Recommendations for the Investigation and Delivery of Music Programs Aimed at Achieving Psychosocial Wellbeing Benefits in Mainstream Schools

By Dale Crooke, Alexander Hew; McFerran, Katrina Skewes | Australian Journal of Music Education, January 2014 | Go to article overview

Recommendations for the Investigation and Delivery of Music Programs Aimed at Achieving Psychosocial Wellbeing Benefits in Mainstream Schools


Dale Crooke, Alexander Hew, McFerran, Katrina Skewes, Australian Journal of Music Education


Introduction

Policy literature suggests musical participation in schools promotes student psychosocial wellbeing (PSWB) (Australian Government, DEST, 2005; Garrett, 2009; MCEETYA & CMC, 2007; Parliament of Victoria, 2013). However, research evidence supporting this link is both scarce (Gill & Rickard, 2012) and inconsistent (Anderson & Rickard, 2007; Rickard, Appelman et al., 2012; Rickard, Bambrick, & Gill, 2012). Analysis of the literature reveals this inconsistency is linked to research challenges in two main areas: research method and design, and the nature of the music programs under investigation. These challenges appear to be driven by assumptions that obscure the potential for research investigations to demonstrate a link between school music programs and psychosocial wellbeing (PSWB).

The first assumption is that the research methods commonly used to assess the PSWB benefits of music in schools are suitable for capturing these benefits. While a range of methods have been used in this area, including observer report (Rickson & Watkins, 2003) and reflexive methodologies (McFerran & Teggelove, 2011), the field is dominated by experimental designs using quantitative self-report methods (Costa-Giomi, 2004; Currie & Startup, 2012; Rickard, Appelman et al., 2012; Schellenberg, 2004). Arts education scholars have frequently adopted a contrary stance, describing these methods as insufficient for assessing the subjective benefits of school based arts activities (Davis, 2008; Ewing, 2010; Hunter, 2005; Winner & Hetland, 2000). This assertion is supported by literature on social indicators, where it is explicitly stated that:

a child's ability to provide a valid self-report depends on their cognitive capacity to understand the question and communicate a response [.] Although age is typically associated with particular stages of cognitive development, this varies from child to child and does not ensure a child's ability to provide a valid self-report. (AIHW, 2012, p. 27)

Scholars investigating the PSWB benefits of musical participation also report comprehension a limitation when using quantitative self-report methods with children (Michel & Farrell, 1973), and older students (Anderson & Rickard, 2007). The continued use of these methods can be seen as linked to suggestions from critical scholars that quantitative approaches are the preferred method in both academic (including universities and journals) (Finlay, 2002) and political spheres (Saunders, 2011; Torrance, 2011). To borrow from critical theory terminology (Lincoln, Lynham, & Guba, 2011), this suggests the continued domination of such research methods are driven by the fact they hold a privileged position which is embedded within the structure of the social institutions of policy and academia.

The second assumption driving research in the field is that generic music education programs (referring to training, curriculum, and classroom-based musical activities) will somehow facilitate student PSWB. This is evident both in the type of musical participation advocated in policy literature (Australian Government, DEST, 2005; Parliament of Victoria, 2013), and the programs typically investigated for evidence of PSWB benefits in schools (Michel & Farrell, 1973; Rickard, Appelman et al., 2012; Schellenberg, 2004; Teachout, 2005). While music education has been linked to academic (Kelstrom, 1998; Vaughan, Harris, & Caldwell, 2011) and cognitive benefits (Roden, Kreutz, & Bongard, 2012; Schellenberg, 2004), compelling evidence for its impact on PSWB is illusive (Rickard, Bambrick et al., 2012). Instead, evidence supporting this link predominantly emanates from investigations of therapeutic programs (Baker & Jones, 2006; Cheong-Clinch, 2009; McFerran & Teggelove, 2011), or programs containing non-generic attributes (Rusinek, 2008). Music therapy scholars suggest specific attributes are necessary for the acquisition of PSWB benefits, such as tailored and client-centred delivery (McFerran, 2010; Rolvsjord, 2010; Stige & Aar0, 2012), that are not easily accommodated by music education programs. …

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