Feen-Calligan, H. & Matthews, W. K. (2016). Pre-professional arts based service-learning in music education and art therapy. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 17(17).


This article describes a study of art therapy and music education students participating in a single-semester service-learning assignments prior to their clinical internship or student teaching experience. Undergraduate music teacher-candidates taught music to homeschool students; art therapy graduate students worked at community centers or other agencies. Analysis of embedded assignments, which included written reflections, visual artwork, case studies of homeschool students, and surveys suggests that service-learning facilitated growth in personal attitudes and professional skills considered important to student preparation for their culminating clinical experiences. The study also provides a discussion of the benefits of service-learning as a pre-professional pedagogy and recommendations for teaching and further research are offered.

Key Findings:

Through their analysis of the pre-service student experiences, the authors identified findings across three broad areas:
  • Expectations—Both pre-service music educators and art therapists experienced anxiety prior to their service learning experience. Music education students also indicated that they were unaware of how much preparation would be required in their role.
  • Professional Transformation—Participating in the service learning experience supported professional learning for both groups of students. Music education students gained better classroom management skills, the ability to more effectively plan and execute lessons, and how to teach in teams. Art therapy students fine-tuned their observation skills, learned to see clients as individuals rather than as a specific classification, and expanded their knowledge of the range of art therapy strategies.
  • Personal Transformation—Music education students grew in their level of confidence in teaching, became more aware of how they taught, and utilized reflective practices to improve their teaching. The art therapy students similarly expanded their own self-awareness and used reflective practice to better understand the theoretical information shared as part of the coursework.

Significance of the Findings:

The student teaching experience is a key function of the pre-service learning for new teachers. However, that experience does not always provide the necessary experiences for preparing these incoming teachers to be effective in the classroom. This research shows that there are additional pathways for integrating classroom teaching experience into the pre-service training. In particular, this research shows that integrating this type of service learning into training not only improves their teaching practices but also demonstrates positive impacts on them as individuals.


This study explored the impact of integrating practical service learning experiences into the pre-service coursework for both instrumental music teachers and art therapists. The students participating in this study were all enrolled in one of either four sections of an art therapy introductory course or two sections of a music pedagogy course. Not all students enrolled in the courses were study participants, however, as they were able to volunteer their reflections to be included as part of the study. Fifteen (15) undergraduate music education students participated across two cohorts and 55 first-year graduate art therapy students joined.

Music education students were assigned to provide lessons as part of a homeschool music program that provides music opportunities to students who are homeschooled. The art therapy students were assigned to a variety of organizations and programs including a lunch-time art therapy program for the homeless, a nonprofit community art center, medical centers, and senior centers. Data was collected in the form of reflective assignments throughout the course that provided guiding questions to help students thoughtfully consider their experiences as well as through post-course surveys and parents/agency evaluations. The assignments were then coded by the researchers/teachers and analyzed.

Limitations of the Research:

This generalizability of this study is a limited by the limited sample of participating students – particularly for the music education aspect of the study, the selection bias of having students opt in to the study, and, for the music education component, the use of a homeschool population rather than a school-based student population.

Questions to Guide New Research:

This is a promising preliminary exploration into the impact of service-learning programs on the instructional practices of pre-service music educators. Potential questions for future research include:

  • Will these results hold with a larger sample of music education students?
  • What would be the impact of transferring the service learning experiences to school-based programs?
  • How would these results differ across music or artistic disciplines?