Since the 1980s, interest in the cognitive and affective influences on teaching has initiated studies on teacher beliefs and practices. Studies of teacher beliefs in academic areas such as reading, math, social studies, and science are prolific. However, studies about the teacher beliefs and practices of music teachers are scarce. The purpose of this study, therefore, is to explore the teacher beliefs of middle school orchestra teachers and to examine how their self-reported and observed teaching practices reflect these beliefs.
Based on the work of foreign language education researcher Simon Borg (2003) a conceptual framework was developed that shows the various sources of teacher beliefs and practices, including formative preservice musical experiences, inservice contextual factors, and inservice professional development. Employing a qualitative multiple case study method, six purposely-selected middle school orchestra teachers, representing a variety of experience levels and program characteristics, shared their teacher beliefs and practices. Data generation included observations, interviews, stimulated recall (think aloud teacher commentary of videotaped teaching episodes), and written reflection surveys. During analysis, six core teacher beliefs about middle school string students and how they learn were identified. These beliefs guided the teachers’ observed practices.
Findings from this study illustrated that preservice formative musical experiences influenced the middle school orchestra teachers’ beliefs about the value and importance of music teaching as a career. Data from the participants revealed a wide variety of instructional practices emanating from largely similar core pedagogical beliefs. Analysis suggested that experienced teachers held more developed teacher beliefs, and they selected instructional practices carefully, where inexperienced teachers were still formulating their own beliefs and experimenting with instructional practices. Data from the study point out that contextual constraints sometimes prevent teachers from enacting their closely held beliefs. This incongruence influenced three of the six participants to change teaching positions or retire early from the education profession.
The study of music teacher beliefs and practices may be of interest to preservice and inservice music teachers and music teacher educators. Future studies may explore the relationship between teacher beliefs and practices and student achievement, and contribute to string music education research.