RTRL.61: Student and Teacher Perceptions of an Independent Choral Music Learning Project (Haning, 2021)


Haning, M. (2021). “I didn’t know I could do that!”: Student and teacher perceptions of an independent choral music learning project. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 39(2), 15-24.

What did the researcher want to know?

What are student and teacher perceptions of a collaborative, student-directed approach to learning in an ensemble setting, and what are the challenges or barriers to implementing such an approach?

What did the researcher do?

Haning conducted a case study of 29 students and himself in his own high school choral classroom. He allowed the students to choose a piece to perform for their final concert and to spend time independently preparing the piece over a 2-month period. Whenever the students worked on the piece, Haning did not provide direct instruction and instead observed the students. After the performance, students completed a reflection form, and then Haning chose six students (two from each voice part) who had taken on a “visible leadership role . . . , who had previously expressed strong opinions about the project, or who [he] otherwise thought would be able to provide important context” (p. 18) to participate in interviews about their experiences. Handing coded the interview transcripts to identify categories and themes.

What did the researcher find?

Haning identified four main themes:

  1. Collaboration and Connection: Students enjoyed working collaboratively and building connections among group members. One commented “that being able to share their opinions more frequently made them feel that ‘we got to be our own directors’” (p. 19). Another commented that “because of the independent structure of this project, ‘we’re actually having to listen to each other’” (p. 19).
  2. Growth and Learning: The ownership that students took in the project led to substantial growth and learning. Haning reflected, “from a teacher’s perspective, I was very pleased to see that the students were able to apply the skills and techniques that I had been teaching throughout the year” (p. 19).
  3. Accomplishment: Both the students and Haning noted the sense of accomplishment and pride students found in the project. “Many students seemed taken aback that they were able to succeed at learning the piece on their own, and they grew noticeably more confident in their own abilities as the project continued” (p. 20).
  4. Conflict: The primary challenge of the project was navigating conflict among the students, which most often stemmed from lack of participation/effort, competition between students, and struggles with giving and receiving constructive criticism.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Teacher-led learning experiences have long been a key component of school music classes, particularly in ensemble settings, but independent student learning experiences can provide unique benefits. In addition to teacher-led experiences, music educators should consider including opportunities for student-led learning. In doing so, teachers should anticipate student conflict and/or off-task behavior but keep in mind that this will not necessarily detract from the overall positive experience.

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