What is my conception of good teaching practice in my discipline?

By typing ‘good teaching’ or ‘effective teaching’ into Google will return a result of over 15 million sites that offer key principals and ‘hands on advice’ on what good teaching is, however while these resources offer information on pedagogical tools, advice on how to enhance teaching practice, theories and models on teaching, in reality these articles become ‘self help’ or, ‘teaching for dummies’ offering tips and strategies to improve teaching.

To quote Biggs,

“Wise and effective teaching is not…simply a matter of applying general principles of teaching according to rule; those principles need adapting to your own personal strengths and to your teaching context. A characteristic of award-winning university teachers is their willingness to collect student feedback on their teaching in order to see where their teaching might be improved (Dunkin and Precians 1992). Expert teachers continually reflect on how they might teach even better.” (Biggs, 2003, p.41)

No doubt pedagogical techniques are essential to our teaching practice, however they are no way defined as the only way to teach or to ensure good teaching. Ramsden (2003) points out that teachers think they know more about teaching than what they really do, we can be knowledge experts in our particular discipline, memorizing formulas however when it comes to teaching it to a real problem we become stuck, meanwhile McMillan (2007) discusses that publications and workshops provide only teaching skills, a ‘bag of tricks’ rather than changing the understanding of teaching practices.

Music teachers often teach as they have been taught and this is true within my own instrumental teaching, I will offer the same advice, use the same if not similar instructional methods, examination material, warm ups and repertoire as my teachers used on me. Bruhn (1990) quotes “They remember how their teachers did it, how their teachers once asked them to play a certain work, movement or phrase” (p.14).

When I started teaching instrumental music, I believed that the way I was taught was the only way to teach, however it quickly became evident that the students I was teaching did not share the same enthusiasm or motivation for practicing their craft as I did, I needed to find a way to further encourage and engage my students to become active learners and identify and address the broad range of learning characteristics and challenges that were presented to me.

Chickering and Gamson (1982) conducted research on the way teachers teach and the way students learn, they also explore how students and faculty talk to each other and how students work. For these researches, they came up with seven principals for good teaching practices:

  1. Encourages contact between students and faculty;
  2. Encourages cooperation among students;
  3. Encourages active learning;
  4. Gives prompt feedback;
  5. Emphasises time on the task at hand;
  6. Communicates high expectations;
  7. Respects diverse talents and ways of learning.

However, recent research on teaching and learning within universities conducted by Ramsden (2003) goes onto suggest that there was no ‘best way’ to teach, he however formulated thirteen ‘important properties of good teaching’ as:

  1. A desire to share your love of the subject with students
  2. An ability to make the material being taught stimulating and interesting
  3. Facility for engaging with students at their level of understanding
  4. A capacity to explain the material plainly;
  5. Commitment to make it absolutely clear what has to be understood, at what level, and why;
  6. Showing concern and respect for students;
  7. Commitment to encouraging student independence;
  8. An ability to improvise and adapt to new demands;
  9. Using teaching methods and academic tasks that require students to learn thoughtfully, responsibly, and cooperatively;
  10. Using valid assessment methods;
  11. A focus on key concepts, and students’ misunderstandings of them, rather than on covering the ground;
  12. Giving the highest-quality feedback on student work;
  13. A desire to learn from students about the effects of teaching and how it can be improved.

By comparing both approaches from Ramsden (2003) and Chickeren and Gamson (1982) we find that alignment is evident through ‘cooperation among students’ and ‘ways of learning’ from Chickering and Gamson (1982) and ‘…students learn thoughtfully, cooperatively and responsibly’ and ‘showing concern for students’ from Ramsden (2003).

In the classroom and over more recent years my question of ‘what is a good teacher?’ brings me to Harden and Crosby (2000) where he discusses that the teacher’s role extends well beyond the facilitator of information. While a ‘good teacher’ can be defined as a teacher who helps the student to learn, McCarthy et al. (2009) points out that the music teachers attitude, reflectiveness, professional development within their craft (instrument/discipline) promotes better teaching practices.

In music education, the student is very much the ‘active learner’ Bonwell and Eison (1991) defined strategies that promote active learning as instructional activities involving students in doing things and thinking about what they are doing. Active learning involves students to actively construct their knowledge and is the core theoretical concept within constructivism.

Webster (2002) mentions “the basic goal of constructivism is to place emphasis on creativity and to motivate learning through activity” (p. 418). Music students take a subject matter focus through processes of musical engagement which include singing, playing, improvising, composing, describing, representing and responding to music. As teachers build a working model of students’ musical knowledge they make meaning of the music and enable the students musical growth (Boardman 2002).

A teacher who embraces constructivist concepts within their practice have been found, through a study carried out by…. to be:

  • Good learners, they reflect on their teaching and continue to engage in professional development activities
  • Plan, monitor, evaluate and adopt their teaching in response to their student and learning context
  • Enthuastic about their own discipline and convey this to their students
  • Use approach that promote deep learning strategies
  • Use their own knowledge to help students construct their own knowledge and understanding
  • Have clearly defined goals, assess student learning appropriately and provide meaningful feedback
  • Challenge and support students
  • Aware of student needs and are responsive
  • Encourage independent learning

Abrahams (2005) draws a focus on key principals of critical pedagogy within music education, which links to constructivist concepts, he discusses that music education is a conversation, students and teachers both pose and solve problems together and when students and their teacher ‘know what they know’ then conscientization has occurred. According to Freiere (1970) this is achieved by developing an in-depth understanding and critical consciences where critical feeling is developed by engaging student in activities is consistent with what musicians do when they are making music.

In conclusion, the notion of ‘good teaching’ in music education doesn’t necessarily draw on pedagogies of Orff Schulwerk, the Suzuki Method, Kodaly or Dalcroze however by drawing on themes from the above text, good teaching begins with enthusiasm of the discipline, this leads to motivation by the student to actively learn. A good teacher is a good learner, the good teacher has a commitment to encourage student independence and independent learning, they use valid assessment methods, give prompt feedback and have a desire to learn from students about the effects of teaching and how it can be improved. Good teachers challenge students, they have clear and defined goals and are aware of students needs. Good teachers are reflective, ever expanding their knowledge and evaluating their own teaching in response to their students and learning context.


Abrahams, F. (2005). Transforming classroom music instruction with ideas from critical pedagogy. Music Educators Journal, 92(1), 62-67 http://heaneyresourcefile.weebly.com/uploads/2/3/8/2/23821608/3400229.pdf

Biggs J. (2003). Teaching for Quality Learning at University 2nd Edition. Maidenhead, SRHE / Open University Press.

Boardman, Eunice & MENC, the National Association for Music Education (U.S.) (2002). Dimensions of musical learning and teaching : a different kind of classroom. MENC, the National Association for Music Education, Reston.

Bonwell, C. & Eison, J. (1991). Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. AEHEERIC Higher Education Report No. 1, Jossey-Bass, Washington DC. https://www.ydae.purdue.edu/lct/hbcu/documents/Active_Learning_Creating_Excitement_in_the_Classroom.pdf

Bruhn, S. ( 1990). Reconsidering the Teacher- Student Relationships in the Training of the Performing Musician. International Journal of Music Research. 15, 13-22.

Chickering, A. W. & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undegraduate education. Washington Center News. http://www.lonestar.edu/multimedia/sevenprinciples.pdf

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Harden R M and Crosby J R (2000). AMEE Education Guide No 20: The good teacher is more than a lecturer – the twelve roles of the teacher. Medical Teacher 22(4): 334-347. http://njms.rutgers.edu/education/office_education/community_preceptorship/documents/TheGoodTeacher.pdf

McCarthy, M., Carlow, R., Gabriele, K., Hall, M., Moore, J., Woody, R. (2003). Better Practice in Music Education. Maryland, United States of America. Maryland State Department of Education.

McMillan, W. J. (2007). “Then you get a teacher” – Guidelines for excellence in teaching. Medical Teacher, 29:8, e209-e218

Ramsden, P. (2003) Learning to Teach in Higher Education. Routledge-Falmer, London.

Webster, P. R. 2002. Computer-based technology and music teaching and learning. In The new handbook of research on music teaching and learning ed. R. Colwell and C. Richardson, 416-39. New York: Oxford.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s