How to Teach Music Reflectively

This world-wide popularity has the mystical teachings of jesus of literature on the practice. Despite this abundance and popularity, there seems to be limited literary sources displaying how to teach music in a reflective manner. To further support this claim, I recently got an email from a colleague from Seoul National University of Education pointing out difficulty in locating literature which clearly displays the activities involved in teaching music in a reflective manner. Therefore, through the use of selected music-teaching vignettes, this column provides some guiding principles on how to teach music reflectively.

Zeichner and Liston (1996) argue that to teach without ‘questioning’ or ‘critically thinking about’ your lesson planning, implementation and evaluation processes, ‘self’ as teacher, and all aspects of the teaching-and-learning dynamics occurring in any educational context, is to teach in a non-reflective manner. A simple analysis of this statement reveals the centrality of ‘questioning’ or ‘critical thinking’ to reflective teaching. Based on this, here are a number of guiding principles to which music teachers could adhere, should they wish to carry out their practice in a reflective manner. As indicated above, each principle is supported by an example and/or a vignette.

Let me demonstrate this using an example of preparing to teach a classroom instrumental percussion ensemble lesson. My preparation process involves questioning or critically thinking about: songs or sets of rhythms to use as the foundation for the ensemble, ensuring that these are age-appropriate and within the students’ present musical capabilities; the kinds and availability of percussion instruments and how various rhythmic patterns may or may not ‘work’ with the available instruments, and whether students sit or stand to play the instruments during rehearsals and final performance.

Additionally, if tuned percussion instruments are utilized, alternative notation may need to be prepared in advance. Alternate notation is only necessary if students were unfamiliar with standard notations. I also question or critically think about methods of teaching, i.e., would I teach by rote and, if so, which aspects of the lesson lends itself to this method, or will I teach with visual aid or employ demonstrations, and at what point of the teaching-learning process would these be most advantageous to students grasping the concept being taught or the skills to be learned or developed. I would also consider classroom management, strategies for reducing students’ disruptive behaviours and students’ learning overall.

While the total eradication of all barriers to students’ learning is impossible, engaging in a reflective preparation process, as indicated above, helps to eliminate or reduce hindrances to students’ acquiring new musical material or new musical skills to be developed or improved.

Here, a reflective music teacher questions or thinks critically- on the spot, in ‘the thick of things’- about what is being taught and the intended outcome, sometimes having to assess, revise, and implement new approaches and activities immediately (Schön, 1983).

The process of developing and ‘fine tuning’, so as to improve the overall ‘sound quality’ of a classroom percussion ensemble, will involve discarding or altering rhythmic and melodic patterns. These changes are ordinarily made during actual rehearsals and via the process of questioning or thinking, and, indeed, listening critically ‘on the spot in the thick of things.

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