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What's new in pedagogy research?

As a professor of piano pedagogy, I expend a great deal of time and effort training piano teachers. I give as much help and information as I possibly can cram into the year long course; I meet with them to plan the group lessons, and I watch and evaluate their group and private teaching with their peers and with children. Sometimes I see improvements, great and small, and I always wonder what the most effective factors were in the training process. Margaret Schmidt is an assistant professor of string music education at Arizona State University, and she recently conducted a study titled "Preservice String Teachers' Lesson-Planning Processes: An Exploratory Study." (1) In this study she observed and evaluated the teaching of 10 freshman and sophomore string majors, seven of whom were majoring in music education and most had taken or were taking her 45-hour string pedagogy course.

Schmidt originally planned to compare the student teachers' written lesson plans with their teaching behaviors observed in private and group string lessons and their post-observation discussions. She had to change the focus of the study when she discovered that most of the teachers did not write lesson plans, and few of them kept post-lesson written notes evaluating the lesson. Five main themes emerged from her data analysis:

* Knowing How to Begin--Although the student teachers had expertise on their instruments, without any previous teaching experiences they were sometimes at a loss as to how to begin.

* Knowing What Children Need to Learn--Schmidt writes, "... it was difficult for them to see the importance of planning for their students' successful learning. Some of them were unable to draw a connection between their presentation of information and the children's apparent difficulty in learning." (2) Some of them seemed to assume that if they explained it the way they understood it, the student would get it.

* Setting Goals and Teaching on the Fly--Although there were several students who did not write detailed lesson plans, they sometimes showed an innate sense of pedagogical goals and a sequential approach to teaching. "... most of the teachers seemed to view the ability to teach 'on the fly' as something to be emulated. They seemed to believe that setting general goals for their students constituted sufficient planning." (3) They sometimes just responded to what happened in the class or lesson with an idea that occurred to them, and strayed further and further from the goal of the lesson as one bright idea led to another.

* Writing versus Thinking--Even the teachers who wrote lesson plans tended to simply note some sketchy ideas, rather than use the planning processes that Schmidt had shown them in their pedagogy class.

* Transferring In-Class Learning Experiences--Six of the 10 teachers had taken Schmidt's pedagogy course, and this gave her an opportunity to see how much of her training transferred to the actual teaching situation. Although the six had done well on the class assignments for lesson planning and sequential teaching, "... none of them demonstrated those behaviors of their own accord in their initial work in the String Project." (4)

Schmidt explored three questions with her students and posited their answers:

What are these preservice teachers' initial understandings of planning for class and private lesson instruction? She found that several of the teachers viewed planning, or any advanced thinking about the class or lesson, as unnecessary. Schmidt wondered if perhaps they were not able to plan because they were inexperienced and did not know how to anticipate what routines would be needed in the lesson or class--thus relying on reacting to the needs of the moment as they arose. She writes: "Like performing on an instrument, teaching seems to require similar repetitive practice to master pedagogical routines and pedagogical content knowledge. Teaching also requires the fluency to improvise in response to one's students." (5)

What patterns are evident in their planning for class and private lesson instruction? Since there were very few written lesson plans to analyze, Schmidt recorded her talks with the students, trying to discover whether their teaching was planned in advance or improvised at the moment. She found that the students were heavily influenced in how they planned to present concepts by their own learning styles. The teachers who wrote lesson plans preferred structured, linear thinking (Keith Golay would probably call them Bears) Schmidt writes: "Those with a more random-abstract dominant learning style, or who were less organized in general, did not voluntarily write much. Neither did they seem to create sequential mental plans; rather, they just reacted to what happened at the moment, and seemed more resistant to my offers to help them structure or plan their teaching ... [They] did not plan for the alternative approaches their students might need." (6)

How do these preservice teachers apply learning from a string techniques class in their planning for class and private lesson instruction? Schmidt found this to be quite disappointing, for there appeared to be very little transfer. She suggested several possible reasons for this. When the preservice teachers observed master teachers, they never saw the planning that went into a well presented lesson--so they may have assumed that the master teacher was just teaching intuitively. Additionally, the hours of teacher education courses may not have been sufficient to overcome the influence of the years the student teachers had spent observing their own pre-college and college instrumental teachers and conductors teach with apparently no lesson preparation. (7)


I have been sitting on the "lesson plan fence" for many years. If I require my pedagogy students to write lesson plans, those plans usually become laundry lists of the pieces to be covered, with no indication of Plans B, C and D, if the student does not "get it" the first time. If the student is a "by the book" person, the plans are followed no matter what happens in the lesson, with no apparent ability to change direction when needed. If I encourage the student teachers to write lesson plans but don't require that they be turned in each week, when I view the teaching, I'm sure most new concepts are being taught by the teacher and the student turning the page during the lesson and seeing what's next. Like this researcher, I rarely see much transfer from the pedagogy curricula to the teaching situation. In the introduction to the article, Schmidt includes the following quote:

"The paradox of learning a really new competence is this: that a student cannot at first understand what he needs to learn, can learn it only by educating himself, and can educate himself only by beginning to do what he does not understand." (8)

A paradox indeed! I am no closer to resolving my own questions about the efficacy of requiring written lesson plans, although I will undoubtedly continue to require them. But this research has added more fuel to the argument that pedagogy classes without extensive supervised student teaching experiences are ineffective.


(1.) Schmidt, Margaret. "Preservice String Teachers' Lesson-Planning Processes: An Exploratory Study." Journal of Research in Music Education, 53, No.1 (2005): 6-25.

(2.) Ibid., 11-12.

(3.) Ibid., 15.

(4.) Ibid., 17.

(5.) Ibid., 18-19.

(6.) Ibid., 20.

(7.) Ibid., 22.

(8.) Schoen, D. A. Educating the Reflective Practitioner: Toward a New Design for Teaching and Learning in the Professions. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1987): 93.

Rebecca Grooms Johnson is the director of keyboard pedagogy at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. She is an experienced independent piano teacher and a past president of the Ohio MTA. Johnson holds a Ph.D. degree in piano pedagogy.
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Title Annotation:music education
Author:Johnson, Rebecca Grooms
Publication:American Music Teacher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2006
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