Rico Dawson: Local Artist Brings Music Industry Knowledge and Talent To The Classroom

Making a Difference

If you hear him in church, you may know him for the sharp tenor registers of his voice. Most people know him from the work he has done with at-risk youth, coaching football, or teaching music. Teaching now for over 20 years, Rico Dawson leverages his connection with kids to make a difference in teaching them both music and life.

Kids today are different. They feel entitled to success but don’t want to work for it. They don’t have the work ethic that they should. I tell my students there is a beginning and there is a manifestation at the end, but there is also an in-between wilderness and you have to go through that to get to the end. A lot of kids want to be great, but they don’t want to invest time in themselves to be great. A lot of kids don’t reach their full potential if they don’t have anybody pushing them.

I tell students the things they need to hear as it relates to what is ahead of them. I am intentional about spending time tying in life skills, teamwork, and emotions in what I talk about. In music, their emotions bleed into the music. They don’t know how to seperate that. Professionals learn how to seperate it out, but children can’t do that. When they sing or play, their heart bleeds onto their sleeve.

I tell my students this is business not personal because I am always thinking ahead to how they will be able to perform in the future. I push them hard because they won’t be able to “get in their feelings” in what’s to come as they work a job and perform at a level to meet that industry’s demand.

There is a human element to teaching. If you don’t have a relationship of trust with them and show that you care about their lives, they are going to turn you out.

Rico Dawson
Rico teaching a music class

An Artist In His Own Right

Very few people know Rico Dawson is actually a recording artist in his own right. He was recently ranked #1 Inspirational Gospel music artist in Goldsboro, NC on Reverb Nation and #45 in the region of Fayetteville, Raleigh, and Durham, NC. Mr. Dawson’s music has a global audience with a lot of interest in Europe and France. His music has an R&B feel with God-inspired lyrics.

Mr. Dawson completed a Bachelor’s degree from Elizabeth City State University in Music Industry Studies with a concentration in Business Administration. From there, he interned with a small independent record company in Virginia Beach, VA. As an intern, Mr. Dawson had the opportunity to see how musical talent is acquired and participate in talent scouting, acquisitions, and talent retainment.

Because of my background and training (in music studies), you can know in the first 15 seconds if a song is worth listening to. I would listen to the demos sent to us, write down the songwriter and song, listen to them, pass them on to the president, and contact the artists that he decided to hire for either contract work or negotiations for exclusive agreements.

Rico Dawson

#1 Advice to Young Artists Aspiring To Get A Recording Deal: Work On Your Craft

Many reality shows have chronicled what the gauntlet looks like. Though it is glamorized for entertainment value and details are added for us to have the buy-in in the audience, the real music circuit runs in very similar ways. In music, artists submit their work to a showcase of some sort with significant competition. 500 acts may be present in the beginning for what will widdle down to 3 actual recording deals. It starts with presenting your work to a panel of judges who look for what makes you stand out as new, interesting, and different from everything else they are hearing on the market. If you pass the first panel, you go on to the second with more scrutinizing tastes. It continues in this fashion till the end of the so-dubbed “gauntlet”.

The struggle for young artists is to work on their craft and get in front of the label heads at the time when they are looking for new talent.

Rico Dawson

Advantages of Modern Technology for Musicians Today

Artists today have more direct control over their material and what happens to it than they ever had in the past. With the help of social media and YouTube, individuals are able to connect directly with their audience long before a recording company gets involved in promoting them.

During Covid, a lot of artists were doing performances virtually and were able to monetize those performances through Eventbrite tickets. That helped a lot of artists stay afloat. Virtual is another space to reach the audience now.

Rico Dawson

A service that provides great industry reach and business management now is called Reverb Nation. Reverb Nation provides artists with the ability to distribute and track their music, collaborate with other artists, and submit press kits to active venue listings. It allows fans to contact the artist, and it gives real-time feedback demographics on who is listening to the music. Music is distributed easily through Spotify and other streaming music platforms. Reverb Nation has been a great tool for Mr. Dawson. Interested fans and venue opportunities have been able to reach out to him through the site from as far as England.

Reverb Nation lets the people decide what is important. I let the people decide.

Rico Dawson

#2 Advice to Young Artists Aspiring To Get A Recording Deal: Think About The Bigger Picture, Know Your Rights, and Protect Yourself From Bad Deals

When you are controlling your own content, you have to have a vision for where you want to end up. Do you want to play venues live? You probably need a set list of songs ready to perform and full albums and merch you can sell at the event.

Knowing what you want in the big picture is going to help you know how to navigate the smaller decisions. Don’t be misled by what you see. Some of the artists that look so successful are actually living on credit trying to work hard and pay back the studio for all they paid on them. Contracts with record companies can often keep artists in bondage paying back their debts for studio time, production, video, etc.

It’s industry standard to split 50/50, but some contract opportunities ask for more than that. When you sign with somebody, they control the narrative and sometimes your masters. You don’t want to lose your masters because that is where your big money comes from (in licensure).

Rico Dawson

At the time of this interview, Rico Dawson was working on his second album that will feature a fresh inspiration and word from the Lord. For more information including links to Rico’s music and videos, check out his site on Reverb Nation.

Assistive Technology for the Classroom

One of my favorite things about any ABSPD Institute training at Appalachian State University is learning new technology available for my classroom. New ideas and tools invigorate our methods and make our classrooms more interesting. Here are some of the ideas from the 2018 Institute.

Fortune-Telling Game

Jeff Goodman created a simple writing game by using some of his photography to make a set of “fortune telling” cards. The cards have been physically printed and turned face down on a table to reveal just their backside (a mosaic of one larger image). Students pick a card and a different image is revealed on the face side of the card. Peer students write a fortune for the student based on the image that was chosen. The fortunes are shared orally and used to discuss cognitive theory such as how everyone saw something different in the image.  In the digital version of the game, images of the cards are projected through a slideshow and animation is used to link image slides to a master slide to create the card flipping action. A shortened version of the digital game is shown on this post, but you can download the full game here.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Select and Speak – Text to Speech Google Chrome Add-On

Select and Speak is an add-on tool for Google Chrome that will let users highlight text and have it read to them in multiple languages. It can be very useful for English Second Language learners as well as learners with Learning Differences such as dyslexia or visual impairments. The add-on is free, but it does have an upgrade that you can do at an additional cost. You can find the add-on and a short video about it here.

Click to Dictate – Speech to Text Google Chrome Add-On

Click to Dictate is an add-on tool for Google Chrome that will let users talk to their computer and have it type for them. It can be helpful for visually-impared students, but it is also a great time saver in general. I dictated a whole set of lessons in Google Docs using this tool. It is not good at punctuation, so you will need to edit it for corrections, but it will translate every word it hears with fair accuracy. Check it out here.

Newsela – News Articles in Different Reading Levels

Newsela is a pretty impressive resource that offers articles in a wide range of current and historical events. Every article is available with multiple reading levels and questions for quizzes and/or activities. I have used the free account access to expand reading comprehension with my students in the context of the subject I was teaching them at the time. The quality of this product and its expansive selection are very impressive. Check it out here.

ABSPD Vocabulary Lessons

Part of what students struggle within testing is simple lack of knowledge of key vocabulary terms. There are tier 2 words that students need to be familiar with in any subject area, but teaching them can be a burden to make creative and fun. ABSPD created a series of lessons to help with this. Each lesson teaches five tier 2 words with breakout activities and discussion. Lessons are downloadable here.

Google Suite for Collaboration

Part of having a Gmail account is having access to a free network of tools called the Google Suite. In the Suite, you have cloud storage, word processing, spreadsheets, calendars, drawing capabilities, and more. Any add-ons you have on your Google Chrome will also work in the Suite, so, for example, I can use my add-on to dictate text into a document. I used that to transcribe a whole series of grammar lessons. Anyone can share a file via email and work on it with other team members by using the Google Suite. Use is free and easy with most accounts though there is a limit on storage. For more information, check them out here.

ASL Sign Language Dictionary

If you have a student that is hearing-impaired, you may want to try this app. The app allows you to look up a word and learn how to say it in sign language by watching a short video. One teacher used to help communicate with a student and other students became excited about it and wanted to learn too. It can be a great team-building skill as well as a necessary life skill for some learners. Check out the app here.

National Library of Virtual Manipulatives – Math

Sometimes it helps to be able to teach a math concept with objects that can be physically moved around and manipulated to learn the concept with. This website hosts a vast array of manipulatives for math and some games. Tools range for levels K-12 in all areas of math. You can explore the website for free here.

Free Audio Books – Librovox.org

I love having audio books to read through a text and I have found a lot of good readers submit their work for free to Librovox.org. The whole site is copyright free and can be downloaded or streamed for instructional purposes. I have used several books here, but my favorite read is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Check it out here.

NASA – Great Science stuff

NASA releases high-definition images from space and Earth on its website as well as tons of articles, streaming video, downloadables, and other cool bits of Earth and Space science. Check out their website for more information here.

Mind Vector – Brainstorming

This app is a lot of fun for brainstorming for writing essays or group projects. It can also be used to create organizational charts. The app itself is free for Mac or Android. You can find out more about it here.

Table Topics Cards – Writing Prompts

Table Topics cards are a set of flash cards you can use for writing practice. They were created to be conversation starters around a table at a party, but they can make for fun writing practice as well. Coupled with Mind Vector, they become engaging tools for students who may struggle with writing in general. Find out more about the cards here.

Story Cubes – Writing Prompts

Story Cubes offer a fun way to prompt writing practice with a set of dice that have pictures on them. Sets of cubes come with different themes and can be used individually or in groups. Users toss the dice and have to create a story using whatever random set of images they land on. For more about the cubes, check out their website here.

The Power of Story-Telling to Build Community in the Classroom and Beyond

The featured image on this post is of a !Kung San storyteller in 1947. The storyteller sits with his hands raised and every muscle in his body tensed to tell the details of his tale. His audience is completely captivated and excited by his tale. Nobody is sneaking out a cell phone to get on Facebook or play a game here; they are all in to what he is telling them. Wouldn’t it be lovely if teachers saw the same dedication in their students in the classroom? Why can’t it be?

I love what my friend Jeff Goodman does concerning cell phones in his class. He first tells them that they need to be off their cell phones and give their full attention to the class because they don’t have much time in the class each day and need to stay focused. Then he tells them that if they do take out their cell phone, he will be forced to call his mother.

A student got on their phone in class after this warning, and Jeff followed through with calling his mother. He made a big show of crying to his mom about how he was such a failure as a teacher because he couldn’t keep his students engaged enough to not even want to get on their phone. He put the phone on speaker, so the students knew he was really talking to his mom. Of course, his elderly mom is used to calls like this now and they don’t upset her, but the point was clearly made to the student about the message he was sending to the instructor and the other students by such disrespectful behavior. The student put away his phone and never got on it again for that class or any other class through the rest of his entire college career. 

There is no instruction without emotion, meaning, delight, and connection. –Jeff Goodman

A group of students were given a standardized test and right before they went in to take the test, they were shown a picture of a man’s face.

Some of the students were shown a face with a wide grin and eyes crinkled with smile wrinkles. He looked happy and enthusiastic like he would be a nice guy if you met him.

The other students were shown a face with a furrowed brow, flared nostrils, and a mouth slightly parted and frowned. He looked angry and like he would either cuss you out or punch you into the ground if you met him.

The test results for the students were markedly different. Those that saw the nice guy got higher scores; those that saw the mean guy got lower scores than if they had been left alone entirely.

No school has ever had a former student say a standardized test has changed their life. –Joe Martin

I’ve just modeled for you, in this post, two examples of telling a story to teach a lesson. We humans are story-telling creatures and we remember the lessons we hear through a story much more than those without it.

How does story-telling look in a classroom?

In my English classes, I teach grammar as if the sentences were relationships. Compound sentences are marriage because two independent people (clauses) are agreeing to live together as equals. Complex sentences are a parent-child relationship because one person (clause) is dependent on the other to survive as a sentence.

In my math classes, I talked about converting mixed fractions like you were climbing up a mountain. You climb up the mountain by multiplying the bottom number by the whole number. Then you cross over the mountain by adding the top number to that.

In my science classes, I teach the different aspects of science by how they are experienced through books. Our two main books, The Martian by Andy Weir and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, introduce amazing scientific questions for us to explore through discussion questions and material on our class website.

In my history classes, I love to teach with film. Students connect with characters and engage in what really happened in the past while they also answer questions based on the films.

How would your class look if you included more story in it?

Why Creativity is Important in a Classroom

The Lascaux Paleolithic cave paintings in southwestern of France are famous. They join neighboring painted caves on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. These paintings are significant because they are over 20,000 years old and contain images of animals that used to be native to the region but are no longer there. They are evidence of an important part of our history, but they are also a testament to the power of creativity.

There was no real life-altering purpose for painting in the caves. One could suggest that the caveman would have been better served spending his time hunting and gathering, discovering fire, or creating a wheel. Nevertheless, history shows us that it was the man that created art that survived. Why is that?

Creativity is unalienable tied to our evolutionary history and success as a species.

Think of a baby that is just learning to walk. In the beginning, you can see the little worry lines of thought cross their foreheads as they weigh out the possible consequences of moving from squat to stand to first steps. In those first moments, creativity accesses a part of our brains that challenges us and enables us to problem-solve. We learn and grow as we take on new tasks. Not all creativity serves the same purpose. Some exist merely for the beauty of it or the challenge of accomplishing it.

Creativity and Innovation (5)

Nevertheless, each opportunity we take advantage of to create something new, we empower our brains to accomplish more work.

 

Creative thinking is essential to success.

Creativity and Innovation (7)

We often think about problem-solving and creativity in terms of invention, but that is not the only place where it is needed. More and more, we are seeing employers require creativity in everyday job tasks like maintenance and cleaning. Creative thinking enables workers to manage multiple demands on their schedules while also being sensitive to the needs around them like a family sleeping in the room you are supposed to clean.

Creativity empowers students with learning differences.

The brain is a powerful and interesting machine. It is more active than a thigh muscle during a marathon and it can help us creatively maneuver around problems. Such is the case with many people with learning differences who achieve success daily by developing coping skills around their differences. The ability to adapt so readily creates long-term success for them. According to a study reported in the New York Times, 35% of entrepreneurs are dyslexic in America. That number is higher than in other countries. You can read the New York Times article to find out more about it here.

Creativity and Innovation (6)

Images from Jeff Goodman, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Appalachian State University

How Can I Bring This Home In The Classroom?

Being creative is a process of trial and error in the classroom. Your goal should be to always keep the class interesting and exciting. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and don’t be afraid to ask your students for honest feedback.

If you care about getting something across to your class, put extra emphasis on it through personal stories, visuals, activities, etc. A lot of times we are so focused on covering the material we are supposed to cover in our lesson plan that we don’t even care about making sure that the students are actually getting it. Try asking them what they remember the next day after you taught it to them. Would you like to be a student in your class? If you don’t think you’d enjoy being a student in your own class, why should they?  

–Jeff Goodman, Instructor at Appalachian State University

Another approach could be to establish an atmosphere where students are able to question material and decide for themselves what they need to learn. I leave you with Danez Smith’s experiences on this subject.