"You're Going to Teach this to Kids?!": A Beginning Teacher's Experience Using Hip Hop Based Pedagogy to Teach Mathematics to Urban Elementary Students



Tayana Dowdell
Mary Castle Elementary School
Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township
Indianapolis, Indiana


Jomo W. Mutegi
Associate Professor of Science Education and
Director Urban Center for the Advancement of
STEM Education (UCASE)
Indiana University, IUPUI, Indianapolis
jmutegi@iupui.edu

Abstract

In recent years there has been an increase in educational scholarship that advocates for the use of hip hop in teaching urban and underrepresented minority children. Although this body of work is still in its infancy, there is a growing need for work that translates the best of hip hop based pedagogy into classroom practice. The purpose of this article is (a) to provide a first–person account of a beginning elementary teacher's experiences learning about and implementing HHBP, and (b) to draw from those experiences to provide constructive criticism to advocates of HHBP, so that future scholarship in this area might be of better use to practicing and pre–service teachers. In completing this project, the lead author taught four statistics lessons to upper elementary grade urban minority students. Of the four lessons, two were traditional lessons offered as exemplars by the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics, and two were hip hop based modifications of those lessons. Insights gained from this experience that speak to the lead author's experience as a beginning teacher are that (a) there needs to be a better operationalization of what constitutes hip hop pedagogy and (b) greater sensitivity to the makeup of teachers and the needs of children could help to advance the implementation of hip hop pedagogy. Insights gained from this experience that speak to the lead author's experience as a beginning researcher are that there is a need for (a) a stronger empirical basis for many of the claims made by HHBP advocates, and (b) a more critical examination of the implications of using HHBP in the instruction of urban minority students.

Keywords: Elementary School Curriculum, Mathematics Instruction, Teaching Methods, Urban Education

Introduction

It had been three days and I1 had yet to find two (let alone five) songs that seemed appropriate to use in the lesson I had planned. "Well here are a few that don't seem to have too many curse words," I thought, trying to convince myself. "Yeah, if I block out the curse words with a Sharpie, maybe I could use these songs." So I picked a few songs and showed them to my husband who is an avid listener of hip hop.

He looked at me like I was crazy, "You are going to teach this to kids?!"

I protested, "I blocked out the curse words! Besides the idea is to use something that interests the students."

Although he is not an educator himself, my husband's common sense won me over. "Would you use these songs to teach our children?" I didn't answer, but I didn't need to. We have three sons; and he and I both knew that I would never present them with the songs I had regardless of whether the curse words were blacked out or not. After a brief pause, he answered for me, "You wouldn't. You wouldn't do it because these songs are inappropriate for children. The language is inappropriate and the content is inappropriate. You shouldn't give something to other people's children that you would not be willing to give to your own."

His words rang true with me. I knew that I did not want to give something to other children that I would not give to my own. This conversation helped me to learn a lot about myself as a person and as a teacher. In fact, this was one of many experiences I have had over the past two years that have pushed me to challenge my ideas about what it means to be a woman of African descent who is committed to the education of African American children. These experiences have grown out of my effort to learn to use hip hop based pedagogy (HHBP) as a strategy for providing culturally responsive teaching (Gay, 2010) to underrepresented students in urban settings. The purpose of this article is two–fold. First, we aim to provide a first–person account of a beginning elementary teacher's efforts to learn about and implement HHBP. Second in providing this account, we aim to also provide constructive criticism to advocates of HHBP, so that future scholarship in this area might be of better use to practicing and pre–service teachers.

I have chosen to adopt a narrative style of writing to present this article. What I am presenting is simply my story. While my story is shaped by information that could be regarded as data, I do not view it is data and I have chosen not to present it as such. While my thinking is influenced by ideas that could be regarded as theory, I do not view it as theory and I have chosen not to present it as such. The procedures I followed could be seen as methods. Lessons I learned could be regarded as findings. I have chosen to embrace the notion of telling my story and I ask the readers' indulgence as I do so. In keeping with this idea, the article is organized into four "chapters." In Chapter 1: Beginnings, I provide the reader with background information on myself personally. Although I am not trying to make causal connections between my personal background and this project, I realize that in order for my story to have depth and meaning, the reader should have some idea of the factors that brought me to this project. So in this section, I discuss my personal background, my interests and motivations, my initial ideas and expectations and my goals. In Chapter 2: The Plan, I describe both the process I went through as I tried to learn about HHBP from a practitioner's perspective, and the plan I developed to teach elementary–aged students using HHBP. In Chapter 3: The Implementation, I describe my implementation of lessons using HHBP. In Chapter 4: Lessons Learned, I summarize insights I garnered throughout this process and provide suggestions to HHBP scholars that might inform future work.

Chapter 1: Beginnings

I am a 30 year–old, Jamaican–born, mother of three boys. I have lived in the United States since I was 16 years old. By now, my accent is barely discernible. It is more noticeable when I am sleepy… or angry. I have four brothers and five sisters. I am the fourth oldest. When I arrived in the U.S., I attended Winter Haven High School just outside of Lakeland, Florida. I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps (USMC) shortly after graduating from high school where I served for four years. It was in the Marine Corps that I met my husband. I share this background on myself because these experiences have played a substantial role in shaping (a) the way I view both myself and my role as a teacher; and (b) the outlook that I bring to my work with HHBP.

My experience as a Jamaican helped to instill in me a racial pride that is different in some respects from the racial pride experienced by African Americans born in the U.S. My understanding of our racial heritage did not develop in response to openly hostile treatment. As a child, I was never made aware of racial bias against African people in an overt and personal way. For example, in Jamaica, Marcus Garvey is a national hero whose name and image are positively reflected throughout the country. So, for me racial pride was like national pride. It was a given. When I moved to the United States, I had the experience of being an immigrant. At that time, I am sure my accent was much heavier. I was unaccustomed to many American ways of thinking and behaving. While I eventually adapted to life here in the United States, this experience helped me to learn what it is like to be seen and treated as an outsider. The experience also helped me to become sensitive to how prevalent and pervasive racism was in the United States. In contrast to my upbringing, racial issues seemed to foreground everything.

Serving in the Marine Corps was a life changing experience. The Marine Corps is a warrior cult, and it attracts people who have a warrior mindset. As one might imagine, there are very few women in the Marine Corps. So, in addition to the experience of extensive international travel and learning to be one of the "few and the proud", I also had many experiences that required me to engage with people that were radically different from me and personality types that were radically different from my own.

After completion of my military service, I chose to pursue a career in education. I was attracted to education for many reasons. Foremost among these was an interest in the science of learning and understanding. I have a parallel interest in cognitive psychology. The school of education that I attended defines itself as an urban–serving institution. The faculty and staff are expressly committed to principles of equity, inclusion, and social justice. So throughout my teacher preparation program, I have been surrounded with instructors and advisors who are strong advocates of pedagogical practices that support "all" students.

Through my teacher education experience I came to learn about and value, culturally responsive pedagogy as a means of supporting students from diverse backgrounds. The importance of cultural responsiveness was a recurring theme through much of my coursework and field experiences. The idea resonated with me so strongly because of my personal experience as a Jamaican immigrant. During the middle of my junior year, I realized that I wanted to learn more about culturally responsive pedagogy. I also wanted to learn more about educational research. So, I chose to delay my progress towards graduation by one year. During that year, I would not move forward to the internship with my cohort. Instead I would identify a faculty advisor and frame a research project around my area of interest. It was here that I reached out to Dr. Mutegi, who I met a year prior when he taught my elementary science methods course. When I described to him my interest in exploring culturally responsive pedagogy, he described to me the project he was leading on hip hop based pedagogy. I was intrigued by the project and excited about the work plan that we developed. The plan we developed would allow me an opportunity to (a) learn more about hip hop based pedagogy, (b) design HHBP lessons, (c) teach those HHBP lessons, and (d) evaluate the effectiveness of the HHBP lessons.

Chapter 2: The Plan

I began my work with Dr. Mutegi by reading articles on HHBP. I found articles by conducting a search using search terms like, "hip hop", "hip hop instruction", "hip hop" and "culturally responsive", and "hip hop" and "culturally relevant." After doing this search, Dr. Mutegi and I sat down and looked at the list. He suggested I cross off any manuscripts that were not in refereed journals. He helped me by highlighting articles that were either published in "more widely recognized journals," or written by "more widely recognized authors." He then suggested that I look through the list and pick out an article that looked interesting to me. I did. I also gave Dr. Mutegi the reference for the article. Throughout that week I read the article and wrote a one–page summary of it. When we met the next week, Dr. Mutegi and I read through the summary and discussed the article together. We repeated this each week for about 10 weeks.

At the end of that period, I had read and written summaries for about 10 articles on HHBP. While I continued with my weekly reading, I began planning to develop a set of HHBP lessons for elementary–aged learners. In our discussion about this time, I expressed frustration that none of the articles I read gave me much of an idea of how to use hip hop in my own instruction. The article that came closest was one by (Stovall, 2006) in which the author had his class critique hip hop lyrics and use insight from that critique to discuss social phenomenon from their own neighborhoods. Dr. Mutegi pointed out that it might be unfair to expect academic research journals to provide specific lessons for classroom instruction as that is not their function and classroom teachers are not their typical audience. He then suggested that I reach out to HHBP researchers and ask for suggestions. So, I composed an email introducing myself and my goal of implementing hip hop based instruction in an elementary classroom, and asking for suggestions of where I could learn more. I sent this email to each of the authors of the papers I had read thus far. I also sent it to the listserve of the Research Focus on Black Education (RFBE) Special Interest Group (SIG) of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). Dr. Mutegi pointed out that many of the HHBP researchers are members of this SIG.

The responses I received were disappointing. The majority of the responses directed me back to the very authors and papers I had already read. So I knew they would not meet my needs as a teacher. I received only two responses that I found to be useful. In one of these responses, the writer began by pointing out that HHBP researchers have not done very much work developing practical, teacher–friendly HHBP resources, especially in the areas of mathematics and science. In the other response, the author shared resources that described lessons that reflected HHBP. Most of these examples were grounded in either language arts or social studies. However, I was eventually able to appropriate elements of one of these lessons for my own work.

In the absence of practical, implementable teaching approaches, Dr. Mutegi and I decided to revisit the papers I had read and to distill from them a range of approaches that the authors take when describing and discussing HHBP. Through our weekly discussions, Dr. Mutegi and I began to recognize that there was a fairly broad range of approaches, but prior to this point we did not make an attempt to operationalize those approaches. We were able to identify four approaches to HHBP that are reflected in the literature we read. These four approaches are: hip hop as subject, hip hop as tool, hip hop as form, and hip hopping the practitioner.

Using the first approach, hip hop as subject, HHBP researchers use hip hop artifacts as curricular and pedagogical resources such that the artifacts become the subject of study. This approach would be similar to a teacher having students read and analyze a text (such as Mark Twain's, Huckleberry Finn) or a piece of art (such as Robert Thom's, J. Marion Sims: Gynecologic Surgeon). Although HHBP researchers define hip hop broadly to include emceeing, deejaying, graffiti art, breakdancing, and street fashion (Akom, 2009; Bridges, 2011; Hill, 2009; Rodriguez, 2009), the most common hip hop artifact used as the subject of evaluation has been rap lyrics. Examples can be found in the works of (Akom, 2009) and (Stovall, 2006). In both instances these researchers use rap lyrics as a subject of study in teaching critical literacy. The hip hop lyrics referenced in these manuscripts are taken from artist such as KRS–One, dead prez, and Goodie Mob.

Using the second approach, hip hop as tool, HHBP researchers use hip hop artifacts as exemplars or tools for teaching traditional content. For example, a teacher who is teaching U.S .geography might use the geographic distribution of hip hop singers' birthplaces as exemplars for orienting and familiarizing students with various states and cities throughout the US. This same teacher could use the geographic distribution of outdoor swimming pools without changing the primary impetus of the lesson, which is the geographic distribution of states and cities throughout the U.S. This approach differs from hip hop as subject, in that with hip hop as tool the hip hop is not central to the lesson. Emdin & Lee (2012) describe this use of hip hop in an essay on the use of hip hop in science education. This is the approach which I would later adopt for use with my own students.

The third approach, hip hop as form, positions HHBP researchers to utilize the various aesthetic forms of hip hop to deliver instruction or teach content. Using this approach, form refers to having students replicate the various hip hop components (such as: rapping, deejaying, graffiti art, and breakdancing) as a means of achieving the goals of the intended curriculum. So herein students might create a rap song about a specific content area. This approach would be similar to a teacher having students write an essay or draw a picture related to a specific topic. Form can also be depicted in ways of socializing or engaging in learning activities, such as emulating the function of a crew or posse in the classroom community (Emdin, 2010, p. 11). Form is described by Petchauer (2009, 2011) as a way of being, doing and thinking.

The fourth approach is hip hopping the practitioner. Using this approach, HHBP researchers encourage teachers to adopt hip hop norms and practices as a means of better connecting with their students. A good example of this approach can be found in Bridges essay on hip hop pedagogy and urban teacher education. Here, (Bridges, 2011) draws on data from 10 Black male teachers that he characterizes as "teachers from the Hip Hop Generation" (p. 325) to identify organizing principles drawn from hip hop culture. He also advocates recruitment of "…prospective teachers who possess qualities and dispositions that are more closely aligned with the principles of Hip Hop" (p. 335).

Identifying these four approaches helped Dr. Mutegi and me to understand various ways that we could incorporate hip hop in elementary STEM instruction. The approach we chose to adopt was hip hop as tool. We selected this approach largely because of constraints posed by the other approaches. Dr. Mutegi is a science educator and we determined early that we would assess the impact of HHBP on STEM instruction. In our understanding, efforts to use hip hop as subject made great sense in language arts or social studies instruction. This understanding was informed and reinforced by the two HHBP experts with whom I spoke. Moreover, we did not see ready application of this approach for STEM instruction. Hip hop as form was an approach that we considered. We envisioned having students create a hip hop artifact as a part of their STEM learning. Ultimately, however, we opted against this approach because we felt that students should be allotted more time than we would be able to allot, if they were to create meaningful artifacts. The fourth approach, hip hopping the practitioner did not seem practical for multiple reasons. Among these were: limited time and limited guidance. Neither of us had a clear sense of what it meant to adopt "qualities and dispositions that are more closely aligned with the principles of Hip Hop." More importantly, this seems to be a lifelong commitment rather than something done in preparation for a set of lessons.

In the end we developed four lessons. All four lessons were aimed at helping students to develop a better appreciation and understanding of statistics. We characterize two of the lessons as "traditional." These lessons are presented by the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) as exemplars of high–quality, standards–based mathematics curricula. We characterize the remaining two lessons as HHBP lessons. We created the HHBP lessons as alternatives to the NCTM lessons. For the HHBP lessons we used the approach of hip hop as tool.

Table 1 provides a summary description of the four lessons. The learning objective of the first two lessons was that students would be able to (a) compare three different methods for representing statistical data, and (b) evaluate how well each representation shows important aspects of the data. In the NCTM version of this lesson, students use the frequency of letters as they occur in the names of the 50 states as their data set. In the HHBP version of this lesson, students use the frequency of the geographic region where hip hop artists originate.

The learning objective of the second two lessons was that students would be able to (a) collect data that could be used to persuade an audience, and (b) select an appropriate statistical representation for convincingly presenting that data. In the NCTM version of this lesson students used various potato chips to argue, "What is the best chip"? In the HHBP version of this lesson, students used various hip hop artists to argue, "Who is the best artist"?

Table 1
Summary Description of Four Lessons
Lesson A
Objective: Students will be able to (a) compare 3 different representations of a data set (bar graph, stem–and–leaf plot & histogram); and (b) evaluate how well each representation shows important aspects of the data set.
NCTM Version: Students use the frequency of letters that occur in the names of all 50 states as their data set. HHBP Version: Students use the frequency with which hip hop artists originate in particular geographic regions.
Lesson B
Objective: Students will be able to (a) collect data that can be used to persuade an audience; and (b) select an appropriate statistical representation for convincingly presenting that data.
NCTM Version: Students use various potato chips to argue, "what's the best chip"? HHBP Version: Students use various hip hop artists to argue, "who is the best artist"?

Chapter 3 – The Implementation

I taught these lessons to third– through sixth–grade students who regularly attended an urban community center. The community center offered afterschool services during the school year and a range of camp activities during the summer and extended breaks. Dr. Mutegi had an ongoing relationship with the community center such that he and members of his research team provide science and mathematics instruction. Drawing on this relationship, I was able to teach these lessons over a two–day period during the students' fall break.

I had a total of 17 students organized into two groups. Group 1 was comprised of nine students and Group 2 was comprised of eight students. The students were assigned to groups by the community center staff. Although the assignment was not random, it was not ability based. Instead students were assigned based on their daily schedule. Groups were similar on many demographic variables. Table 2 depicts the distribution of students by group and six demographic variables (gender, race, age, grade level, school type and special education designation).

Table 2
Demographic Summary of Students
  Group 1 Group 2 Group 3
Gender 4 male / 5 female 6 male / 2 female 10 male / 7 female
  Black 2 Black 5 Black 7
  White 4 White 2 White 6
Race Hispanic 2 Hispanic 0 Hispanic 2
  Biracial 1 Biracial 1 Biracial 2
  8 years old – 1 8 years old – 2 8 years old – 3
  9 years old – 4 9 years old – 9 years old – 7
Age 10 years old – 2 10 years old – 2 10 years old – 4
  11 years old – 1 11 years old – 1 11 years old – 2
  12 years old – 1 12 years old – 0 12 years old – 1
  3rd Grade – 2 3rd Grade – 2 3rd Grade – 4
  4th Grade – 4 4th Grade – 3 4th Grade – 4
Grade Level 5th Grade – 1 5th Grade – 2 5th Grade – 3
  6th Grade – 2 6th Grade – 1 6th Grade – 3
  Public – 7 Public – 6 Public – 13
School Type Private – 1 Private – 0 Private – 1
  Charter – 1 Charter – 2 Charter – 3
Students Designated
Special Education
1 Student 2 Students 3 Students

I taught two lessons to each group. I switched the version of the lesson, so that each group had one NCTM lesson and one HHBP lesson. Because the two groups were not randomly assigned, switching the version of the lesson that each group received gave me more confidence in distinguishing outcomes that were attributable to instructional approach (HHBP as compared to NCTM) from those that might be attributed to group composition.

On my first day at the community center, I taught Lesson A to both groups. I taught Group 1 the NCTM version of Lesson A and I taught Group 2 the HHBP version of Lesson A. On my second day at the community center, I taught Lesson B to both groups. This time I taught Group 1 the HHBP version of Lesson B and I taught Group 2 the NCTM version of Lesson B. Table 3 shows the groups and which version of each lesson they received. Each of the four lessons lasted one hour.

Table 3
Organization of Student Groups by Lesson Type
  Group 1 Group 2
Lesson A NCTM Version HHBP Version
Lesson B HHBP Version NCTM Version

Dr. Mutegi and I were very interested in exploring the degree to which HHBP is an "effective" instructional strategy. As a result of our readings and discussions we identified two areas that could serve as a starting point for exploring instructional effectiveness. These areas were: engagement and concept mastery. We chose these in part because many of the articles written about HHBP argue that hip hop is a reflection of the lived experiences of urban students of color, and that it is a vehicle through which teachers could connect with students on an interpersonal level. Implicit in this and similar arguments is the idea that HHBP could be a vehicle for increased engagement and concept mastery among urban students and students of color. Also, while I realize that there is a broad range of ways in which to understand engagement (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004; Vibert & Shields, 2003). I am referring to observable behaviors in which students appear to be attending to the tasks presented by the instructor.

Following each lesson, I wrote a 2–3 page journal entry in which I summarized and reflected on the teaching experience. These reflections are the primary resource for my conclusions. As a teacher, regular self–reflections are more commonly used resources for understanding and improving practice than insight garnered from formal data collection (Schon, 1983). However, I also augment my personal reflections with more formal data sources.

The formal data source I used to measure engagement was a simple observation protocol that Dr. Mutegi and I developed. Dr. Mutegi served as the observer. He prepared a map of the classroom, which indicated where each student was seated. He also prepared a table with each student's name in the first column followed by 12 blank columns. Each blank column represented a five–minute interval. Once class began, Dr. Mutegi took a visual survey of the class every five minutes. During each survey, he made a notation of what each student was doing at that moment. There are two categories of notation. The first category indicates whether the student is on–task (OT) or off–task (FT). The second category indicates a more specific type of activity. We coded for seven specific activities. These were: disruptive behavior (DrB), side comment (SC), helping peer (HP), soliciting help from the teacher (SHT), soliciting help from a peer (SHP), collaborative work with peer (CWP), and disengaged behavior (DsB). Table 4 provides some examples of student behaviors and how those behaviors were coded.

Table 4
Sample Codes for Engagement
Student Behavior Coding
Student is reading his work loudly and drawing stares from classmates nearby. OT/DrB
Student is singing, dancing and tapping his pencil. FT/DrB
Following the teachers explanation, a student comments to two classmates that, "This is confusing." OT/SC
Student asks a classmate if she is going to a local festival this weekend. FT/SC
Student has his head on his desk and appears to be sleeping. DsB

To measure concept mastery, we developed short journal entry questions that students were to complete throughout instruction. These questions are provided in Table 5.

Table 5
Journal Entry Questions
Lesson A
NCTM Version: Students use the frequency of letters that occur in the names of all 50 states as their data set. HHBP Version: Students use the frequency with which hip hop artists originate in particular geographic regions.
The names of all 50 states are listed above. Is it possible to determine which letter of the alphabet is used most often by looking at a list of names? The names of some of the most top ranked hip hop songs and artists of all times are listed in the table provided. Artists' birth places are also listed. Is it possible to determine which region is represented the most by hip hop artists just by looking at a list of names? What is a better way to determine what region is represented the most?
Which letter is used most often? What region was represented the least by artists with top songs?
Are there any letters that are not used at all? What region was represented the most by artists with top songs?
Lesson B
NCTM Version: Students use various potato chips to argue, "what's the best chip"? HHBP Version: Students use various hip hop artists to argue, "who is the best artist"?
In the space provided write a summary explaining which potato chip is the best. Be sure that your information is accurate and well organized. You should provide a clear recommendation or conclusion. You may also use visual aids. In the space provided write a summary explaining which artist is the best. Be sure that your information is accurate and well organized. You should provide a clear recommendation or conclusion. You may also use visual aids.

Implementation of Lesson A

Overall, I was not pleased with the implementation of the hip hop version of Lesson A. Students often appeared disengaged, off task or lost. During and immediately after the lesson, it was my sense that the lesson objective was only partly met. It seemed to me that only a few students left with an understanding that a graph could be used to represent large amounts of data and that graphs made it easy to access information. Although there was definitely room for improvement with the NCTM version of Lesson A, I left with a greater sense of satisfaction with the implementation of that version.

Upon reflection, I can identify many factors that influenced student engagement and mastery of the lesson objective. Some of these factors point to the need for improved planning and lesson execution. Others point to the instructional approaches implemented. I will describe three of these factors. First, in both versions of the lesson, students were required to use computers to create graphical representations of a pre–determined data set. As it turns out, there was far too much time spent getting the computers up and running. This delay took away from instructional time. It also took students more time than expected to figure out how to use the computers to create graphs. As students waited (and in some cases became distracted), I lost some of them. Instead of having students use computers to represent their graphs, I could have had them use graph paper. One intended use of the computers was to minimize the amount of time spent on graphing; however, use of the computers actually had the opposite effect.

Second, my students would have benefited more had I provided more modeling and explicit direction. As mentioned, the students with whom I worked ranged from grade 3 through grade 6. So students came with a wide range of prior knowledge. Increased modeling would have helped to account for this wide range of prior knowledge. One example of the need for modeling was in students' use of a frequency table. Students were required to create a frequency table as one step in the process of creating multiple graphical representations for their data set. The act of creating a frequency table posed more difficulty than expected. Had I provided a predesigned frequency table for students to model they may have had a better sense of what information was needed to make their work complete. This was more a barrier for students doing the HHBP version of the lesson than for students doing the NCTM version of the lesson. It was expected that students would record data for artists that appeared on the top ten charts. However, instead of considering all artists, students tended to only identify 4–5 artists with whom they were familiar. Some of them expressed a decided disinterest in examining artist with whom they were not familiar. Upon reflection, I believe that more explicit instruction on the importance of considering all data points and modeling of that practice would have led to an improvement of student performance.

Third, class discussion around what statistics is and why it is used proved difficult with the HHBP version of the lesson. Based on my reading, I am sure that HHBP is intended to elicit certain types of discussion. However, at this point, I was unsure how to engage students in that kind of talk without moving away from the lesson. Some students were excited about the topic, specifically the older boys. At first they appeared to be interested in trying to find out whether their original answer to the question was correct but slowly started going off task as they engaged in discussions about the artists on the list. The younger boys were more focused on trying to figure out what they were supposed to do, and the girls present appeared preoccupied in trying to figure out who the hip hop artists on the list were. I was unsure how to incorporate exploratory talk about hip hop while remaining focused on the purpose of using graphical data.

Implementation of Lesson B

My reflection on the implementation of Lesson is B similar to my reflection on the implementation of Lesson A in all major areas. First, students who received the HHBP version of the lesson were largely disengaged. While students were expected to have some level of excitement about the subject, they appeared to be distracted by the subject as well. Unfortunately, the computer added to this distraction (a) in that students had difficulty navigating to some of the prescribed web pages and (b) in the form of the information presented. For example, one group of girls ranked Niki Minaj as the top hip hop artist. When accessing data to support their position, they spent quite a bit of time discussing her hair and clothes. Finding the required supporting data became an afterthought. Generally speaking students stayed engaged in talk about the topic, but their talk was not really conducive to productivity. By contrast, students who received the NCTM version of the lesson were not distracted in the same way. In fact most students who received the NCTM version of the lesson were diligent in finding supporting information and remained consistently engaged in some form of productive work.

The patterns I saw in my own reflection on the lesson implementation were supported in the other data I collected. For example, the observation protocol that was used to measure engagement showed that students receiving the NCTM version of both Lesson A and Lesson B were more engaged (on task 96% of the time compared to 82% of the time) than students receiving the HHBP version.

Chapter 4: Insights Gained

As mentioned previously, this experience has helped me to grow tremendously as a teacher who is committed to the well–being of all children, but especially children of African descent. It has also helped me to develop a stronger sense of the challenges and responsibilities that come along with producing high–quality scholarship. In this spirit, I will share four insights that I gained by virtue of this HHBP project. The first two insights speak most directly to my role as a beginning teacher. The second two insights speak most directly to my role as a beginning researcher.

Given my perspective as a beginning teacher, one of the most pronounced insights I gained through this work was that there needs to be a better operationalization of what constitutes hip hop pedagogy. More specifically, "What does it look like in a classroom?" or "What should teachers do?" After reading academic articles for nearly a semester and reaching out to HHBP researchers, I was still left to craft HHBP lessons myself. Even though I was well read on the subject, I was not confident that what I had was a strong exemplar of what HHBP should be. In order for meaningful, high quality HHBP to find its way into more elementary classrooms, it has to be more accessible to classroom teachers.

My second insight as a beginning teacher is closely related to the first. Advocates of HHBP could better advance the use and implementation of HHBP with a greater sensitivity to the makeup of teachers and the needs of children. There were many points through this process where I felt unable to make meaningful and insightful teaching decisions. Much of my uncertainty grew out of my lack of familiarity with hip hop. In many respects, the population of teachers, which is comprised primarily of middle class, white females, is much more dissimilar from minority students in urban settings than I am. So, I would not be surprised if the majority of these teachers would have a much greater degree of uncertainty when trying to implement HHBP than I did. What is more, as a music genre, hip hop contains many debauched themes. I looked for days for a few songs that I could use as examples with my class and I was unable to find any. After prodding from my husband and brainstorming with my advisor I was able to come up with alternatives. Many teachers in the predominantly middle–class, White, female teaching force are not likely to have a high degree of sensitivity to the needs of urban minority children (Donovan, 2011; Proxmire & Jenkins, 2012; Trejos, 2004; "White teacher in US sues school district after suspended for using the N–word in classroom," 2012). So, they may need very explicit guidance in order to navigate the negative themes presented in hip hop as they work to implement HHBP. Bear in mind, this challenge is greatly exacerbated for teachers working with younger children.

Given my perspective as a beginning researcher, one of the more pronounced insights I garnered through this project was that the body of research on HHBP needs a stronger empirical basis for many of the claims made by HHBP advocates. While the veracity of claims is important solely for the sake of good quality research, the claims made by HHBP advocates have the added effect of potentially influencing the lives of children in profound ways. Two examples of unsubstantiated claims are that: (a) hip hop is the music (or culture) of urban youth, and (b) hip hop is a space of liberatory, social and political commentary (Mutegi & Pitts Bannister, 2014).

First, several HHBP advocates make the claim that hip hop is the music (or culture) of urban youth. For example, (Emdin & Lee, 2012) begin their essay on hip hop and the "Obama Effect" with the claim, "Hip–hop is the culture of urban marginalized youth" (p. 2). Similarly, (Bridges, 2011) claims that, "Hip Hop is a cultivated way of life for urban youth, grounded on the tenets of peace, love, unity, and having fun" (p. 326). What stands out for me in these claims is the association of hip hop with urban youth. The 17 students with whom I worked ranged in age from 8–12 years old. The mean age was 9. In two lessons with these students, it was clear that about half of them had very little idea who most of the artists were. The artists with whom they were familiar were those who were very popular and very current (like Nikki Minaj). Artists as old as Tupac, Juvenile, and Soulja Boy were unknown by the students. In one conversation, students were trying to figure out who Tupac was. One student recognized the name because his grandmother talked about Tupac all the time. To a student born in 2001, Tupac is about as familiar as Eddie Levert of the O'Jays. This is an important claim to revisit empirically because much of the literature is predicated upon a supposed affinity that students have with the genre. It became clear to me through this project that this popular supposition may be flawed.

A second claim is that hip hop is a space of liberatory, social and political commentary. For example, (Akom, 2009) writes, "I argue that the use of hip hop as a liberatory practice is rooted in the long history of the Black freedom struggle and the quest for self–determination for oppressed communities around the world" (p. 53). He then goes on to provide examples from a 1989 song by KRS–One and a 2000 song by dead prez. (Bridges, 2011) characterizes hip hop culture as "a powerful social and political voice for people of color and their experiences with racism and classism in the U.S. educational system" (p. 326). These claims are not at all supported by my experience through this project. After several days of searching, I did not find acceptable commentary that I could present to my class, let alone social and political commentary. 2 So, the idea that hip hop is a culture overrun with liberatory, social and political commentary needs either to be revisited or it needs empirical support.

My second insight as a beginning researcher is that there needs to be a more critical examination of the implications of using HHBP in the instruction of urban minority students. After my experience, I cannot say that students were more engaged. Neither can I say that they were positioned to learn the content at a higher level.

I am careful, however, not to claim too much. What I have shared is simply the experience of one beginning elementary school teacher. While I have certainly garnered insights, I will not claim to have definitive answers. Instead I have a very clear sense of some of the challenges posed by trying to implement HHBP. I am also very excited about my future work as a teacher and a scholar committed to providing improved instruction to all the children in my charge, but especially those of African descent.

References

Akom, A. (2009). Critical hip hop pedagogy as a form of liberatory praxis. Equity & Excellence in Education, 42(1), 42–66.

Bridges, T. (2011). Towards a pedagogy of hip hop in urban teacher education. Journal of Negro Education, 80(3), 325–338.

Donovan, K. (2011, September 30, 2011). Misbehaving teachers get mild penalties, Toronto Star.

Emdin, C. (2010). Affiliation and alienation: Hip–hop, rap, and urban science education. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 42(1), 1–25.

Emdin, C., & Lee, O. (2012). Hip–hop, the "Obama effect," and urban science education. Teachers College Record, 114, 1–24.

Fredricks, J. A., Blumenfeld, P. C., & Paris, A. H. (2004). School engagement: Potential of the concept, state of the evidence. Review of Educational Research, 74, 59–109.

Gay, G. (2010). Culturally responsive teaching: theory, research, and practice (2nd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.

Hill, M. L. (2009). Wounded healing: Forming a storytelling community in hip–hop lit. Teachers College Record, 111, 248–293.

Mutegi, J. W., & Pitts Bannister, V. R. (2014). A critical analysis of hip hop pedagogy: Guest editors' commentary. African American Learners, 3(1–2).

Petchauer, E. (2009). Framing and reviewing hip-hop educational research. Review of Educational Research, 79,946-978. doi: 10.3102/0034654308330967

Petchauer, E. (2011). I feel what he was doin': Responding to justice-oriented teaching through hip-hop aesthetics. Urban Education, 46(6), 1411-1432.

Proxmire, C. A., & Jenkins, B. (2012, 2012 Dec 06). South Lyon teacher suspended For playing 'controversial video', Between the Lines, pp. 7–7,11.

Rodriguez, L. F. (2009). Dialoguing, cultural capital, and student engagement: Toward a hip hop pedagogy in the high school and university classroom. Equity & Excellence in Education, 42(1), 20–35.

Schon, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action: Basic Books.

Stovall, D. (2006). We can relate: Hip–hop culture, critical pedagogy, and the secondary classroom. Urban Education, 41, 585–602.

Trejos, N. (2004, September 30, 2004). Math Test In Oxon Hill Used Drug References, Washington Post, The.

Vibert, A. B., & Shields, C. (2003). Approaches to student engagement: Does Ideology Matter? McGill Journal of Education, 38, 221–240.

White teacher in US sues school district after suspended for using the N–word in classroom. (2012, 2012 Feb 19). Asian News International.

Footnotes

1"I" refers to Dowdell. This article is written in first person, through the eyes of Dowdell. This approach to the article supports our aim of providing, "a first–person account."

2As an aside, it is worth noting that Akom uses an artist whose work goes back to 1989 as an exemplar. KRS–One, dead prez, Public Enemy and Goodie Mob are the types of artists whose work is often offered as examples of social and political commentary. However, for the elementary–aged students that I teach, these are unknown artists from an unknown era.

Author Note

This work was supported in part by funds from the Urban Center for the Advancement of STEM Education (UCASE) at IUPUI and the Center for Research and Learning at IUPUI.