Photo/Courtesy of Miles Iton
Miles Iton is an educator, entrepreneur, and hip-hop artist who goes by the stage name "Irie Givens". While completing his graduate studies at the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan, the Fulbright scholar taught English as a Foreign Language (EFL) using hip hop and rap. His non-traditional approach to teaching EFL gave birth to Lo-Fi Language Learning Arts ‘n TEFL. The program uses music, hip-hop, and rap to bridge cultural and language divide while creating a fun learning experience.
Growing up in Miami-Dade County, the first generation Jamaican-American attended a Northern Baptist missionary school. Miles was often the only black person in his classroom from kindergarten to eighth grade. Spitting hip hop rhymes made him feel grounded in his own "idiosyncratic African-American" experience.
Iton's passion for hip-hop runs deep. The multimedia artist is not only a DJ and MC, he has also produced his own hip-hop albums and music videos, and a short film. During his undergraduate studies at New College of Florida in Sarasota, Miles also created a freestyle tutorial that taught people how to compose, perform and understand rap. The class was undersigned by New College faculty member Dr. Carl Shaw and was taught at the college for three years.
In 2018, Miles received a Fulbright scholarship to pursue a Masters in Creative Industries Design at the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan. While studying in Taiwan, Miles along with other students pitched this idea of using hip-hop and rap music to teach English at the Be Young Beyond Startup Competition, which was held at the National University of Science & Technologies. His team won the Distinguished Honors (1st Prize). Miles then continued solidifying the idea of using black music and culture to teach English as a Foreign language in his dissertation.
This led Miles to found Lo-Fi Language Learning Arts’n EFL, an arts education platform for educational institutions in the U.S. and Taiwan. Lo-Fi has expanded to not only teaching EFL students but also training EFL educators. Lo-Fi was awarded a Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund Grant from the U.S. State Department in 2020 to launch a free arts 'n EFL teacher training course. The Lo-Fi's Arts' n EFL course is administered in collaboration with New College and BridgeTEFL, an international leader in the field of cross-cultural communication and language competency. “The idea of working with artists to engage ESL students by fusing ELT techniques with one of the most popular music genres on the globe was immediately something we wanted to take part in. By ensuring that these teachers are also being trained on how to teach English, we can live up to one of our top goals of empowering this global community of English teachers,” adds Bridge’s International Outreach Manager, Andrew Johnson.
Miles Iton Lo-Fi Founder with Taiwanese students
LoFi trains teachers to use hip-hop in their English language classrooms while disrupting the way English is learned in the classroom. “We’re choosing participants who already have somewhat of an artistic skill that has to do with language. Hip-hop, ideally, and storytellers, slam poets, lyricists, MCs – those kinds of featured artists. And from the Bridge side, they get the formal curriculum, and through the Lo-Fi side, we mold their art skills, into arts education,” emphasized Iton.
Students in the three-month virtual program will complete a 120-hour Master TEFL/TESOL certification course through Bridge TEFL. In addition, they will attend Lo-Fi’s creative curriculum design workshops that focus on using these skills to teach English. Miles will be producing a film at the end of the program to showcase their work and teaching skills. The film will also be posted on Bridge’s online ELT news magazine, Bridge Universe, as a way to promote the program and encourage others interested in enrolling in the program.
Miles is encouraged that the TEFL program is a way forward for many young artists to hone their skills in an area that wasn’t readily available to them before. “I really want this program to illustrate just how powerful hip-hop and community arts has been to giving people job skills that they can use and carry on into their futures. I’d also just encourage every young kid out there with a SoundCloud account trying to pop off, to think broader, be as creative as you are in your rhymes, and hit us up if you’re looking for an opportunity,” he says.