Peer-led professional development in musical creativity through improvisation for music teachers
Parsons, Joshua Ryan
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General creativity and, more specifically, creative thinking in music are valuable qualities that should be fostered in music education for personal, professional, and societal reasons. In order for band directors to successfully integrate musical creativity into their classroom curriculum and serve as resources for other content area teachers implementing 21st Century Skills (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2017), it is imperative that they are personally capable and comfortable with the very activities and methods they would employ with their students. In this action research study, a group of five band directors with similar conservatory-influenced undergraduate backgrounds volunteered to participate in peer-led, non-formal professional development in the area of musical improvisation. Due to the common traditional attributes of such institutions of higher education, many future educators are trained to reproduce performance practices of Western art music in place of, and to the exclusion of, following individual musical curiosities and creative impulses (Small, 1998). A general lack of improvisation and jazz experiences in pre-service teacher education (Pignato, 2010) has left many with an inability to engage in genuinely creative experiences with their students and on their own. Using Dewey’s vision of democracy in education, the basic framework of “we learn together, we learn by doing,” shaped the way in which the teacher-led professional development took place. Each participant had a unique voice within the process, which helped build collegiality, a stronger sense of self, and broaden the base of experience and knowledge. Data were collected through focus group interviews, participant journals, exit slips, and video-recordings of the improvisation sessions. The goal for this study was to discover the implications of peer-led professional development, have a substantial effect on the comfort and ability of the participants to improvise with their professional peers, and ultimately provide pedagogical tools that will transfer to the classroom and yield a variety of opportunities for student improvisation. Findings suggest that the use of free improvisation as an entry point to improvised music in general is a successful path to overcome various impediments such as anxiety and lack of familiarity with a specific musical idiom.