Monday, May 11, 2009

Inquiry paper abstract

This paper was a study of the effects of instrumental study on students’ musical identities. We have found little discussion of this subject within the music education community. We interviewed four students in the instrumental music program and the instrumental music teacher at East Side High School in Newark, New Jersey. We found that studying an instrument has significant effects on students’ musical identities. Music became more important to the students, they liked a wider range of music, and they demonstrated an ability to analyze and evaluate music on several different levels once they began studying an instrument. Students’ music listening experiences changed from a passive activity into one in which the students actively analyzed and thought about what they heard. Based on our findings, we feel the subject of musical identity is one which deserves further research and discussion within the music education community and the education community as a whole.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Poverty in NJ

2. The Brindle and McAllister families would face large difficulties living the welfare payments these families receive would not meet their basic needs. The Essex County self-sufficiency wage for an adult plus a preschooler and school age child (as in the Brindle family) is $22.10 an hour without any support. For Atlantic County, which is slightly below the Essex County figure, even with all available support, the self sufficiency wage is still $9.73, something neither of these families would meet as the mothers are not working, and might find difficulty meeting even if they are working, as the minimum wage at the time of the report was only $7.15. The working class families, the Taylors, Drivers, and Yanellis, would still have trouble meeting the standard, as none of them make the Essex County self sufficiency wage or receive public support.

3. The two families on welfare, the Brindles and McAllisters, are both headed by single mothers. Both LSNJ reports state that poverty rates are higher for single mothers, and especially single mothers of color. Especially for Ms. Brindle, who has a preschool age child, the difficulties would be harder. The studies attributed lack of work to lack of access to child care during work hours, something Ms. Brindle would need for her youngest. As neither of Ms. McAllister’s children are working age, it would be difficult for her to support the family on her own. This could be compounded by her race, as the finding in both reports state that poverty is much higher among non-whites.

4. This information has limited use in the classroom. The most use would simply come from understanding the issues working class and poor families have. As an instrumental music educator, I might have to understand that some students would not be able to practice at home. This could be because of their living situation. For example, a student living in the projects or other apartment building might not be allowed to practice because the neighbors would complain. Or students might not want to take their instruments home, because they might not come back. In a family like the McAllisters, there would be a concern that the aunt might steal the instrument for money. So staying after school so that students who want to practice can would be an almost necessary thing, as would changing my assessments to reflect this reality. Another thing I might have to understand is how expensive playing an instrument can be. Many families simply would not be able to afford supplies such as reeds, practice pads, or valve oil. These are things I would have to put into my budget that educators in more affluent districts might not have to. From an pedagogical standpoint, however, I can’t see how this information might help me as a teacher. I feel that the way I teach my students would be same, but expectations and assessments might change. My goals for what I want the students to learn, however, would be the same.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Inquiry progress

We have been exploring the question "How does music shape students' identities and how does this musical identity shape their experience in music education?" To this end, we interviewed four students and the instrumental music instructor at East Side High School in Newark. And as we are coming at this from the point of view of music educators, we have tried to find existing literature on this subject within the music education community.

The first thing we've found is that there is an extreme lack of discussion and research on this subject within the music education community. There has been some research done on students' listening preferences, but none we could find that asks about the role music plays in students' lives. Discussion with teachers and academics has revealed mostly an assumption that music would be important to students in a high school music program. This is perhaps because of the fact that in the great majority of high schools in New Jersey, students entering high school have had instrumental music in elementary or middle school. This is not the case at East Side High, however, so we were interested in exploring how important music was to high school students just starting an instrument.

One thing that was common to all the students we interviewed was the large role of family music preferences on their own preferences. All the students expressed a generally positive view of the music they heard growing up. All of them also told us that music was listened to a great deal in there homes. They all used the phrase "all the time" to explain how much music was listened to in their homes. This phase was also used to explain how much they listened to music themselves.

Another thing we were surprised at was the variety of music students listened to. Based on discussions with the teacher, we assumed all of them would listen to hip-hop or rap the most. This was not the case. All the students listened to various Latin musics. One student liked classic hard rock and"screamo," a very hard style of rock music. Three of the four listed jazz as a music they listened to, and two of them listened to Western classical music.

Based on the limited research we were able to find, high school students tend to show stronger opinions about music than students in grades 4-8, which are the grades when most students begin playing instruments. All the students we interviewed expressed strong opinions about music, especially when talking about music they liked. However, they all said that playing an instrument made them like and appreciate music more. Moreover, playing an instrument fundamentally changed the way they thought about and listened to music. While they all stated that music was important to them before they started playing, all the students said that music became an even larger part of their life once they started playing. This was true whether they had been playing for four years, or two months.

Another thing that was striking was how they described listening to music. They all talked about it not just in terms of opinion or emotion, but analytically. They all talked about differences and similarities between different musicians or styles, and about how the music was put together. Listening wasn't just a passive activity, it was doing something. They all attributed this to playing an instrument, and said that they didn't think about music like that before they began playing. One student even said he doesn't listen to the lyrics anymore! So it was clear that playing an instrument had fundamentally changed these students' musical identities. While we went in asking how their identities affected their experience in music education, it became clear that music education changed their identities. I feel that this doesn't happen in such a striking way to students who begin playing earlier in life, or that it at least isn't as evident. This could be why the question rarely comes up within the music education community.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Inquiry Introduction

Music is an enormous social, cultural, and personal force in people’s lives. Often, the music people listen is tied to who they are and how they see themselves. In other words, music becomes a part of a person’s identity. The main purpose of this paper is to look specifically at how music shapes urban high school students’ identities, and how those musical identities shape the students’ experiences within a music education program. We wanted to know how much music students listened to, how they thought about it in relation to their lives, how they came to like the music they did, and how important music was to them. We viewed this question from the point of view of music educators and as such were interested not just in the cultural and societal implications of the question, but more specifically how musical identities play out within the framework of students learning to play instruments. We are interested in how musical identity shapes how students viewed their music education experience and if it affects their success or failure in learning an instrument. We are looking to see if an understanding of students’ musical identities can help music educators teach more effectively or if it changes the way an instructor teaches. We were curious about this because we have found a relative lack of discussion or research about this question within the music education community and literature.

We interviewed four students in the instrumental music program and the instrumental music teacher at East Side High School in Newark, New Jersey. The instrumental music program at East Side High and at most other high schools in Newark are unique within New Jersey in that most students entering the program have not had instrumental music instruction before coming to high school because of a lack of feeder music programs in the elementary and middle schools. Additionally, Newark has five magnet high schools, one of which is specifically tailored to arts education, and these schools tend to have a higher proportion of students that have had instrumental instruction before high school. This unique situation gave us an opportunity to see how beginning music education at the high school age was affected by students’ musical identities. This was particularly interesting because high school students tend to show stronger opinions about music than students in elementary or middle school (LeBlanc, Sims, Siivola, Obert, 1996), which led us to believe that music tends to be a larger part of their identity than it would be at an earlier age (this is a question beyond the reach of this project and one which we did not explore).

Cited works:
LeBlanc, A.; Sims, W. L., Siivola, C., and Obert, M. (1996). Music Style Preferences of Different Age Listeners. Journal of Research in Music Education 44 (1), 49-59. Accessed 03/29/2009 11:16 PM

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Inquiry Project

Our inquiry project will be exploring how students’ identities are shaped by music and how this identity affects their musical education, specifically within the instrumental music program at East Side High School in Newark. It is no secret that students everywhere listen almost exclusively to popular music, and we are basing our inquiry on the assumption that this will hold true at East Side. However, within the music education community, this is rarely given more than a passing thought or acknowledgement. Much energy is focused on getting students to like classical music and the utility of classical music in instrumental instruction. However, there has been little research about how popular music might be used for instrumental instruction. A search of articles in the Journal of Research in Music Education using the term “popular music education” provides three articles listed in the top fifty search items that are specifically related to popular music as a tool for instrumental instruction. There has been slightly more research about music preferences of music students. It has been found that students almost exclusively prefer some form of popular music instead of classical or jazz.

At East Side the instrumental students are almost exclusively beginners. This is highly unusual at the high school level, and results from a lack of instrumental music programs in Newark’s elementary and middle schools. All students, regardless of the instrument they are studying, are put in the same class, resulting in significant difficulties for the music teacher. These unique conditions give us an opportunity to see specifically how musical identity shapes beginning instrumentalists’ musical education, and more specifically still at the high school level. We will be conducting our research by interviewing several students and the band director, and observing a class. We will analyze some of the music that students use and look similarities and differences between what they listen to and what they are taught in school. We will also look at research outside of the music education literature about music and identity.

Some of the questions we might ask during our interviews of students will be:

What do/don’t you like about music?

Who is your favorite musician/group? What do you like about him/her/them?

How often do you listen to music?

What kind of music did you hear growing up? Do you like that music? Why?

How does music make you feel?

What is your favorite song? What do you like about it?

What do/don’t you like about playing your instrument?

How has playing an instrument changed the way you think about music?

Are you playing the instrument you wanted to? Why did you want to play that instrument or What do you think of the instrument you are playing now?

Some questions we might ask the music teacher during our interview with him will be:

How aware are you of what your students listen to for pleasure?

Do you consciously try to use what your students listen to for pleasure as a part of instruction?

Do you notice a difference in learning styles based on what students listen to?

Do you notice a difference in enthusiasm for music based on what students listen to?

How important do you think music is to your students’ identities?

We will then try to synthesize these as a limited case study for how students’ musical identities affect music education.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Annotated Bibliography

Fitzpatrick, K. (2006). The Effect of Instrumental Music Participation and Socioeconomic Status on Ohio Fourth-, Sixth-, and Ninth-Grade Proficiency Test Performance. Journal of Research in Music Education, 54 (1), 73-84
This study looked at the effect of instrumental music participation on fourth, sixth, and ninth grade students’ test scores across socioeconomic status. Students participating in instrumental instruction consistently outscored students of like socioeconomic status. Importantly, students of lower socioeconomic status who stayed in music from fourth to ninth grade outscored students of higher socioeconomic status who were not participating in music in ninth grade in the subject areas of science, math, citizenship, and reading. This demonstrates the possibility that instrumental music instruction could be a tool to close the achievement gap that urban schools have with their suburban counterparts.

Smith, C. (1997). Access to String Instruction in American Public Schools. Journal of Research in Music Education 45 (4), 650-662.
This article examines what school districts in the country offer string instrument instruction and at what grade levels. It found that strings are most often found in schools of average socioeconomic status in medium-sized urban or metropolitan districts. String instruction was offered least often in schools of low socioeconomic status regardless of their area. These findings are important because a string program is usually the last thing added in a music program, and so the presence of a string program in a school district can be an indicator of overall support for music education in a district.

Leard, D. W., and Lashua, B. (2006). Popular Media, Critical Pedagogy, and Inner City Youth. Canadian Journal of Education 29 (1), 244-264.
This article presented case studies of two teachers at inner city high schools in Edmonton, Alberta, who used popular culture, in particular popular theatre and rap music, for critical pedagogy. The study of interest to myself is the one that involved students writing their own rap and hip-hop music. The not only wrote the lyrics, but also used computer technology to create their own beats to rap over. The study enumerated several ways in which students used rap or hip-hop to lay out their thoughts, concerns, and problems in life. It was also a way for students to express their identity, and how they wanted that identity to take shape in the future.

Gordon, M. (1979). Instrumental Music Instruction as a Contingency for Increased Reading Behavior. Journal of Research in Music Education 27 (2), 87-102.
This article presented the findings of research conducted in two inner-city schools. Two groups of fourth graders, one reading at or above grade level, and the other at least one year behind grade level, were studied to determine the effect of instrumental music instruction as a reinforcer or motivational tool for increased reading behavior. The lower level reading group was the experimental group, and received music instruction only when individual reading goals were met within a forty-minute time period. If the goals were not met, the students would not receive music instruction. The higher-level reading group was the control group, and received music instruction regardless of performance. A reading pretest given to both groups before music instruction started showed significant differences in the two groups’ performances. A reading posttest given after the experiment was completed showed no differences in the groups’ scores. In the experimental group, daily reading scores increased when contingent music instruction started and was not maintained when the music instruction was withdrawn.
This experiment is particularly interesting because it shows the effect music can have on students’ motivation to learn and do well in school. The findings show that music education can have an affect on students’ school performance in other subject areas besides music. While the study was small, encompassing only fifty-four students, it is promising research that I have yet to find any more support on. While much research has been done on the effects of music instruction on reading performance, this is the only study I have found that looks specifically at music’s effects on motivation for learning in other subjects. It is something that I would like to look at more closely.

Shields, C. (2001). Music Education and Mentoring as Intervention for At-Risk Urban Adolescents: Their Self-Perception, Opinions, and Attitudes. Journal of Research in Music Education 49 (3) 273-286.
This article described a study of the effects of music education and mentoring by music teachers as intervention for at-risk urban sixth graders based on the students’ self-perception over six domains. The music teacher acted as a mentor during the study, intentionally trying to note and help with students’ problems, both musical and nonmusical. The study found no statistically significant difference between students’ pretest and posttest self-perception in all domains except for that of musical competency. It was also found that students considered music more important in their lives at the end of the study compared to before the study began. Students’ feelings of musical competency also came more in line with the importance they gave to music in their lives. This is important because it shows that at-risk students can use music to increase self-esteem in certain ways, even if it does not carry over to other domains of self-esteem.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

East Side High

Today I spent a class period observing and helping the instrumental music teacher at East Side High School in Newark. It was the first time I had been to an urban school since about fourth grade, when I went to a high school in Jacksonville, FL to see some sort of rain forest thing. So this basically a new experience for me.

The atmosphere was much different from the music program where I went to high school, or where anyone I know went to high school. Just about all the students were beginners, and the ones that had had prior instruction had only had a very small amount, something that I have never heard of at the high school level. The teacher explained to me that instrumental music is not offered in many elementary and middle schools throughout the district. Newark is the only place he knows of where the high school instrumental music courses are comprised of mostly beginners. Also unlike other music programs, all the instruments were in the same class. Usually when a student begins learning an instrument in school, they are put in a small class with other students learning the same instrument. This class was large (29 students) and made up of different instruments. So there were some challenges that I had not thought a high school music teacher might face.

When a student first learns an instrument, individual or at least grouped attention to like instruments is needed to help them learn their instruments. At East Side, everyone was grouped together, so the teacher had to come up with other ways to give this instruction. He put sections (i.e. percussion, trumpets, trombones, saxophones, etc.) into separate rooms. He then assigned a section leader who either already knew how to play a little bit, or was a little bit ahead of the other students. The section leader would be responsible for teaching the other students in his or her section the day's objective. The teacher then bounced from section to section, giving extra help to those students who needed it, and encouraging students who were doing well to push themselves further. I helped with the saxophones for the class period I was there, showing them fingerings and making suggestions for their embouchure.

While this setting allowed some individualized and small group instruction, it did have its drawbacks. Discipline was a problem, as the teacher was not able to pay attention to all the students at once. At one time, the trumpets left their room and began banging away at the piano in the main band room. The teacher had to stop what he was doing with the clarinet and flutes and address this disruption. The setting also made it easy for students to lose focus on what they were supposed to be doing. This problem was exacerbated by the length of the class, which was approximately eighty minutes.

There were other challenges the teacher faced that I had yet to see in any of the suburban schools I have attended or visited. Several of his students were English language learners, and understood only a small amount of English. The teacher was bilingual, speaking fluent Spanish, which helped with this problem, but it was a challenge for me while I was working with some of the students. I frequently had to motion or demonstrate the concepts I was trying to teach. While the students usually understood eventually and were able to do what I was asking, it was more difficult and time-consuming than it is with my English-speaking private students.

The teacher also explained to me that he usually got a large proportion of special-needs students, and that many students had not chosen to take the class. He described it as somewhat of a "dumping ground" for problem students. This was another factor that made discipline and motivation difficult, although in the class period I spent at the school the teacher had a good handle on the students' behavior and there were no major problems or disruptions.

Despite these challenges and problems, the teacher had a very positive outlook of the students and his program. This was mirrored in the students' attitudes. While it was obvious many of them were particularly concerned with music, when they had an instrument in their hand, all of them were eager to learn and put in some effort. Some of them were visibly surprised and pleased when they were able to do something they had been trying for a while. I was surprised at how far some of the students had progressed considering they had only started the class two weeks ago.

One major problem within the district from a music education perspective is that many students who have already had musical instruction are attracted to the magnet high schools that already have established instrumental music programs. This makes it extremely difficult to get a band program going, as the talent that could attract new students into the band or marching band are not even there. Good musicians help everyone around them, and an absence of established musical peers makes it all the harder for students to learn and improve.

Going into East Side was a very illuminating experience. While the largest challenge the teacher faced is unique to the Newark school district, many of the things he had to deal with were ones commonly associated with urban education. In addition, the setting was one in which creative teaching practices would be rewarded, as many of the problems faced are almost unheard of in music education and require a unique look at music. I know this is a cliche, but I came away with more questions that answers, and I'll probably be thinking about them for a long time to come.