After I finished my Bachelor of Music in Violin Performance, my interest in teaching and learning led me to pursue a Masters in Educational Psychology at the University of Washington, which I finished in 2011. While at the UW, I immersed myself in developmental psychology, educational theory, philosophy, history, and the latest educational research studies.
When I started graduate school, I was unsure if I really wanted to make music my career. Violin felt kind of limiting at that time. But, as I studied, I quickly realized that violin lessons were the most interesting educational dynamic that I could find. Music is tangible: you can see and hear it. Violin is complex and challenging; in fact, the study of expertise began with Hans Anders Ericsson's research about music majors at the Berlin Music Academy! He discovered that the main difference between good and excellent players was the number of hours they had spent engaged in a goal-oriented, effortful type of work called deliberate practice. Watching one-on-one interaction between teacher and student was fascinating. To this day, I love music but like to think beyond the violin and make connections across fields.
I began filming lessons and did a three-year research study on my own teaching. My theoretical framework was based on sociocultural learning theory, developmental psychology, studies in expertise, and the latest music education research. The data set included 182 lesson videos spanning three years. I studied my interactions with three contrasting students, age 6-9. I embarked upon my study thinking that I needed to teach my students problem solving strategies. Thus equipped, they could practice effectively on their own.
...Of course, it was not that simple!
As I transcribed lesson videos, coded the data, and studied the minutest details of each lesson, I began to see that teacher-student interaction is what develops higher mental concepts and abilities in students. Yes, students can certainly learn to solve their own problems, but they need an environment that gives them a structured approach to learning first. Students need their teacher (and parent) to engage them in focused, error-oriented work that leads to tangible improvement in their performance. Mental development happens during the social interaction with the capable teacher. Gradually, I saw changes in the students' ability to regulate their learning doing lessons. I began to see a higher proportion of successful repetitions in the lessons, meaning that I became more effective at setting lesson goals one step above their current ability. Further, the more motivated students began to suggest strategies and engaged in long, intense episodes of productive repetition. Real learning was starting to happen.
Naturally, much of what I discovered were things that good music teachers have been doing for years. But, uncovering these things for myself, within a research framework, one lesson video at a time, changed me forever. Since then, I've filmed and analyzed lessons for various other projects and I learn something each time. I'll never stop exploring!