Collaborative learning among high school students in a chamber music setting
Harrington, William James
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This study is a qualitative case study of collaborative learning in two chamber music ensembles in a public high school orchestra program. Collaborative learning, as applied to chamber music education, is a setting in which musicians engage in a common musical task and are accountable to the other members of the group. Using social constructivism as a conceptual framework, I sought to explore student collaboration within chamber music ensembles through social interaction and the development of creative rehearsal strategies. Attention was directed to the way in which students identified problems and developed rehearsal strategies to solve them. The following research questions guided this study: (1) How do students in the selected chamber music ensembles engage in collaborative learning? (2) What are the learning structures that enable collaboration within each group? (3) How do the students interact with each other in the selected chamber music ensembles? (4) What are the social structures that enable collaborative learning within each group? Using Mediated Discourse Analysis (MDA) I analyzed and interpreted the collaborative learning that occurred in the musical development of these high school chamber musicians. Data collection occurred during one semester of instruction (five months) and included individual interviews, focus group interviews, and observations, which included field-notes and digital video of rehearsals. The research methodology used in this study comprised the “interpretive–descriptive” method and focused on turning the participants’ words and actions into the development of potential themes and implications. My approach used a three-step process to analyze data in which concepts were coded relating to the phenomenon of collaborative and mutual learning as well as sociocultural mediation. In this study, I examined the collaborative learning process among the student participants. My study was further informed by the participants’ perceptions of their own collaborative learning processes. Themes found were learning structures that allowed for collaboration in interpretation and problem solving, and social structures that enabled peer pressure, socialization and a work ethic. Results indicated that when given the opportunity to work in small groups toward pre-determined musical goals, the participants in this study: (1) worked with internal group leaders to identify musical problems and develop creative rehearsal strategies to solve them, (2) used positive and negative peer pressure that created an organic social structure which contributed to team efficacy, and (3) showed a willingness to work harder toward group goals when empowered with the responsibility for their own learning. The results of this study suggest that a collaborative learning environment that includes small groups of heterogeneously mixed students can advance student learning in multiple ways. The traditional teacher centered learning environment may not be the most effective learning environment because it may limit student development in one or more capacities, including decision making and social development. Recognition of the active, purposeful character of human development and respect for the shared understanding (socially distributed knowledge) that enables peers to teach one another ought to shape the music educator’s role and function; to serve as a musical guide, facilitator, and source of social support. Based on the results of this study, it appears that it may be possible to adapt collaborative learning to diverse instructional situations regardless of the heterogeneous makeup of the learning group.