Conducting A Survey About Rap (or Hip Hop) Music

This multilevel GED class was made up of a diverse group of students who ranged in age from 18 to 55. There were about twelve regular attendees in the class. The teacher talked often with the class about reading a variety of materials such as newspapers, magazines, and other things as a way to improve their reading skills for life as well as for the GED. Students enjoyed looking through the magazines during class and often suggested articles to read, discuss and write about as a group. One article chosen by the students mentioned the influence of rap music on inner city young people. This sparked a lively discussion with strong opinions on both sides about the good and the bad influences of rap. Students talked about the history of rap and the artistic quality of rap, as well as their favorite rappers and lyrics from some of their favorite rap songs. It was clear that many of the students had a lot of interest in this topic and a lot of background knowledge about rap music.

During the conversation, one young man spoke up and said, "A lot of people don't understand what rap music is all about. They think rap is all negative." The teacher asked the class what they thought people needed to understand about rap music. There were diverse opinions expressed, with some students talking about how they didn't like some of the vulgar lyrics in rap, and some of the female students saying they didn't like the way some rappers talked about women. However, there was consensus among the group that rappers talk truth about what's really going on in the inner city. As one student wrote in his essay, "And it's other rappers that get more serious, like Big when he said [about the only way to survive in the ghetto], 'either you're sellin' crack or you got a wicked jump shot.'"

Since the discussion was so engaging, the teacher asked the students if they would have an interest in finding out what other adults studying for the GED thought about rap music. They agreed that this would be interesting, but not really what they were in class for. So the teacher listed out all the skills that they would be using if they did this research (formulating questions that would yield the information you need, graphing and analyzing data, drawing conclusions from information, etc.) and had them discuss which ones were needed for the GED. When they were satisfied that this project would be useful GED prep, they began to make a plan, and to document their work in learning logs.

The next day, the class looked over the EFF Standards Wheel to determine which standard would be most useful in helping them reach their goal. They agreed that Learn Through Research seemed like the most suitable one. The teacher asked the students to talk about times in the past when they had to search out information. A couple of students talked about gathering information to find a good daycare center for their children. Several students mentioned doing research on the internet, and another talked about shopping around to get the best deal on a car.

Next, the teacher asked the students to review the Standard, and together they talked about what each part meant. As they read the components, they formulated a plan that would allow them to practice the entire Standard.

To get started, the teacher asked the students if anyone had ever participated in a survey. A couple of students talked about participating in a consumer survey. Another student talked about political polls being like surveys. The teacher added that the census was also like a survey.

The teacher led the students in a brainstorming activity to generate the questions they wanted to ask on the survey in order to "use multiple lines of inquiry." In this case, the multiple lines of inquiry would be the many respondents to the survey, each giving his or her own opinion. Then she led a discussion about how to design the survey in order to make it easiest to analyze the data. For example, the students knew they wanted to gather information about people's opinions, but asking an open-ended question such as "What is your opinion of rap music?" would make analyzing the data hard. They decided instead to come up with some check boxes with various opinions about rap for respondents to check. The class talked about how this would make it easier to "organize and evaluate" the collected data. (Click here to see survey.)

The teacher sent the survey out to about twenty GED teachers, asking them to distribute the survey to their students. For a few weeks, each class day the teacher brought in another stack of completed surveys, and students would talk about the various comments and responses. After 86 surveys were returned, the class was ready to begin systematically analyzing the data. Students worked in pairs to count up the answers to certain questions and then reported back to the whole group. They recorded the information on newsprint and posted these on the walls of the classroom. The first piece of data the class looked at was how many people reported that they liked rap music and how many said they did not. It was time to begin thinking about how to illustrate the data graphically. The class had previously interpreted graphs from the newspaper and magazines, but they had never created their own graphs. So the teacher led the class in a lesson about different kinds of graphs (e.g., pie graphs, bar graphs and line graphs), and how to use each. They created one together, being careful to label each of the important parts. Seeing that students were doing some math practice for their research, the teacher looked over a second standard, Use Math to Solve Problems and Communicate, which reminded her to help students see math as a tool for communicating a message. As they practiced calculating percentages from their raw numbers, what story were the numbers telling them? Which kind of graph provided the most useful info? When did a bar graph communicate most effectively? A pie chart?

The next class, the teacher brought in a criteria checklist she had developed to specify the qualities of a good graph. She explained that she wanted to make the expectations clear and to give them a way to self-assess their work.

Checklist for an excellent graph:

  • The data are clearly identified and easily read.
  • Only relevant data are included.
  • Data are represented accurately.
  • Interpretations can be made from the graph.
  • There is a title on the graph.
  • There is a legend on the graph.
  • Explanations (oral or written) accompany the graph.

To demonstrate its use, she gave them a graph with missing parts and asked the students to use the checklist to evaluate it. They quickly saw that the title and legend were missing, making the graph impossible to interpret. Then she asked them to help her create a checklist with which to assess "excellent" research. Referring back to the Standard to guide them, and considering what they were researching, they worked together to come up with:

Checklist for excellent research:

The information answers a real question and tells us something we didn't know before.

We selected the right sources (sources that would provide the necessary information).

The information is accurate; we have documentation

The information is useful; we can analyze it.

We can explain our results and our analysis of the results.

They would return to this checklist at the end of their project to assess the quality of their work.

The students now had to agree on how to organize the data. The teacher invited them to "play around" with putting it into different charts and graphs so that they could see that each one gives you different information. They discovered that you don't choose a graphic format by the one you think looks the best, but by which one gives you the information you want.

Once they had chosen the graphic formats they wanted to use and organized their data, they were ready to interpret the information. What did it mean? Was there anything surprising about the results? It was not unexpected that the older GED students were less likely to say they liked rap music. Nor was it surprising that those who didn't like rap viewed it in negative terms. However, a few who said they liked rap also viewed it as harmful. Moreover, a few who said they didn't like rap viewed it in positive terms. So, an individual might appreciate rap as an art form but still not really enjoy listening to it. One of the questions that students were most interested in was the open-ended question about favorite rappers. They were surprised that the same well-known rappers were popular across age groups as well as across ethnic backgrounds. The survey also raised some new questions. The students wanted to know more about people's experiences with rap and the reasons behind their opinions.

While most of the students were very interested in the topic of rap music, not everyone was initially enthused. One older student told the teacher that she felt a bit uneasy at first because she really didn't know anything about rap, and she was afraid that she would be expected to. The teacher explained that she didn't know much about rap either, but that she expected to learn a lot. The teacher pointed out that the purpose of these lessons was also to learn something about how to Learn Through Research by collecting, analyzing, and reporting data in a way that communicated clearly. The student was quick to identify topics that she wanted to research, such as buying a computer and locating computer training courses. In the end, this student felt very good about helping with the data analysis and being able to create her own graph.

At the end of the unit, the teacher and the students revisited the Learn Through Research standard and their "excellent research" checklist to talk about what they had learned and to identify other topics they would like to research. Their new questions included: What kind of training is needed to become a social worker? What kinds of jobs are there in the health field besides nursing? How do you manage diabetes? How do you develop a plan to buy a house? The students even talked about, maybe, conducting another survey of GED students on another topic of interest - the Kobe Bryant case.