden, and I just loved the class so much. Like reading the dictionary, and my love of words — I just connected with her.” The Washington Post recently found Ms. Lowden and asked her about her now famous student, whom she knew as Shawn Carter.
“The thing I remember about Shawn is he took the reading test and he scored 12th grade in the sixth grade,” Rosenblum-Lowden recalled. “And I remember telling him — because I really feel it’s important to tell kids they’re smart — I said, ‘You’re smart, you better do well.’ And he listened.”
According to the Washington Post article, found here, they connected over one of Rosenblum-Lowden’s favorite lessons, in which she would ask the class a question using a word that was likely beyond their vocabulary. To answer the question — to even understand it — the students had to use a dictionary. She would ask things such as “What does a loquacious person like to do?” and the students would “have to look it up to answer it.”
A few great lessons here. First, it’s important to note that Jay-Z’s lyrical skills grew out of his strong intellect and advanced reading ability. (Reading at the twelfth grade level in 6th grade is very impressive!) Let those aspiring rappers in your household know that reading well and having an extensive vocabulary are keys to rapping well.
Second, here is a prime example of how great teachers can make all the difference in the world. Ms. Rosenblum-Lowden saw how bright young Jay-Z was and made sure that he knew it, and that he knew her high expectations of him. She taught him to use and appreciate the dictionary. She connected with him. And that connection still matters to him after all these years.
Third, that dictionary game worked, and parents should try that at home. Ask questions using “big” words when you talk to your little ones, and have them find out what the words mean in order to answer the questions. They may head for their dictionary app on their phones rather than an actual dictionary, but that’s fine, as long as they get the answers right.
Kudos to Ms. Lowden for being a good and caring English teacher. And kudos to Jay-Z for giving his English teacher the credit she deserved!