New research question – early thinking

How do students at the Language School perceive the music program?

This is a very open question. Initially I had hoped to set up a research project that would discover what impact, if any, the music program was having on students’ learning, in particular in literacy. I was also interested to explore the idea of ideal learning environments for these students, and wondered if an arts-rich environment would prove to be the preferred.

However, establishing the controls that would allow me to isolate the effects of the music program are proving difficult. The students in the primary classes work together in age groups. There are three classes, and all three take part in the music program. It isn’t possible to split the classes for the sake of the research – nor is it desirable! I also thought about creating a new group just for this project, hand-selecting the students, going into the school a separate day, designing a program specifically. There are considerable issues within school protocols about timetabling, accomodation and supervision with this idea.

My supervisor N also offered the caution that this is only a 20,000 word thesis, so the project needs to be quite contained, or at least containable. Regular readers of this blog will know that I am quite verbose… I don’t need a lot of data to write a lot of words (my biggest issue is usually cutting them down, once I have made sense of them).

So we came to the idea of exploring and discovering something, rather than trying to demonstrate something. How the students perceive the music program is anyone’s guess, really. They obviously enjoy it, but what do they make of it? Why do they think they are doing it? What do they think they get from it? What meaning does it have for them? The children I work with are young – aged between 5 and 13, and they are new arrivals. Some have never been to school before. All have an experience of musical culture from somewhere else, that they bring with them here. These questions would be difficult for an older person to answer, probably, let alone young people in the middle of an enormous transition period in their lives, grappling with a new language, new place, new culture…

How will I find out how the students perceive it? I like this research question because it offers me the challenge of developing some innovative ways to interview, children, to probe and discover. I am going to have be innovative in the way I set up interviews, or in the kinds of tools I develop to disover the students’ perceptions, thoughts and ideas. I will also need to work with interpreters (adults), which adds another dimension to the research.

I could:

  • videotape classes and ask the students to watch the footage and describe what they see taking place;
  • find out how the children describe and categorise the kinds of things we do in music;
  • Ask them to photograph, film or record the music classes, and then see what I learn from the things they choose to focus on;
  • Do group discussions prior to interviewing three (probably) individuals who will be my case studies.

I am also considering taking three difference perspectives as case studies, from a student who has little or no prior schooling, a student who has had a lot of schooling, but of a very different style and learning environment (eg. China), and a child who is somewhere in between these two extremes.

What role will the teachers play in helping me discover the students’ perspectives? Perhaps if they watch the same footage, they will see different things. Perhaps if they watch it, and hear a report of the students’ descriptions, they will be able to offer their own insights on what the students are perceiving.

What role will parents play, if any? How much are students’ perceptions of what takes place in school molded and shaped by the adults around them? Perhaps I should also interview the parents of my three case study students.

At first, when this research question first came up, I felt reluctant, because I couldn’t imagine the responses, so couldn’t see what benefit or knowledge or insights (specific to my work) I would gain. But now I like it. I like that I have no idea, really, what could be revealed. It is the kind of thing that I think I know, but in fact I don’t know. Or perhaps as a teacher I don’t give this side of things much thought. After all, regardless of how the students perceive the program, I design it with certain learning outcomes in mind, and I generally feel able to see whether these have been achieved or not. But perhaps I would do things differently with this new knowledge. Perhaps it would change my content, or my communication style.

It is all very, very open. Kind of exciting, being such an unknown.

Oh, I am such a beginner here. Some of you out there may well be rolling your eyes at the naivety of it all. Ah well. It’s true, for now. Hopefully by the end of the year, when you click on the ‘research’ category in the right-hand side bar and can see all the posts in order, you will see my thinking and understanding progress. That’s what I’m doing it for, that’s the plan.

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