Learning Centres in Primary and Early Childhood Music Education

Article excerpt


Learning centres, sometimes also referred to as learning stations (Nakamura & Baptiste, 2006; Cheyney & Strichart, 1981) are separate spaces in the classroom set up to enable students to work independently of the teacher (individually or in small groups) in the completion of self regulated tasks. Learning centres may be constructed in any domain or across multiple domains and may be used at any level of education, but are most commonly used within the primary and early childhood context (Brown & Boehringer, 2007; Casey, 2005; Chessin, 2007; Copeland, 2005; Devaney, 2005; Hainen, 1977; Kenney, 1989; Martin, Stork & Sander, 1998; Myers & Maurer, 1987; Nakamura & Baptiste, 2006; Snowden & Christian, 1998; Strickland & Morrow, 1988; Turner, 1999; Vincent, Cassel & Milligan, 2008; Wood, 2005).

According to Barry and King (1994), learning centres were an outcome of a "reawakening of progressive education in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s" when their use within classroom practice was commonplace (p. 506). Since this period however the level of their use has generally declined, with most literature relating to the current use of learning centres in the classroom being drawn principally from within the science domain. At a time when constructivist principles, individualised learning, and the student management of learning are embedded in most Australian curricula it is arguably useful to re-evaluate the potential outcomes that may flow from the use of learning centres, and specifically explore their prospective application in the domain of music. In the context of music, learning centre tasks most commonly comprise composition activities, performance activities or critical listening activities, or a combination of these. They may be utilised in both the general and music specialist classroom environments.

This article explores the phenomenon of learning centres in music education through data collected using a questionnaire of primary and early childhood school students who participated in a trial of eighteen learning centres over a two week period in a regional northern Tasmanian Department of Education (DoE) school in 2007.

Literature related to learning centres are reviewed, an exemplar learning centre is presented, and the methodology of the project is outlined. The data from the project are discussed, and conclusions drawn for future research in this area. The paper offers an initial perspective to inform further research into this under-utilised strategy.


The majority of literature related to learning centres identified as a part of this study dates from the period between the 1970s and 1980s (Cheyney & Strichart, 1981; Cooper, 1981; Espiritu & Loughrey, 1985; Hainen, 1977; Kenny, 1989; Myers & Maurer, 1987; Strickland & Morrow, 1988) with the most recent literature being located principally within the science domain (Brown & Boehringer, 2007; Chessin, 2007; Nakamura & Baptiste, 2006; Vincent, Cassel & Milligan, 2008; Wood, 2005). Literature referred to learning centres in a gifted and talented context (Snowden & Christian, 1998), in the context of students with disabilities (Cheyney & Strichart, 1981), in Montessori education (Copeland, 2005), in physical education (Martin, Stork & Sander, 1998), in literacy (Strickland & Morrow, 1988), and in music education (Barrett, 1996; Beatty & Schnitger, 1977; Casey, 2005; Devaney, 2005; Turner, 1999).

Two significant Australian authored books on the subject of learning centres were identified (Barrett, 1996; English & Wison, 2004). Barrett (1996) is notable as it is the only substantial resource produced in the use of learning centres within the domain of music education. Barrett states that "despite the recognition of learning centres as an effective learning/teaching strategy, and the use of such a strategy in many curriculum areas, learning centres are not commonly used in music education" (p. …


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