Authentic arts-based learning in teacher education: a musical theatre experience

Ogden, H., DeLuca, C., & Searle, M. (2010). Authentic arts-based learning in teacher education: a musical theatre experience. Teaching Education, 21(4), 367-383.

Abstract:

Researchers in this paper voice a concern over the disconnect that pre-service teachers face between educational theory and practice and present a model for integrating authentic learning and arts-based learning as a means of enhancing pre-service programs. In the context of a musical theater production, researchers analyze the process of engaging teacher candidates in an authentic arts-based learning experience. They collected data from 30 participating teacher candidates (preparing to teach grades K-12) through observations of rehearsals, a post-production questionnaire, and focus group interviews. These data indicate that participation created a sense of community and belonging, as well as developed skills necessary to carry forward art-based learning activities into their teaching careers.

Key Findings:

Researchers concluded that the authentic arts-based learning experience did address the problem of disengagement and the disconnect between theory and practice facing pre-service teacher candidates. Many of the participants felt they would infuse arts-based learning into their classrooms to create safe spaces for students to take risks and be themselves.

In addition, researchers identified five key findings:

  • Authenticity: Many participants felt while they faced many challenges in the theatrical production (balancing full-time school, life, and a rigorous six-week rehearsal schedule), the challenges were worth the connections they made to an outside audience of their work. Creating an artistic work that would be shared with an audience made the experience real, authentic, and worthwhile.
  • Autonomy: Participants felt a great level of autonomy throughout the production. They could give input on creative direction, there were self-directed scenes, and cast members were all part of production committees.
  • Relationships: Through frequent rehearsals, the participants developed closer relationships with each other that were felt not only in the music production, but beyond into the their broader educational context. The inclusive, non-competitive nature of the musical theater created a sense of belonging and community as well as a sense of equality where all members felt valued.
  • Reflection: Reflecting on the experience, participants felt it positively affected both their professional and personal lives. Professionally, the experience was very hands-on and they learned techniques that they could take to their classrooms. Personally, they developed a deeper appreciation for the arts and wanted to be involved with future stage productions.
  • Vitality: Participants noted gains in energy, enthusiasm, and joy as a result of their participation.

Significance of the Findings:

Authentic arts-based learning combines two types of learning approaches. Authentic learning focuses on providing students experiences that are authentically aligned with situations and contexts for which they are being prepared. Arts-based learning offers learning experiences couched in art-creation experiences. The researchers’ documentation of an authentic arts-based learning experience for pre-service teachers provides insight into the possible benefits participants may gain from this experience in relation to their future roles as teachers. It also touches on features of the experience that would help lead to these benefits.

Methodology:

The authors produced and directed a musical theatre piece to provide learning in and through the arts and a means for students to carry this learning into their teaching careers. Thirty-five pre-service teacher candidates participated in the musical theater. Study data came from 30 of these participants. A 20-item post-production questionnaire about participation, learning characteristics, and engagement was completed by 17 participants. Ninety percent of the participants also engaged in focus groups. Researchers analyzed data deductively to highlight themes emerging from the data related to engagement, authentic learning, and arts-based learning.

Limitations of the Research:

As participants in the production, the researchers do not have an objective perspective. While informed about the nuances of the production, their preconceived notions may have unduly influenced data collection and analysis. The study is also limited to one production and a very small sample size. The study does not address whether the students in question specifically experienced disengagement nor does it follow this group of students to learn if authentic arts-based learning is transferred into their classrooms.

Questions to Guide New Research:

What art forms best engender desired outcomes of authentic arts-based learning for pre-service teachers? What authentic arts-based learning practices do teachers actually use in their classrooms after engaging in authentic arts-based learning experiences in their pre-service education?