Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Focusing on Music Pedagogic Culture (L. Bartel)


Our changing and shifting cultural patterns has created a great impact in school culture. Through the eyes of Deal and Peterson, both authors strongly believe the changing effects of society’s beliefs, values and traditions are key essential to the structure of school culture. Bartel’s article on the culture of music pedagogy helps educators think and re-think whether or not ‘culture’ is defined the same way in each school system. Furthermore, does the culture defined in school help shape pedagogies that teachers follow in their daily practice. To better understand the concept of ‘pedagogical practices in a school culture’, one must first understand the idea and definition of ‘culture’. For the purpose of the article, Edgar Schein’s definition is applied, stating that culture of a group is “A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems” (Bartel, 1). While the term may seem lengthy, Schein’s perspective targets the ‘evolution’ of culture, indicating that if humans are not aware of the culture they live in, culture will end up directing them.

In order for music educators to be fully aware of the culture they teach in, Schein raises several factors that can serve as a guide in the school system, including observing behavior, the ‘norms’, values, and philosophy. Bartel analyses Schein’s theory furthermore, by providing a set of ‘lenses’ for teachers to use when applying pedagogy to culture. The first (important) lens is the Role of the Teacher, meaning the role that the teacher plays in the classroom is the initial starting point for shaping culture amongst the student body. These can be as simple as taking attendance, and can be as large as goal setting for the entire semester. Depending on the school system and school environment the teacher is in, his/her role may differ, however it is up to the teacher to take the first step in diagnosing what is required to create a good cultural system in the music classroom.

Lens 2 naturally would be the role of the student, or more specifically Expectation of the Student, because a classroom entails a two way street, where students need to play their part in responding to the goals established by/with the teacher. These tasks include meeting the curriculum requirements and developing skills to be able to make music on their own. Naturally these two tasks will include sub-factors such as practicing skills, motivation, leadership skills and much more. This not only will create more rehearsal and learning experiences during class, but will also help induce more positive communication amongst peers, teachers and parents.

Lens 3 and 4 involve Teacher-Student Relationship as well as Preferred Repertoire. A teacher-student relationship must be healthy in the classroom in order for a positive learning environment to be created. Once a teacher understands his/her student body, and as students get to know the teaching style and atmosphere of their teacher, a positive relationship is formed. Knowing so, lens 4 will start to shape as the music teacher and students create together become a task both parties enjoy. Therefore, when lens 5 appears, Evaluation and Assessment, teachers will be able to accommodate and modify their system of evaluation in order to prove student success as well as leave room for improvement, allowing students to strive towards the next goal. Lens 5 as described by Bartel is a key turning point that can steer in the wrong direction should teachers make assumptions or have preconceptions about their classroom and the abilities of their students. Thus, lens 6 and 7 reminds educators to evaluate carefully the Value and Purpose of Music as well as The Appropriate Response to Music. Depending on the culture that the school is set in, values towards music, and the purpose of music making will alter. Not allowing culture to take over the system is important, yet keeping in mind the demographics of the school culture can be useful for teachers when designing and planning their curriculum.

The final and 8th lens described by Bartel is Musical Knowledge and Skill, which is a concept that teachers should be aware of, yet probably one of the hardest to tackle. The term ‘music’ becomes a big key word, whether or not teachers acknowledge it, without doubt, not every student will become the 'world stage performer’. Having said so, each student does have the ability to make music, therefore teachers should avoid jumping into the pool of pushing their students towards the big performing venues across the world. Using these 8 lenses (beliefs), teachers will be able to use them in their particular cultural zone. There is no ‘specific’ way to teach music, however there are similar factors that will influence how teachers teach music. These are the cultures that shape students, and should be constantly revisited in order for culture to be a part of the classroom, rather be the controlling affect of the classroom.


I really enjoyed reading this article because of the wide range of perspectives it showed. After reflecting on the 8 lenses, I realized however it does have its restrictions – essentially restricting educators to think about the purpose of teaching, and how to teach it without letting cultural effects take over their classroom. I think it is a hard task to sustain and manage, simply because there are so many influencing factors that come from culture today. More so at a younger age, when children are exposed to so many media impacts, they can very well come to class the following day with a new trend that can spread amongst the student body within seconds. Standing the grounds from the teacher’s perspective becomes such an important task, yet at the same time it can’t create an even bigger barrier between student and teacher, cutting off positive communication and damaging the classroom atmosphere.

I paid attention especially to lens 5, in which the discussion on Evaluation and Assessment was raised. Even though a standard grading system is implemented in many school boards, there are too many individual cases that I have seen where students don’t quite fit exactly into the rubric of a level 3 or level 4. What happens to the grade of these students then? How is there overall average affected? More importantly, how does this affect their self-esteem level in the long run? Specifically speaking towards the music grade, I think it is one of the subjects that are hard to achieve in the first few years, simply because it requires a certain amount of time in order to achieve a good sound, play the average repertoire, etc. Students will easily feel ‘bummed out’ when their violin still doesn’t sound in-tune, or their fingers can’t move as fast to play the pop-tune they chose. How do we grade these students then? Standard evaluation perhaps focuses too much on the end product of the task, instead of looking at the progression and the procedure it takes in order to work towards the final product.

Lens 8 also brought me to think more critically about the purpose of teaching music. 8 out of 10 children begin music lessons because to their parents, it is almost a ‘norm’ to do so. Moreover, another ‘norm’ that has become popular in the last decade is ‘examination’. Parents send their children to lessons, with an undermining idea that they will go test for such and such grade by such and such time. Teaching at home privately and at music studios have brought my attention to how parents seek out new music teachers nowadays. Besides looking at the qualifications of the teacher, they will also ask through inquiry when their child can prepare for such grade, or how long does the teacher think their child will need before they go for the next exam? Should this be the fundamental to teaching? Personally I think this an example proving Schien’s theory when culture has managed humans. In order to avoid it in the future, standardized testing shouldn’t be the only thing that is brought up in conversation between teacher, student and parents. Rather, encouraging music making in and outside the classroom, for learning, for practice, for leisure can be a task teachers should consider more and more when communicating with students and parents.

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