The Learner-Centered model of Classroom Music-Making
Source: Learner-Centered Education in the Music Classroom, Master Thesis,
David Barg, Boston University, 2009
Source: Learner-Centered Education in the Music Classroom, Master Thesis,
David Barg, Boston University, 2009
Investigation of learner-centered education (LCE), generally, can draw on a vast body of research. Literature about its use in instrumental and choral rehearsals is, however, so limited (Goolsby 1997; Scruggs 2008, et. al.) that Jorgenson (2000) found it to be “practically non-existent.”
This issue is highly relevant to music education because research that discovers why, counter-intuitively, LCE should be so absent from rehearsing ensembles might also point to ways of increasing and institutionalizing its application to school music ensembles.
More widespread use of LCE could well lead to addressing such priority issues in music education as: improving the quality of both student music making, increasing music teachers’ personal and professional satisfaction; addressing student and teacher retention, and; raising music's visibility in both the larger and local academic communities.
Sources for this Literature Review are intended to build support for an upcoming investigation of this topic. Those sources include: books, journal articles, articles in collections, articles on the internet, doctoral dissertations, masters theses, and unpublished reports. Themes that emerged from these sources include: 1) General LCE; 2) Lack of research on LCE applied to rehearsing; 4) Why LCE appears to be rarely used in ensemble rehearsing; 4) Ensemble rehearsing with no reference to LCE; 5) Rehearsing using LCE approaches, and; 6) Lack of LCE focus in pre-professional training.
General Learner-Centered Education (LCE)
The characteristics and importance of LCE is widely discussed in the literature. In an online document, Downing (2007) surveys the principles and benefits of learner-centered education, which prioritizes students becoming actively involved in, and taking personal responsibility for, their own learning. In learner-centered education, thinking and responding creatively are prioritized over rote repetition of facts. Reading, writing, and discussion are preferred to memorizing.
The document evaluates the philosophical and practical differences between learner-centered and teacher-centered paradigms. Downing contends that, while teacher-centered education discourages attention, engagement and retention on the part of students, it nevertheless remains the dominant mode of instruction in the United States. The author suggests that, while learner-centered education may never become the dominant mode, it should be far more widely applied.
This document is a focused and insightful discussion of learner-centered education, one of considerable benefit to education stakeholders.
The benefits of learner-centered education and a historical overview of its development are provided by Henson (2003), who examines the contributions of educators, philosophers, and psychologists whose thinking and practice developed into the constructivist approach to education. Henson examines the development of learner-centered education through two lenses.
The work of Socrates, Locke, Rousseau, Parker, Dewey, and others provides the philosophical lens, and the work of Rogers, Combs, Vygotsky, and Piaget, among others, provides the psychological lens. The article concludes with a discussion of five basic precepts of learner-centered education: 1) learning should be experience-based; 2) Each individual learner's own unique qualities and dispositions should be considered when planning a curriculum; 3) The learner's perceptions should shape the curriculum; 4) Learners' curiosity should be fed and nurtured, and; 5) Learning is best when it involves emotions.
Lack of Research on LCE in ensemble rehearsing: two examples
Scruggs (2008) writes about the preponderance in the research literature of the TCE model in music education, generally (not in the rehearsal model), describing such characteristics as teacher directives, correcting mistakes, and rote answers. She reports the lack of research about learner-centered strategies, and writes that “…no research has been found that specifically addresses the outcomes of a teacher-centered music ensemble environment in relation to any alternative approach.” Scruggs’s review of the Journal of Research in Music Education (JRME) from 2001-2006 found three articles relating to LCE and rehearsing, a finding confirmed by others, including Goolsby (1997) and Jorgensen (2000).
Questioning is an area of LCE which has been substantially researched, and found to enhance both learning and classroom management significantly. Gall and Gillette (1980) specified that “probing and redirected questions can indeed result in greater learning if at least 50% of the questions are ‘higher cognitive questions.’” Research on the use of questioning in instrumental and choral rehearsals, however, reports that only 2-3% of ensemble leaders’ verbal instructions were formatted as questions (Goolsby 1997; Yarbrough and Price 1989).
Why LCE appears to be rarely used in ensemble rehearsing
Remarkably versatile and demonstrated as effective at all grade levels, LCE has great potential for enhancing rehearsals yet many teachers appear reluctant to use this method. (Gall, 98). Research data suggests that school ensemble leaders tend to “teach as they were taught,” using chiefly the “banking” approach (Freire 1970) rather than a LCE pedagogical model. (Jones, Palincsar, Ogle, & Carr 1987). Additionally – and as mentioned above – there is little research that suggests LC alternatives to the TC model. (Scruggs 2008).
The fear of initiating new approaches and taking risks invites the “…discomfort and anxiety that change creates” (Bonwell 1991). Coupled with this is teachers’ fear of losing control, an issue that is frequently addressed in the research literature (e.g. Braun 1976; Felder 1996; Gall 1998; Kassner 1998; Pollick 2009; et. al.).
Research suggests that teachers are concerned about receiving negative evaluations from supervisors who are not familiar or comfortable with LC approaches (Bliss 1986; Forest 1996). The creative chaos that may ensue during LC activities, students leading learning activities, extended silences: these may be interpreted by unsympathetic evaluators as ineffective teaching, with negative consequences to the teacher’s career (Bonwell and Elson 1991).
Ensemble rehearsing with no reference to LCE
The LCE approach appears not to provide criteria for judgment or material to study in most studies on rehearsing. The purpose of Skadsem’s 1997 research was to compare the effectiveness of different approaches on the execution of dynamics by singer participants, including: conductors’’ verbal instructions, gestures, dynamics written in the music, and volume of the singers.
Other purposes were: 1) to identify differences in response to dynamic changes by conductors, college singers, and high school singers, and; 2) to measure the effects of eye contact and excerpt order on the execution of dynamics. The study’s research questions were: 1. Will singers respond differently to verbal, written, gestural, and/or choral instructional stimuli? 2. Will singers respond differently in loud and soft passages? 3. Will conductors, college singers, and/or high school singers respond differently to instructions about dynamics? 4. Will there be any order effect? 5. Will there be any correlation between the amount of time singers watch the conductor and their responses to instructions about dynamics?
One hundred forty-four college and high school singers participated in the study, during which the singers and leader were videotaped responding to the different stimuli with other elements controlled. Other means of data collection were: questionnaires asking singers to rate the effectiveness of four techniques for eliciting dynamic responses, audiotapes of the singers' performance responses, and videotapes of conductors’ and singers’ eye movements.
Results indicated that verbal instruction had a significantly stronger influence than the other three modes of instruction on the singers' dynamic singing responses. The stimulus condition that evoked the lowest level of response from high school singers was the conductor's gestural change.
In 1998, Yarborough investigated the effect of magnitude of conductor behavior on performance, attentiveness, and attitude of students in mixed choruses. Four mixed choruses (one university and three high schools) were rehearsed under three conditions: (1) with regular conductor, (2) with high magnitude conductor, and (3) with low magnitude conductor.
Two hundred and seven Florida student choristers participated in the study; one experimental teacher, one observer, three media technicians, were also present. The singers were videotaped singing "Alleluia," by Randall Thompson, under the direction of high and low magnitude conductors. Observers reviewing the videotapes scored students’ on- and off-task behavior, teacher approval and disapproval, conductors’ activity, body movement, conducting gestures, eye contact, facial expression, and voice pitch, speed, and volume.
Results reported no significant effect on students’ performance, attentiveness, and attitude by the magnitude of the two conductors’ behavior. At the same time, more than half the participating groups scored their lowest ratings with the low magnitude conductor, and students preferred working with the high magnitude conductor.
Rehearsing using LCE approaches
The purpose of Maureen Ferley’s 2008 thesis was to explore “effective and efficient” band rehearsal techniques that would engage her junior high school band students in a “…deeper and more musical way.” Developing rehearsal techniques that actively engage students and enhance musical performance and experience is widely acknowledged in the literature as a priority issue for music educators. Improved rehearsals and performances may positively impact both student and teacher retention, as well as enhance the visibility of music. In this light, the author’s study is significant.
Ferley addressed these research questions in her study: 1) What proportion of instructional time do I spend on: teaching musical concepts and skills; conducting active music making; classroom management; waiting or wasting time? 2) How can I change my rehearsal practice to spend more time engaging students in active musical learning, and less time on non-musical tasks, thus improving the effectiveness and efficiency of my middle years band rehearsals? 3) How do students perceive and respond to their band rehearsals?
Participants in this action study included 28 members (80%) of an 8th grade Manitoba junior high school band, one music educator, and the author. and Dr. Ferley. The band met 2-3 times per week for fifty minutes. The researcher focused on eighteen rehearsals of her eighth grade band from January to March 2006. She divided these into eight cycles, each focusing on a different rehearsal issue. Anonymous exit slips were completed by the students after each rehearsal to “…help instill self-reflection as a ‘habit of mind.’”
To find themes for students’ answers, concept mapping was used. Themes that emerged were shared and discussed with the students and their responses recorded. The researcher reports students’ inconsistency in their degree of reflection as they prepared to leave the class, sometimes failing to submit their slips. She reflects that focus group interviews might have provided important data.
Each rehearsal was videotaped, with subsequent review and organization into rehearsal frames. The frames were then coded into five areas: a) instruction; b) active music making; c) classroom management; d) waiting; e) announcements, other non-musical activities. The researcher also assessed the videotape data through reflective questions regarding clarity and effectiveness of instructions and gestures, including cues.
Pre- and post- attitudinal surveys were completed by students at the beginning and end of the study. Each contained fifteen fixed response items and two open response items. Fixed items focused on students’ perceptions of their activities and interactions, addressing such items as individual, section, and total ensemble effort and learning, and students’ enjoyment of their band experience. Open items asked students about their enjoyment of band participation, as well as for their suggestions on what might be changed to make it better. The researcher kept a journal and made entries after every rehearsal.
Her conclusions were that: a) most class time was spent making music, followed by waiting and instruction time; b) her new techniques improved the band’s music making; c) students strongly agreed that they were engaged during the rehearsals, and; d) most students responded positively to survey items about the study. To learn how her “…rehearsal innovations…related to a change in (her) teaching practice,” the researcher analyzed her lesson plans, and journal and video reflections.
Dr. Ferley reports five specific thematic categories emerging from her lesson reflections/journaling, here arranged in order of frequency: a) music centered issues; b) classroom management comments; c) housekeeping announcements; d) music pacing and knowledge concerns, and; e) stress related to student. In this dissertation, she examines each in detail and develops an action plan to address her findings.
The results of data analysis showed that the students felt involved – and actively participated in – band rehearsals. There was general agreement that: 1) most of the class time was devoted to music making; 2) band members collaborated well together; 3) a consistently high level of involvement throughout the study was documented, and; 4) students rated the teacher as “very effective.”
Bernadette Scruggs reached similar conclusions in her 2008 dissertation that compared learning processes and outcomes in teacher-centered music instruction and learner-centered instruction in four middle school orchestra classes. Using a mixed-method research design, she collected data using surveys, observations, interviews, and teacher journal entries.
No differences are reported in musical outcomes, but students in the learner-centered classes demonstrated greater musical growth and independence, engagement, and higher-order thinking. Scruggs details the preponderance in the research literature of the teacher-centered education model, describing such characteristics as teacher directives, correcting mistakes, and rote answers.
Lack of LCE focus in pre-professional training
In 2002, Conway examined the experiences and perceptions of new music teachers of their pre-professional preparation and first year of practice, as well as the perceptions of those teachers’ mentors and administrators. She sought to improve the preservice music teacher education program at a large Midwestern University. Her investigation of the topic is highly relevant to the field of music education, as it promises to add understanding about: effectiveness of new teachers; student music ensemble participation and retention; quality of music making and level of musical literacy; status of music programs in schools, and; teacher job satisfaction and retention.
Research questions in this qualitative study included: (a) What were the perceptions of beginning teacher participants regarding the most valuable and the least valuable parts of their teacher preparation? (b) What were the perceptions of building administrators and assigned mentors regarding the preservice preparation provided by BTU? (c) What suggestions did participants have for the music teacher preparation program at BTU?
Primary research participants included seven first-year teachers from BTU's class of 1999 and seven first-year teachers from the class of 2000.
Data from these participants included individual interviews, focus group interviews, teacher journals, classroom observations by the researcher, mentor interviews, administrator interviews, and responses on an open-ended "End-of-Year Questionnaire." Regarding pre-service education, she found that teachers’ most appreciated those educational experiences that were categorized as learner-centered, including: ensemble participation, student teaching, and fieldwork. Least-valued were teacher education courses conducted in a teacher-centered approach
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