Academic journal article Australian Journal of Music Education

Musical Experience and Confidence of Pre-Service Primary Teachers

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Music Education

Musical Experience and Confidence of Pre-Service Primary Teachers

Article excerpt

Intro: Background to the study

This article has been structured, somewhat whimsically, as a popular song, to subconsciously underline the importance of singing. Hence the use of the terms Intro, Bridge, Verse, Chorus (which always contains quotes from informants), and Coda.

The NSW Primary K-6 curriculum (NSW Board of Studies, 2006) specifies that music is an integral part of the primary school experience. This is also true of the new Australian Curriculum (Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority, 2015) and the Donnelly/ Wiltshire review of it (Donnelly, & Wiltshire, 2014). There is a good reason for this since there is increasing evidence that participation in music is linked to improved outcomes in almost all other curriculum areas (see for instance: Bamford, 2006; Catteral, Chapleau, & Iwanaga, 1999; Schellenberg, 2006; Wetter, Koerner, & Schwaninger, 2009; and for a summary of research in the area: National Association for Music Education, 2007). All pre-service primary teacher education degree programs therefore contain some music pedagogy. How effective and adequate pre-service preparation in music education is in practice, is however less clear.

The situation in NSW is particularly concerning, as specialist music teachers in primary schools are not appointed in the public system and therefore music education depends in most cases on generalist teachers. Some of these are skilled musicians and have the ability to deliver an engaging and effective program, and some schools make use of the talents of such teachers across the school. Other teachers however have limited musical experience and limited inclination for using music in the classroom. In 2011, a pre-service student at the University of New England was unable to present a music lesson when on a practicum in a small western NSW town because, according to her supervising teacher, they'd "done music in term 1" (Personal communication from student, 2011).

What is alarming is that the school and class in question quite possibly have managed to have a smattering of musical activities that touched on all required curriculum areas, and could therefore claim to have satisfied the curriculum--however the recommended time allocation given to the Creative Arts curriculum by the Board of Studies of 1.5-2.5 hours per week over 4 terms (Board of Studies Teaching and Educational Standards NSW, n.d.) indicate it would be highly unlikely that an adequate and well structured music education program could have been delivered in that time frame. It would not seem to provide "continued development of students' knowledge and understanding, and skills" (NSW Board of Studies, 2006, p. 98). That this situation could occur is a weakness of the syllabus, which has flexibilities that allow teachers to focus on personal strengths while covering other elements to some extent, which can be pedagogically effective, but it also means that the result might be a sketchy coverage of everything.

Since the effectiveness of a school's music program is so dependent on its teachers, it is therefore necessary to investigate the people who are currently being trained as generalist primary teachers in terms of their background and experience in music and their confidence to teach music in the classroom. Competence and confidence are of course linked and the creative arts are one area where this can be critical (Russell-Bowie, 2012, & 2013) and confidence in teaching music has traditionally ranked the lowest of the arts for recent graduates, due to the complexity as a discipline and a self-perceived lack of talent for music (Alter, Hays, & O'Hara, 2009, p. 17).

It is significant to note that the amount of time dedicated to pre-service teacher training in the area of music has decreased dramatically, as Table 1, based on tertiary education of pre-service teachers in Armidale, demonstrates:

The musical skills and backgrounds of pre-service teachers vary considerably. …

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