'It's fun, unthreatening and engaging': Professional learning in initial teacher education, BEd primary

June, 2021

Source: Issues in Educational Research, Vol. 31, No. 2, pp. 537-555

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of the study working with Australian Society for Music Education Victorian Chapter (ASME VIC) was to build students music pedagogical and content knowledge (Shulman, 1986), and enhance their confidence to include music in the primary classroom (de Vries, 2013; Schiemann, 2016). Undertaking the study serves as an informative way to gain feedback about professional learning (PL).
Feedback improves the quality of teaching, and impacts on student learning (Hattie, 2009).
There were two guiding questions that drove the study
(a) what are the experiences and engagement of participants when undertaking professional learning?; and
(b) why people come together to share music making and practice?
This research adds to the growing body of research on feedback and insights into views on receiving and providing professional learning.

This paper, employs a qualitative case study approach that is “bounded by time and activity” (Creswell, 1994, p. 43).
Case study methodology is used to answer how and why questions and is exploratory in nature (Yin, 2014).
It also investigates in a real-life context how individuals respond to their local environment (Ary et al., 2006; Merriam, 1998).
A case study examines a particular situation, event, program, or phenomenon (Merriam, 1998; Stake, 2000).
In this case study, ASME VIC provided PL workshops in 2018 and 2019 to ITE generalist Bachelor of Primary students and music teachers.
A case study is descriptive in that it focuses on participants experience in their local context.
Questionnaire data gathered in 2018 and 2019 was gathered with participants and presenters.

Research collection
At the end of the workshop, hard copies of the Plain Language Statement were handed out to participants explaining the project which also included the questionnaire.
Hard copy distribution often ensures mass participation and “can be implemented at the right time; in this case, at the end of the training sessions when the participants still had a vivid memory of the experience.
The project was carefully explained and questions or concerns were responded to in-person.
Participation was voluntary, completing the anonymous questionnaire meant participants gave their consent.

Data tool
Questionnaires are a quick and reliable way to collect data that provides accurate data on facts, attitudes and beliefs (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2000). Questionnaires are a popular tool for acquiring information at a low cost where anonymity can be maintained.
The questionnaire consisted of closed and open-ended questions.
Closed questions included ticking a box regarding age, gender and occupation.
Open-ended questions included: Why did you attend the workshop? What was challenging? What did you benefit or gain from the workshop as a teacher or future teacher?
Why do you think composition and or music engagement is important in the curriculum and school setting?
Open questions were added to understand the perceptions, behavior and beliefs held by the participants.
Open ended questions add richness to the survey results which is not possible to achieve with closed questions (Krosnick, 2018; Pozzo, Borgobello & Pierella, 2019).

Data analysis
Thematic analysis was employed as an analytic tool to analyse the 2018 and 2019 data.
Thematic analysis explores research questions about people’s experiences as well as their understandings about a particular phenomenon (Clarke & Braun, 2013).
Themes provide shape and enable description “in the context of the entire data set” (Maguire & Delahunt, 2017, p. 3358).
All questionnaires were compiled and grouped according to each question.
The data was then coded into broad themes capturing recurring patterns across the dataset, before searching for common threads.
The themes tell the story of the data when writing up the narrative about the data.

Findings and discussion
Building collaborative partnerships with ASME is a positive way to support ongoing PL for ITE students.
Although planning takes time to collaborate with the professional organisation to set up the workshops, it was apparent from the feedback that the workshops served as an effective way for participants to meet presenters who are experienced music teachers and experts in the field.
The PL workshop provided presenters (committee members for ASME VIC) to talk about the organisation as a community of practitioners (Wenger, 1998). Working with professional music organisations is an excellent way for ITE students to think about their future practice as generalist teachers (AITSL, 2021). The workshop provided new planning ideas and teaching strategies (McConnell et al., 2013).
Participants gained many musical and creative opportunities within a short space of time.
ITE students particularly expressed the need to increase their music knowledge and skills as they receive very little time within the BEd Primary program.
By attending the workshop, students’ music coursework knowledge was extended.
It gave them new ideas that they could use on placement (practicum) or in their future classrooms.
The workshop provided participants the opportunity to work with strangers, listen to others, and create compositions through sounds and movement.
It provided participants with a range of teaching strategies that could be adapted or adopted into future classrooms (de Vries, 2013; Lieberman & Mace 2010).
The workshops were interactive, it was not just a ‘show and tell’.
Participants had to be reflective in what they were doing.
They had to use their ‘teacher hat’ and think about pedagogical strategies to engage students in the primary classroom.
During the workshop participants took notes, others listened, and many asked questions.
This was done to support their understanding as research shows non-music specialists lack confidence to teach music (Russell-Bowie, 2009; Munday & Smith, 2010; Joseph, 2014).
Participating in the workshop gave ITE students the chance to experience PL with a professional organisation at a very low cost.
It also offered them the opportunity to gain confidence to undertake PL in other learning areas whilst pursuing their studies.
The notion of professional learning through creative music workshops gave participants a first-hand experience to “play on music instruments I [they] never played before”.
For many, they learnt “how to use music in a creative and fun way” as most participants said they had little experience in composing.
Working together in small groups (teachers and students) pushed participants out of their comfort zones.
They had to draw on a range of ideas to come up with a group composition in a short time (Thorpe, 2017).
In doing so, they reflected on their actions which turned out to be an exciting teaching and learning experience for all concerned (Schön, 1987).

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Updated: Jun. 09, 2022