Informing and transforming my choral teaching practice: a study of the pedagogical approaches of six master teachers of elementary children's choirs
Antel, Bonnie L.
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My personal experience as an elementary music teacher had afforded me the opportunity to build a thriving choral program in my school, but I had reached a stale mate in my ability to facilitate maximum progress for my students to achieve a sound that my administrators, colleagues, and audience would recognize as masterful. The purpose of this study was to ascertain how master teachers of elementary children’s choirs approach teaching in order to emulate their results. By observing and interviewing masterful choral educators and reviewing the literature on the pedagogical approaches recommended for successful choral programs, it was hoped that I could apply this knowledge to inform and transform my practice. The review of the literature is discussed according to themes that emerged from my reading. These themes included: 1) Planning and Organizing Rehearsals; 2) Repertoire Selection; 3) Teaching Vocal Technique; 4) Seating Arrangement; 5) Audition Versus Non-Audition; and 6) Effective Choral Teaching. An action research methodology was employed in this study and involved collecting data from three sources: a pre- and post-observation of my practice by a jury; observations of master teachers; and interviews with master teachers. Observations and interviews were conducted with the same group of master teachers. Data were analysed using a qualitative approach (Bogdan & Biklen, 2003; Mills, 2007). Data from the observations and transcribed interview data were reviewed and coded according to key findings that emerged on a repeated basis (Stringer, 2008). The findings of the study revealed several themes that dominated the pedagogical approaches of master choral teachers. These themes included: planned and organized rehearsals with flexibility to address learning needs that arise unexpectedly; choosing high quality repertoire with inspirational text and good musical construction, and considerations to appropriateness of range with a preference to up-tempo selections; vocal techniques that encompassed strong listening skills and their appropriate application, good posture, proper breath control, face and jaw alignment, use of kinesthetics and imagery, attention to unified vowel and consonant production; seating arrangements that considered non-musical criteria such as height, behaviour, and grade level; and teaching demeanour that was positive and nurturing, with a penchant for a quick pace, delivered in a lively, animated manner, punctuated by good eye contact and supported by significant score knowledge. Master choral teachers were found to have personal experiences that contributed to their success and were found to be passionate about their teaching. Recommendations for further research and personal study are given.