RTRL.62: Instrumental Teachers’ Non-verbal Behaviors, Ensemble Set-up, and Use of Classroom Space (Roseth, 2020)


Roseth, N. E. (2020). A survey of secondary instrumental teachers’ immediacy, ensemble setup, and use of classroom space in Colorado and Indiana. Journal of Research in Music Education,  68(3), 305-327.

What did the researcher want to know?

What are band and orchestra teachers’ perceptions of immediacy behaviors (non-verbal teacher behaviors that increase nonverbal interaction with students and communicate closeness), how are teachers organizing their ensembles, and how do teachers say they use classroom space? How do these factors interact and how do they vary by teacher sex and teaching position?

What did the researcher do?

Roseth surveyed 436 band and orchestra teachers (middle, junior high, or high school) in Colorado and Indiana. In addition to demographic information, the questionnaire asked teachers to rate the importance of various immediacy behaviors, such as “frequent eye contact,” “sense of humor,” and “move toward and among the group.” Next, teachers were asked to indicate which ensemble setup they use most frequently (options shown in Figure 1), how frequently they use the other setups, how frequently they change their setup, and their reasons why they do or do not change it. Teachers then responded to a set of items designed to reflect their immediacy behaviors (e.g., “I gesture when I talk to students” or “I avoid gesturing when I talk to students.”). Finally, teachers were asked to estimate how much time they spent teaching on or behind their podium, moving around the classroom, seated in a chair within the ensemble, at the board, and at other locations.

What did the researcher find?

In terms of immediacy, teachers reported that they used behaviors related to eye contact the most and proximity-related behaviors (e.g., touching, moving toward, sit/stand close) the least. Immediacy behaviors did not vary by teaching position (e.g., middle vs. high school) but did vary by teacher sex, with female teachers reporting more frequent use of behaviors including vocal variety, smiling, being animated, and proximity-related behaviors (touch, closeness, moving/leaning toward).

In terms of ensemble setup, 68% of teachers reported that their primary setup was arcs (setup A), followed by 15% reporting use of arcs with aisle (setup B) and 9% using arcs and rows (setup F). The vast majority (83%) said they often or always use arcs. When asked how frequently they changed their setup, the most common response was once or twice per year. There was no significant difference between closed/open setup use by teacher sex. However, teachers of younger ensembles were significantly more likely to report use of open setups. There were no significant differences between open/close setup use and overall teacher immediately. However, teachers who used open setups were significantly more likely to report moving toward and among students than teachers who used closed setups.

In terms of classroom space, the average amount of time reportedly spent at the podium was 66%, followed by 19% moving toward or among students and 7% at the board. Female teachers reported significantly less time on the podium than male teachers, and teachers of younger ensembles reported significantly less time on the podium than high school teachers. In addition, teachers who used closed setups reported significantly more time spent on the podium and less moving toward/among students than those who used open setups.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Instrumental ensemble teachers should consider the variety of classroom setup options available and the ramifications for choosing each possible setup option. Open setups allow more freedom for teachers to move around the classroom rather than staying on the podium. It is important, however, to also remember that correlation does not equal causation. Just because teachers with open setups are more likely to move around the room does not mean that one caused the other. It is worth considering the broader mindset that may underlie both the amount of time a teacher spends on the podium and their classroom setup. Additionally, given the percentage of teachers who report rarely changing their classroom setup, teachers might reflect on the potential benefits of changing up their classroom setup on a more frequent basis. How might this affect student engagement, motivation, and/or listening skills?

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