Direct Instruction and Music Literacy: One Approach to Augmenting the Diminishing?

Article excerpt

Introduction

Secondary school music teachers are facing the increasing problem of diminishing class time in an increasingly crowded curriculum (Burke, 2007). The creation of the Arts Learning Area has seen the teaching time available for class music reduced in many instances, as sequential class music makes way for short term 'arts taster' programs (Stevens, 2005; Walker, 2005). However, music teachers are still expected to produce musically literate students potentially capable of undertaking post-compulsory music courses in upper secondary school. Accordingly, maximising diminishing class time is becoming increasingly important for music teachers, especially in the preparation of students potentially able to complete senior secondary music courses.

This study set out to examine the effectiveness of a music literacy intervention designed to accelerate literacy acquisition and recall among students in their first year of secondary school (Year 7). The study employed the pedagogical approach of Direct Instruction (DI) as its theoretical basis. While somewhat at odds with mainstream educational thinking because of its teacher-centred nature, proponents of DI claim it is an efficient method for fast tracking basic skills acquisition. Using the DI approach, a series of carefully scripted 10 minute lesson interventions were constructed, and delivered at the start of each lesson over the course of 20 lessons (13 weeks) to half of a Year 7 student cohort in a major Victorian secondary school, while the other half of the cohort were taught using traditional student-centred approaches. Pre- and post-testing of the levels of students' musical literacy, using Gordon's Iowa Tonal and Rhythm Tests as a benchmark, was undertaken to determine whether the DI intervention resulted in any significant differences to Year 7 student music literacy levels over the period of the intervention.

The study was carried out in the knowledge that music educators are coming under increasing pressure with diminishing class time to adequately prepare students for higher level music studies. The DI teaching approach has been successfully used in lower secondary remedial English and mathematics in Australia. By testing the efficiency of DI as an approach for teaching basic music literacy, the researchers hope to find a way forward for music teachers to maximise their diminishing teaching time in lower secondary school, while significantly improving music literacy outcomes for students to enable them to successfully engage in applied music activities. Ultimately, it is hoped that such a program may help better prepare students to complete senior school music courses.

This article examines DI as a potential teaching approach for class music, and describes the DI program created for this study. It sets out in detail the steps involved in the intervention and presents the findings of the study before discussing their implications.

Background

The current state of music education in Australia makes it difficult for students to gain the skills and competencies required to successfully complete music at the post-compulsory level. A major problem is that of declining class music time, especially in lower secondary school. This has been brought about partly by the amalgamation of music into a generic Arts learning area. Stevens (2005) notes that music is 'One of the more highly specialised and therefore time-consuming areas of The Arts [Key Learning Area]' (p. 256). Yet music has had to make way for the other arts in an increasingly crowded curriculum, and this situation will continue with the introduction of the National Arts Curriculum (ACARA, 2011).

A problem readily identified with the move towards generic Arts education has been a resulting lack of continuity, as students in lower secondary school often take part in arts 'taster' courses which alternate between visual arts, drama, dance and media (Grattan, 2006; Stevens, 2005; Walker, 2005). …

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