By Johnson, Rebecca Grooms
American Music Teacher , Vol. 59, No. 6
"With experience comes wisdom." Sounds logical, doesn't it? A recent study titled "Music performance teachers' conceptions about learning and instruction: a descriptive study of Spanish piano teachers" (1) explores the effect of length of teaching experience on the instructional philosophies of Spanish piano teachers. As is true in many European countries, music teaching in Spain is a highly regulated activity; teachers must be trained and certified to teach in the music conservatories where all children receive their music instruction. Traditionally, the main objective of the lessons was "merely to make learners reproduce wide musical repertoires, both accurately and correctly, but very little attention was paid to other more 'artistic' aspects." (2) Recently, however, educational reform has been introduced and teachers have been strongly encouraged to use a "constructivist approach" with their students. This study compares the teaching philosophy of "old school" teachers with instructors trained after the educational reforms.
The concepts: Three broad philosophic theories of teaching were defined. The direct theory was the most traditional, with an emphasis on the teacher as the absolute authority. Until recent reforms, pre-service teacher training consisted solely of applied performance lessons, rather than courses about how to teach--which led to intuitively teaching as one was taught. The interpretive theory was an evolution of the direct theory with some recognition of the student's needs and abilities. The constructive theory was based on research findings about learning theories and emphasized the student's participation in and contributions to exploring strategies for learning and interpreting the repertoire.
The method: The 45 teachers in this study all held the "highest possible degree" in piano performance and were "official" teachers. They all taught "elementary and intermediate degree students" at professional music conservatories. The teachers were divided into three categories: highly experienced (more than 15 years teaching experience), experienced (between five and 15 years) and novice (less than five years). Each was given 15 days to complete a written, open-ended questionnaire, which asked them to choose a piece for a typical student, list in rank order the 10 most important learning outcomes for this piece, take the top three outcomes and describe the best instructional strategies to promote these outcomes, and the best strategies for evaluating these outcomes. Their essays were analyzed with a lexicometrical method, in which important recurring words were tabulated.
The results: The words that highly experienced teachers used most often in their responses were control, correctly, difficulties, important, necessary, outcome, reading, sound, technical, techniques and troubles. These teachers strongly focused on technical mastery, correction of inaccuracies through rote imitation of the teacher's model and large amounts of intense practice. High levels of motivation and talent were basic requirements, and students were expected to be able to intuitively solve problems. Final exams (such as juries, concerts and so forth) were seen as the best way to evaluate the students' playing and the way to select the most gifted pupils. These teachers were generally using a very direct teaching approach and the student's role was passive and imitative.
Experienced teachers often used the words activities, home, study, (to) make, (to) perform, (to) play, voices and work. They described technical outcomes with cognitive or action words. As interpretive teachers, their main goal was "for students to acquire the skills and knowledge that allow them to play this particular piece in a certain and predetermined 'correct way.'" (3) These teachers were more aware of the students' psychomotor and cognitive skills, and they had the goal of externally managing the students' actions and cognitive processes so that they played the repertoire correctly. …