Service learning in music education: Participant reflections.

Reynolds, A.M., Jerome, A., Preston, A.L., & Haynes, Holley. (2005). Service learning in music education: Participant reflections. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 165: 79-91.

Abstract:

The researchers conducted a qualitative study of a service-learning music-education partnership between a mid-sized university and a large public elementary school that did not have a music specialist. As part of the project, pre-service music teachers provided music classes over a seven-week period to first grade children who did not receive any regular music instruction. The purpose of this study was to better understand the impact of the partnership on selected participants, including ten pre-service music education teachers, twelve first-grade teachers and the elementary school’s principal.

Researchers examined pre-service teacher perceptions of their reflective practice, classroom teacher observations of the service-learning arrangement, and how the service-learning program contributed to arts activities at the elementary school over the project’s five-year period.

Researchers concluded that pre-service teachers in the program benefitted from the real-world experience and that classroom teachers enjoyed watching their students learn in new ways. The impact of the music program on children was also noticeable with the first-graders using music during non-music times. Over the project’s duration, classroom teachers noticed campus-wide changes in the role of the arts in the school including the hiring of a full-time music specialist.

Key Findings:

Related to the study’s primary research questions, findings reflect pre-service teacher, elementary school teacher, and school-wide outcomes.

Pre-service teachers were interviewed about their reflective practice in relation to their music-teaching service learning experience. Researchers found that:

  • Authentic teaching experiences fostered reflective practice throughout the project period.
  • Pre-service teachers actively prepared for lessons.
  • The project fostered many opportunities for in- and out-of-class reflection.
  • Pre-service teachers transitioned from being students to actively seeing themselves as educators.

The project’s participating elementary school teachers were also interviewed about their experience as observers and evaluators of pre-service teachers. Teachers reported that:

  • Having pre-service teachers in their classrooms promoted their own reflection, providing them with insights about their students and the potential role of music in other class activities.
  • Children integrated music into their daily expression (i.e. singing, writing about music activities) and life perspectives (i.e. thinking about being a music teacher).

The principal was also interviewed, revealing that the partnership benefited children and teachers alike, which ultimately led to the hiring of a full-time music teacher at the school.

Significance of the Findings:

The study suggests that long-term music education service learning partnerships benefit children, pre-service teachers, classroom teachers, and school administrators and promotes creativity, growth, and reflection at all levels of contact. Despite the potential complexity of building and sustaining such a partnership, this study argues that the effort can produce meaningful and valued outcomes for all stakeholders.

Methodology:

The researchers built off of an existing five-year service-learning music education partnership that involved the university and elementary school site. Ten pre-service teachers who completed an elementary school general music methods course were selected. Twelve elementary school teachers and the related principal voluntarily participated. All 23 participants were interviewed face-to-face. Transcripts were created for each interview and independently summarized and then coded by the study’s researchers. Lesson plans, reflection forms, evaluation forms and observation forms were triangulated and used to verify the interview findings. Member checks were also used to produce trustworthy findings.

Limitations of the Research:

This is a well-designed study that could, however, benefit from providing more details about participant selection and partnership management. This is especially important because the authors highlight that a major drawback of service-learning projects is their feasibility. Having descriptions about who is participating in such a study and how it is maintained would give more leverage to the study’s suggestion that such partnerships should be replicated. All of the researchers, except for one external researcher, had at least some degree of insider status in relation to the partnership, possibly producing subjectivity in the analysis.

Questions to Guide New Research:

How do the effects of a service-learning arts partnership last beyond the partnership period? What is the lasting effect of a service-learning program on teachers after the service-learning ends?