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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Can you think a little louder?: a classroom-based ethnography of eight and nine year olds composing with music and language Freed Carlin, Joi Lynn


The purpose of this qualitative study was to investigate the processes in which eight and nine year old children engaged as they composed generative expressions with music and language. This study was a classroom-based ethnography conducted by a teacher/researcher in the context of her own general music classroom and the home room of the participant students. Twenty-one boys and girls in a suburban grade three class were involved in this four and one-half month study; three children were chosen as target (focus) composers. This study was designed so that the primary voice and point of view was that of the student-composers rather than that of the adult teacher/researcher. To that end, methodologies for data collection and interpretation were flexible and emergent, to allow for inclusion of unexpected events, interactions, foci/directions, etc. and to ensure that student-composers' self-described decisions about their work were at the forefront of the discussion and interpretation of the data. A framework was devised to inform and clarify the teacher/researcher's understanding of what the children were doing as they composed. This framework provided a flexible structure for organization and illustration of data used for interpretive purposes. Data collected included: 1) journals, written self evaluations and in-process verbal critiques by all students 2) video-tapes of focus composers in: a) working sessions b) reflective discussion with the teacher/researcher 3) video-tapes of all students in: a) in-process sharing/critiquing sessions b) final performances of compositions 4) field notes of the teacher/researcher, including observations, informal conversations with student-composers, and observations and comments of the home room teacher. Findings from this study included these insights: 1) For these child-composers, process and product were intertwined throughout the making of their compositions; 2) These child-composers began with a holistic idea of what they wanted to do and proceeded to explore, revise and polish their compositions in the particular medium until they reached their self-determined goal; 3) Socio-cultural factors of informal (enculturated or acquired) learning, and general maturity, were primary influences in decision-making in compositions with both music and language; 4) Training made a difference in the baseline starting point in composing ability, attitude, speed of the compositional process, and expectations for the final product; 5) These eight and nine year old children, untrained in music, demonstrated that they could compose rather than just improvise; 6) These child-composers went through the same four processes of exploration, making choices, editing/drafting, and completing a coherent product, when composing in two different modalities; they engaged in these processes recursively as well as sequentially in both media.

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