Beginning Music Education Students' and Student Teachers' Opinions of Skills and Behaviors Important to Successful Music Teaching

By Davis, Virginia Wayman | Contributions to Music Education, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Beginning Music Education Students' and Student Teachers' Opinions of Skills and Behaviors Important to Successful Music Teaching


Davis, Virginia Wayman, Contributions to Music Education


This study compared the beliefs of undergraduate music education majors in their first music education course (n = 55) with music student teachers (n = 25), regarding skills vital to initial success in teaching. Subjects completed a questionnaire rating the importance of items using a 4-point scale. The mean score for each group of subjects on each item was calculated and used to rank the items. While the groups rated some items similarly and others differently, 14 answers were common to both groups' top 10 responses. When the items were placed into one of three categories (musical, personal, or teaching skills), both groups believed personal skills to be most important to success, teaching skills second, and musical skills third.

In teacher education programs, prospective educators take a wide variety of classes focusing on the attainment of certain skills and behaviors. Future teachers have much to learn, including knowledge of their subject matter, classroom management skills, learning theories and child development, and ways to best share their knowledge with students. As preservice teachers progress through their teacher education programs, most display varying strengths and weaknesses while simultaneously developing their own ideas about the relative importance of what they are learning (Campbell, 1999; Schmidt, 1998; Tarnowski, 1997). These perceptions may affect their priorities and choices once they enter the classroom.

In addition, most music education students have a background in musical performance of some kind, usually as a member of a band, orchestra, or choir. Their ideas about what makes a good music teacher may be derived from these experiences and from the teachers they have had (Teachout, 1997). As students enter college and make the decision to pursue music education, they begin to gain experience with the role of the teacher through their exposure to teaching theory and practice. Once student teaching begins, students often become increasingly aware of their own role as teacher and begin to readjust their ideas about what attributes are important to success (Campbell, 1999; Paul, 1998; Wolfgang, 1990).

In discussing preservice teachers' professional development, Meske (1985) articulated challenges inherent in teacher training programs, proposing a possible solution.

[W]e are victims of our own learning, for we tend to teach, not as we were taught to teach, but as we were taught. And thus the gap between what we know-theories of teaching and learning which have resulted from research, experimentation, and observation-and what we do-the teaching behaviors readily observable in the classroom-continues to widen (p. 66).

Meske believed this "vicious circle" (p. 66) was responsible for the ineffective state of public school education. The author stated that unless experiences in teacher training programs are powerful enough to reshape the concept of teaching developed during childhood, teachers will have difficulty bridging the gap between theory and practice. Therefore, the teacher educator must "identify the concepts which the beginning teacher should possess if the desired teaching behaviors are to be apparent when he/she enters the classroom" (p. 69). While literature related to this situation exists, few studies have systematically examined whether music education students' beliefs about teaching change over the course of their undergraduate curriculum.

Research applicable to this topic falls into four general categories: (a) investigations into the qualities of effective teachers, (b) comparisons of preservice teachers to experienced teachers, (c) explorations of how field experiences shape the beliefs of preservice teachers, and (d) examinations of how field experiences affect teacher role development, the process by which preservice teachers begin to take on the identity of teacher. In their review of descriptive studies that investigated teacher effectiveness, Grant and Drafall (1991) concluded that an effective teacher "is adept at human relationships; is an independent thinker; possesses a strong need to accomplish tasks; has a creative teaching style; is able to adapt instruction to student needs; . …

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