Music, Learning and Building Musicianship

Philosophy of Education by Geno Heiter (2004)
Create A Meaningful Education that Travels
Philosophers and psychologist have investigated and described "how" people learn for centuries. In fact, the scholarly research collected throughout the years has brought a wealth of knowledge and information together so people can better understand the process of learning. As a result, today's educator has the opportunity to reflect on the research and consider his own learning philosophy to establish an approach to creating a meaningful education that travels.

Many of the pedagogical approaches that I have practiced throughout my teaching career have been instinctively based on constructivism. Philosophers have described constructivism as instruction that moves from the "concrete" to the "abstract". Similarly, I interpret this teaching philosophy as building knowledge from the "familiar" to the "unfamiliar". As a constructivist, I focus my efforts in presenting instructional activities that are learner-centered as well as sequentially and developmentally appropriate.

My focus is on learner cognition, awareness, and sequential skill development. I assess, measure and evaluate successful learning scenarios by a student's ability to participate, contribute and demonstrate awareness and skill during learning activities. How they transfer the knowledge they have acquired to unfamiliar activities and solve new puzzles is how I assess, measure and evaluate what they have achieved.

Although I believe in the “quality” of products produced, my goal in any learning episode is not based on simple “input” and “output”. In fact, the success of my own development, as well as the students that I teach, supports the ideology that people learn by doing. This success has provided me with an overwhelming body of evidence that demonstrates that the learning is the result of "the process” and not the final production of a “product”.

How to achieve “Learning Success”
A simple equation that that would illustrate a constructivist formula for learning would be: Learning = Retention + Transfer or L=R+T. However, since a constructivist focuses on the process rather then the product, it is important to recognize all the elements that contribute to the process of successful learning. The road to retention and transfer is riddled with twists and turns that can derail any educational philosophy in seconds.

Ask any teacher, anywhere, about an experience of a planned expectation and actual outcome. They will share with you that outcomes vary as the result of a list of variables. Many of the negative variables that effect student learning can be traced right from the beginning of any learning episode. Successful learning partnerships start at the beginning and move developmentally forward.

In order to encourage student learning, I ask myself, "What can I add to the existing constructivist formula that would account for getting "the process" off and running in a way that the learning rises above any variables that may negatively effect learning from the onset, so that knowledge
has a chance to begin to develop and be transferred?"

Taking into account the data that is available on a student, my experience has brought me to some concrete conclusions. People need to establish the will and reason to retain and transfer knowledge. People need to feel empowered with the ideology that they can in fact do. The road to empowerment begins with engagement and motivation. I would hypothesize that,

Engagement + Motivation = Empowerment
Empowerment (Retention + Transfer) = Learning [E+M+EMP : EMP(R+T)=L]

Some philosophers may argue that engagement is not a requirement for all learning, and a high percentage of what we learn is the result of unconscious acquisition. However, none can argue that implementing strategies that engage the learner help to encourage the learning process.

Engagement is a simple, easily understood concept. It means that, as learners, we “bring more to the table.” We focus our sight, pitch our ears, and physically attend to the process at hand. All teachers know that engaged students are usually happier than disconnected ones who have isolated tasks to do, and research confirms that engagement activates more of the pleasure structures of the brain that do tasks of simple memorization. More attention to the learning also usually means better results.

Once someone is engaged in a learning sequence, the walls that stand in the way of motivation fall. People essentially act on the reason for retaining and transferring knowledge and begin to learn. Teachers can then begin to collect data that will assist them in measuring and evaluating student comprehension that will guide their instruction.

Follow the "Scholarly Research”
The importance of implementing a pedagogy that is scientifically based on scholarly research is critical to achieve learning success. Teachers have a responsibility to investigate and implement “best practices” that encourage student learning in their specific content area. Educators that practice, research and reflect on their teaching skills will continue to reach high levels of teaching skill and performance. Evidence supports the fact that teachers who refine their teaching technique to sequence activities that addresses specific content and skill that is developmentally appropriate and connects to a student’s prior knowledge and aptitude will experience the essence of a true “learning partnership”.

In addition, specific assessment tools that measure and evaluate teacher and student progress and achievement are essential to the growth of a learning partnership. On a broader and equally important level, assessments also effect curriculum and pedagogy by increasing the level of consistency and accountability among teachers and students.

In summary, research, practice, experience, assessment and commitment should be built into the fabric of any pedagogy to encourage a successful learning partnership and create a
“meaningful education that travels”.