Desert Skies Symposium 2017
ABSTRACT: Teaching is a multi-faceted activity. In addition to the demands of required content-specific competencies (e.g., “pedagogical content knowledge” (Shulman, 1986)), teachers are expected to act independently and with “vision” (Allsup & Westerlund, 2012; Hammerness, 2003). The capacity for independent action, often described as agency, Jerome Bruner defines as the ability “to be proactive, problem-oriented, attentionally focused, selective, constructional, [and] directed to ends” (Bruner, 1996, p. 93). Though Bruner’s definition of agency applies to all persons, Bruner and other educationalists (e.g., Dewey, 1938) have focused much of their attention upon addressing the conditions that foster and/or limit agentic action within educational settings. Bruner’s definition, while applicable to agency’s broader philosophical associations, is especially germane to education. Education-related discourses have generated several connected constructs, such as identity, self-concept, content mastery, and, notably, self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977), a concept with which agency is often associated (and sometimes conflated).
Music education researchers have investigated agency-related concerns from a variety of perspectives. Self-efficacy beliefs have been researched as a measure preservice teachers’ preparation to teach (Albion, 1999) and as a means of investigating teacher concerns (Mikza & Berg, 2013). Identity studies, such as Bouji (1998), Isbell (2008), and Roberts (1991, 2004), indirectly evoke self-efficacy insofar as they study how identity informs beliefs and actions, and vice-versa. These studies and others (e.g. Brewer, 2009; Bucura, 2013; Haston & Russell, 2012; McLellan, 2014) represent how self-efficacy has been explored, if indirectly, through inspection of identity and socialization of preservice music teachers. Yet, as identity conflict, identity development, and professional socialization have become central concerns of preserivce music teacher research, it appears as if attention to other mechanisms and dimensions of agency have fallen by the wayside, reducing agency to little more than one’s belief about who they are and what they can do. The reduction of agency in this way ignores the complexity of agentic development, potentially diminishing the scope by which music teacher educators conceptualize and help preservice educators to develop their agency as music teachers and as active beings in the world.
Emirbayer and Mische (1998) provide a triadic conception of agency that embraces a complex understanding of human actors engaged in social practices. By envisioning agency as comprising three elements--iteration, projection, and practical evaluation, Emirbayer and Mische offer a theoretical framework potentially useful for better understanding and helping preservice teachers’ agentic development. Rather than reducing agency to issues related to self-efficacy, Emirbayer and Mische’s triadic conception presents a robust image of agency from a temporal perspective. Agency, they claim, is not simply action, but rather a complex interplay of past, present, and future orientations of thought and action.
The purpose of this study was to examine facets of agentic thinking as evidenced in the written coursework for an introduction to music education class. Using the conceptual framework of Emirbayer and Mische (1998), we used QDA Miner software to analyze text-based artifacts from two cohorts of students (N = 66). Following practices of content analysis (Krippendorf, 2003), we developed categorization dictionaries for each agentic element (iteration, projection, and practical evaluation) based upon a literature review of music education teacher development research placed in dialogue with the responses of the undergraduates. Using these dictionaries and selected demographic variables (i.e. identified gender, year in school, major, in/out of state residency status, and instrument), we sought to identify patterns and relationships in the agentic language used in student assignment responses. Through this analysis we provide an account of the complexity of agency and agentic development of undergraduate music education students.
Preliminary analysis suggests that, as expected (but also in validating our categorization dictionaries), course prompts and assignment requirements impacted the specific agentic triadic element language preservice music educators exhibited in their responses. For example, practical evaluation indicators occurred more frequently in teaching reflection assignments. Overall, agency vocabulary increased from the beginning to the end of the semesters for both cohorts, suggesting the possibility of a growing sense of teacher agency. Agentic language usage demonstrated subtle differences based on gender, and to some extent academic major, with music performance/music education double or non-music education majors exhibiting higher percentages of agentic vocabulary.
The development of agency in its fullest sense may allow individuals to “loosen [themselves] from past patterns of interaction and reframe their relationship to existing constraints” (Emirbayer & Mische, 1998, p. 1010). A richer grasp of agency can inform the practices of music teacher educators as they endeavor to not only help preservice music educators prepare to be competent and independent teachers, but also to empower preservice music educators to be innovative and responsive in-service music educators. Although the written manifestations of agentic thinking are not to be confused with agency itself, they nevertheless provide a powerful window into the thinking of preservice teachers. Based on the results of our study we offer suggestions to assist music teacher educators better understand and stimulate preservice music educators’ agentic development.
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