This post includes a few brief, light-hearted thoughts I put out to the music education graduate research colloquium today during our faculty roundtable on the theme of, “Intersections Between Research and Practice.” This event was intended to be an introductory colloquium during which the faculty shared 5- to 7-minute reflections on how they see their own research impacting their practical concerns. If you’re curious, this was my take…

Intersections: Research and Practice

The relationship between the theoretical work that researchers do and the work of teachers and students is something that’s always been fascinating to me. My guess is that most researchers in music education find themselves reflecting on this often as well, since most of us tend to come from some aspect of the profession that was solely and firmly concerned with practical matters such as school teaching, administrating, private teaching, or working with kids in some other community teaching. Similarly, I’d imagine that puzzling out what research can do to make the world better and why it’s worth spending your time on research or theoretical work when you could just as easily spend that time being in front of a group of kids is probably a major issue for most of the people who find themselves pursuing research as part of their career. If you’ve had similar thoughts, you might check out David Labaree’s book, The Trouble with Ed Schools… it’s a great book about how education programs function in higher education in general and offers some very insightful thoughts on this issue as well as lots of other tensions that teachers who are becoming researchers face.

Essentially, my little presentation here is about two things – how I’ve reconciled and come to understand one way that research and practice can be related, and how I see my own research influencing what I do on a practical basis from day-to-day. I was trying to think of a catchy title for my mini-talk as I was reflecting on my own motivations for research… which generally revolve around an urge to pursue topics that (a) satisfy my own intellectual curiosity, (b) contribute to scholarly understanding, and (c) also address some needs that are recognized in the profession more generally. So, how might I describe that in a pithy way? I suppose I aim to do work that is…


Defined as work that at the same time… satisfies my intellectual curiosityspeaks to practical issues – and makes some kind of an impact on the scholarly community. Yes, this is a silly word…  …but it’s better than other recent entries in the dictionary – for instance, deets, twerk, jorts, and selfie.

Contrary to my initial perceptions when starting out as a researcher, I now believe that research doesn’t always (or even typically) have a direct impact on practice and, more importantly, that that’s ok. This realization probably occurred around the same time that I had completed a few studies and realized that the world will not necessarily change once they were published. The potential relationships between theoretical and practical pursuits is obviously a topic for a very long conversation that isn’t possible at the moment… but …I’ve thought of some metaphors that might be helpful when talking about some aspects of the topic in the next 2 to 3 minutes.

Metaphors (not by any means original)

The potential impact of any research study on practice is probably… …more like a ripple in a pond from a drop of rain or …more similar to that of a single gear in an interconnected system. Any single study is bound to a particular circumscribed topic, set of information, context, and circumstance and is limited in it’s generalizability and application. And as such, any single bit of research is likely to have limited impact at best. So, instead I’ve aimed to develop “programs” of research and lines of work. Or, in metaphorical terms… …to build “storm systems” that will create waves rather than a single ripple or …to build “gears and linkages between gears that generate energy and perhaps change rather than turn a crank here and there once in a while.

But, to extend the metaphor one more time, I’ve also come to realize that rather than being similar to a pond or a particular gear system… …that the world of education we might hope our scholarly work to impact is vast and is more like an endless ocean or massively complicated machine. Music education, as a profession, operates on many, many levels simultaneously – the individual, the classroom, the school, the community, the political, the cultural, etc. etc. – and as such, I’ve aimed to develop “programs” of research and lines of work that might address multiple levels of this complex profession.

So, what do I actually do?

  • Research about music learners… How they can learn to self-regulate, how they can learn to become better practicers, what motivates them, how their individual differences interact with that…
  • Research about teachers… How they develop and what might make them more effective in engaging students in musical experiences…
  • Research about music education as a profession from the perspective of policy and national generalizations… Studies of various extramusical outcomes of music participation, enrollment trends, and advocacy influences

And so, to finally get to the point, how has this informed my own “practice?”

  • By informing how to go about teaching musicians
    • I have drawn from my own research on practicing that has examined the tendencies of beginners through very advanced instrumentalists to infer approaches to designing instruction related to practicing. My work regarding observational approaches and measures of practice tendencies also has implications for alternative assessment approaches. My research also informs approaches for dealing with students with a variety of motivational profiles.
  • By informing how to go about teaching teachers
    • I draw on my research of pre-service music teachers to inform the content and framework of the teacher preparation courses I teach. My research on undergraduate music teacher development informs the sequencing of the work in my classes and the kinds of things I expect from students at various points in their development and how I like to engage them in field experience. My work in music teacher identity has led me to create topics and instructional approaches for engaging students in thinking critically about their own beliefs and what it means for them to be effective teachers. My research on issues of teacher effectiveness and teacher creativity has implications for some of the kinds of practices that I might emphasize when teaching rehearsal/classroom techniques. I’ve also drawn on my research on both practicing and teacher development to design clinics for in-service teachers’ professional development.
  • By providing insights into issues related to music education policy
    • I’ve done work with four data sets from the national center for education statistics to address policy issues from a broad perspective.
    • I’ve mainly examined issues related to advocacy such as potential extramusical correlates of participation in music education (academic achievement, tardy/absent from school, sense of community ethic) and how that might vary when also considering student characteristics such as SES, minority status, the influence of peers and school-level characteristics such as urbanicity, teacher certification, and quantity of music teachers. I’ve worked on a study that examined the sorts of musical experiences classroom teachers typically include in elementary schooling and how inequities exist according to SES, minority status, and urbanicity. And lastly, I’ve recently run a study looking at predictors of school resources for arts education in an effort to identify the kinds of things that might be most effective to focus on when advocating for school arts programs.

Thanks for listening and have theoretipracticaliexpealidocious day.

Um diddle iddle iddle um diddle aye, Um diddle iddle iddle um diddle aye to you.


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