Person-centered learning in a collegiate jazz combo
Bromley, Kristen R.
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Incorporating person-centered approaches in educational settings can help students become more actively engaged in learning processes. Subsequently, the students may experience whole-person learning through cognitive, emotional, and experiential means, develop greater self-discipline, and emerge as more fully-functioning persons. When a classroom becomes a person-centered learning community, the entire person grows holistically instead of merely acquiring information. The learning is also more personally meaningful and pervasive, in that, by the students’ own accounts the growth that they achieve is beneficial to them in their broader lives. In this qualitative case study, I used Carl Rogers and Jerome Freiberg’s (1994) person-centered learning theory as a lens to explore a collegiate jazz combo. The combo was located at a university in the Western United States. The purpose of this study was to discover how the combo functioned as a person-centered learning community; and to explore the learning and development that occurred in the combo, which related to experiencing whole-person learning, building self-discipline, and emerging as more fully-functioning persons. Over the course of one semester of instruction, I gathered data through observations and interviews as I participated in the combo as the faculty coach. I recorded my observations in fieldnotes and transcribed the audio-recorded interviews. I analyzed and coded the data; and then grouped the coded data into categorical themes. The findings I present are based on the themes that emerged. In this study, I found that the combo functioned as a person-centered learning community because the members actively engaged in the combo all throughout the semester. The members composed, arranged, and improvised music regularly. They worked together cooperatively to prepare and play tunes, and to improve as an ensemble. I facilitated and coached (rather than directed and controlled) the members’ music making and learning in the ensemble. In the combo, the members and I communicated verbally with each other as we socialized and worked on improving the music; and the members communicated nonverbally and musically as they played and performed their music. The environment created by the members and myself was positive, supportive, and fun. Because the combo functioned as a person-centered learning community, the members grew holistically. The members became more self-disciplined as musicians and persons. They developed greater communication and social skills, improved at time management, gained more control over their individual actions and ability to play music, learned to make better choices, and matured in their leadership. The members also experienced whole-person learning in the combo. They learned through cognitive means, and grew in their cognitive function. They grew emotionally and gained greater understanding through emotional and feeling driven processes. Furthermore, the members grew experientially and became more capable of acting and performing well in a variety of given scenarios and situations. The members’ learning was personally relevant and meaningful because they were able to make progress on their own goals as musicians and persons; and because their education in the combo prepared them for greater success as human beings and musicians outside the classroom. By engaging in learning processes that involved all three aspects of whole-person learning—cognition, emotions, and experience—the members became more fully-functioning musicians and persons throughout the semester. Based upon my findings, I recommend that educators implement principles of person-centered learning into their classrooms and programs. Teachers and administrators should design classes and overall programs so that they provide students with sufficient opportunities to grow as whole-persons, gain greater self-discipline, and emerge as more fully-functioning persons. Students need chances to self-discover information and processes, to utilize gained knowledge, skills, and understanding to make their own creations, and to cooperatively work with their teachers and/or peers in self-directed situations. In music education settings, there needs to be a greater balance between large ensemble opportunities versus small-group settings where students compose, improvise, and arrange music themselves. Adjusting individual classes and overall programs so that they are more person-centered may help students leave the classroom more prepared to continue learning and developing as persons outside the classroom. The students may likewise leave the classroom more capable of successfully functioning and contributing in an ever-changing world.