Make Your Garden Grow: A Framework for Implementing Student-led Laboratory Ensembles


Brian C. Wuttke, George Mason University

Lisa Billingham, George Mason University

Wayne Taylor, George Mason University

Timothy Smith, George Mason University

Margaret Woods, George Mason University


One of the great challenges for faculty in higher education who teach music education courses is trying to provide authentic teaching experiences for their s students prior to student teaching. The problem is exacerbated further when field experience opportunities in the community are limited or not available at all. In cases when students are fortunate enough to teach prior to student teaching, their professors are not always available to provide the kind of feedback needed to foster professional skill development. It is not uncommon for undergraduate music education majors to have very little substantive, if any, live-on-the-podium experience prior to student teaching.


Faculty are often aware how simultaneously attending to all the aural and visual stimuli produced in large ensemble settings can overwhelm student teachers. In addition to limited field experience opportunities, the traditional music education curricular framework doesn’t always provide opportunities for authentic teaching experiences either. In theory, the discrimination skills needed to succeed in teaching large ensembles are addressed by music theory and/or ear training courses. Whether discrimination skills transfer from these classroom experiences to conducting situations is questionable (DeCarbo, 1982). The ability to detect, diagnose, and prescribe solutions to musical errors in the large ensemble requires cognitive processes that extend well beyond the ability to identify intervals, chords, and harmonic progressions.


Another concern for faculty involves the difficulty that many students encounter when trying to implement effective teaching strategies. Student teaching is often a stressful endeavor that can create anxiety and diminish confidence. This can leave student teachers overwhelmed as they enter into what Fuller and Bown (1975) label the “survival stage.” Even though they have recently studied research-based techniques designed to improve their effectiveness in the classroom, student teachers commonly revert back to teaching schemes that they have come to learn through their recollections as performers in their middle school, high school, and collegiate-level ensembles (Teachout, 1997; Rideout & Feldman, 2002). Although this form of mimicry may assist a student teacher’s ability to survive, it may also hinder their ability to impact student growth, unintentionally reinforcing habits that lead to ineffective and inefficient teaching practice.


The purpose for this session proposal is to present a logistical and curricular framework to assist faculty in creating authentic teaching experiences for their students prior to student teaching. The model presented will outline a collaborative approach that consists of band, chorus, guitar, and orchestra ensembles. Each ensemble is taught by upper-level music education majors enrolled in methods majors enrolled in instrumental and vocal techniques courses who perform on secondary instruments/voices. Each ensemble is supervised by music education faculty and doctoral music education students who provide feedback regarding lesson planning, communication skills, professionalism, and implementation of research-based teaching strategies. The presentation will consist of sample syllabi, course calendars, multimedia exemplars, and descriptive data collected from student participants. Strategies for assigning students to their respective ensembles and managing instruments and music will be also be discussed. Sample concert programs and video will be presented. The session will budget a sufficient amount of time towards the end for conference attendees to ask questions regarding the organization and implementation of the curricular design.



DeCarbo, N. J. (1982). The effects of conducting experience and programmed materials on error detection scores of college conducting students. Journal of Research in Music Education, 30, 187-200.

Fuller, F. & Bown, O. (1975). Becoming a teacher. In K. Ryan (ed.), Teacher Education (74th Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education. Part 2, pp. 25-52). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Rideout, R. & Feldman, A. (2002). Research in music student teaching. In R. Colwell & C. Richardon (Eds.), The New Handbook of Research on Music Teaching and Learning (pp. 874-886). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Teachout, D. J. (1997). Preservice and experienced teachers' opinions of skills and behaviors important to successful music teaching. Journal of Research in Music Education, 45, 41-50.