In forty-five hours of teaching percussion, I have learned to apply various learning theories to my work. I believe a greater understanding of these theories has improved my pedagogy and enhanced communications and interpersonal connections with my students, who are both male and female and range in age from child to adult. The purpose of this paper is to reflect on my own learning experience as a teacher, including application of learning theories, effective communication techniques, use of formative and summative assessments, and incorporating language literacy and numeracy in the lessons. By reflecting on the teaching experience, I hope to gain insight that will inform my approach in the future and help me better meet the needs of all my students.
For many of my students, I use the London College of Music series that has a graded course (1-8) for drum kit. Each handbook includes the rudiments and pieces for each grade, sample viva voce questions, sight reading practice, and aural tests. Each grade is accompanied by a play along CD, which include backing tracks. There a drum tracks to which students can listen as well as tracks without drums that can be used for exams. For higher grades, there are time sequence studies that feature only a click track. The series is fully accredited in England by Ofqual and it has been placed on the national qualifications framework at the foundation, intermediate, and advanced levels. Validity and reliability as instruction and assessment instruments is well established. The series incorporates several important learning theories.
A behavioral objective states learning objectives in "specified, quantifiable, terminal behaviors" (Saettler 1990, p. 288). A typical behavioral objective for a beginning percussion student might specify that the student answer correctly identify basic drum notation ninety percent of the time in a post-test following a unit or period of instruction. The learning task is broken down into smaller, measurable tasks and competency is determined with the use of a specific, objective assessment tool. The lessons in the graded books break concepts down into their components. The tasks are thus made manageable for students, which is important while they are learning. Beginners, especially, can be overwhelmed with too many concepts at once. Instruction is thus tailored to focus on single aspects, for which students demonstrate competency before moving to the next step. Eventually, of course, students must learn to combine rhythm with tone production, coordinating eye, hand and ear with the goal of musicality, not mere timekeeping (Serrano 2006). Instruction must start, however, with manageable tasks that are specific, quantifiable, and have measurable outcomes. I can also do this with drumming circles by playing simple rhythms for students to repeat before moving on to more complex rhythms and student-led rhythms.
Cognitive learning enables students to learn by using reasoning, intuition and perception. This is accomplished in different ways, as students have different learning styles and are motivated by different things. Response behaviors can be an important tool when working with students. Taylor (2006) used a computerized behavior analysis program called SCRIBE (Simple Computer Recording Interface for Behavioral Evaluations) to quantify specific teacher and student behaviors, of which response behaviors were a part. Data showed teachers spent approximately 37% of the time talking, 10% modeling, and 30% performing with students during performance tasks. Analysis of the results of the study indicate that the nature of verbalization, rather than quantity, is the measure of success. "Feedback results in higher student achievement as well as positive attitudes towards rehearsals and the instructor (Dunn 1997; Price 1983; cited in Taylor 2006) Negative feedback alone was ineffective, but coupled with positive directives, it was helpful for students (Taylor 2006).
Observation is another powerful learning tool, and for this reason I frequently modeled for my students anything from correct hand position to a complicated rhythm. Research supports modeling as one of a teacher's most effective tools (Taylor 2006). As shown in Taylor's study, this typically comprises just 10% of instruction, with teachers generally spending "more time telling students what, where, or when to play rather than how to play" (Taylor 2006). A brief explanation of "how" is useful, but there is really no substitute for modeling, followed by guided practice. Students need to see and hear what they are expected to do, and modeling helps them understand how to produce the sound for which the teacher is asking. Reid (2007) notes that listening to actual performances can be inspiring but internalizing musical consistency comes from hands-on practice. Marshall (2006) wrote, "I believe that students benefit from hearing familiar instruments played in recorded music and, when possible, playing along with recorded music." The CDs with the London program are thus an important component of the lesson.
The humanist approach to learning is student-centered and designed to meet the needs of the individual, helping him/her to reach full potential. My role as a teacher is to guide my students' learning, acting as a facilitator as they progress towards mastery. As important as it is to verbalize and model, I must always strive to give students ample opportunity to ask questions and, most importantly, play their instruments during lessons. The lesson is not my performance, but their learning opportunity. They can learn from listening and watching the teacher just as they can learn from listening to CDs and observing live performances by other musicians. There must be the hands-on component for students to learn. Music is a whole-body experience and learning cannot take place passively. A student-centered approach with drumkits and in drumming circles invites the full participation of students and maximizes the experience as is most conducive to learning.
Social learning theory holds that people learn best in social situations and by observing others. The drumming circles are a wonderful example of this theory at work. I have seen students become more confident as they take part in the group. The learning is still student-centered but individuals often feel less pressure in performance since they are not the single focus. They can enjoy being a part of a group and appreciate what each member has to offer in terms of personality, learning style, and approach to drumming. Anne Fennell, music teacher at vista Academy in Oceanside, California, says that a drum circle "must be a sequenced event where every moment is a teachable moment" (Criswell 2009). In my experience, there are many teachable moments when one has a group of students. Each one faces different challenges, responds differently to instruction and feedback, and brings a different perspective to the music.
With respect to music rehearsals, studies indicate successful teachers speak frequently but succinctly during rehearsals (Taylor 2006). I believe the same is true for music instruction, whether one-on-one or in a drumming circle. Fidyk (2010) writes that the goal of a music teacher is to create a "lifelong engagement with making music;" an essential component of engagement is communication. An interesting study by Karlsson, Liljestrom and Juslin (2009) compared students' perceptions of computer-delivered feedback vs. instructor-driven feedback. Computer technology has advanced to a point where useful information can be provided to students (e.g., feedback on hand positions, pitch accuracy, tone quality and, more recently, musical expression). Students have been reluctant to use this technology and instead prefer feedback from a live instructor even when they believe it may be less accurate in some respects. Students believed computer- and teacher-generated feedback were equally easy to understand, but teacher feedback was more useful. Students appreciated the encouragement they received from their teachers as well as examples and detailed explanations. It is gratifying to know that I cannot be replaced by a machine! I feel I developed good rapport with my students during my tenure as a percussion teacher and communicated well. Evidence-based research supports the importance of teacher-student communication, which I will continue working to improve.
"Music education programs have avoided…objective assessments via the assertion of subjectivity and aesthetics in music learning " (Hanna 2007, p. 7). Assessment of a student's music ability is important in determining whether s/he is ready for the next level of study or to participate in ensemble work. As part of the curriculum, music must be assessed to show that it is a "cognitive equal" (Hanna, p. 8) to other subjects. Hanna further points out that policy decisions for any academic program is usually made on the basis of factual data derived from objective standardized assessment criteria. This can be difficult because music-learning outcomes are often judged using subjective assessment, aesthetic and psychomotor learning and performance, compared to reading, writing, math and science, which are taught as objective, cognitive domain activities (Hanna, p. 7). Assessments thus give credibility to music as a real academic pursuit, not a frivolous extra.
Learner evaluations look at how learning has taken place. Formative evaluations are incorporated in the learning process and help to guide it. Summative evaluations judge performance after learning has taken place.
Students' learning is enhanced when they truly believe they are stakeholders. Learner evaluations help…