What strikes me as I read it how many discipline procedures are a part of musical instruction. As I look at what Dr. Alderman describes as best practices, I see that they are automatically included in the act of making music. This is true to such an extent that eliminating a music program also destroys countless opportunities for students to learn the kinds of discipline that every teacher wants in their classroom.
First, Dr. Alderman recommends that teachers who want to have successful interactions with the class create a contract that can be distributed among the students. The contract is an agreement about procedures and desired outcomes. It requires careful thought on the teacher’s part, and buy-in from the students.
Even if a music teacher were to create no contract, the music that the teacher is presenting acts as one. That score, or that recording, has been carefully thought out and contains detailed instructions about what the class is to do, how they are to do it, and, in the event of a performance, a time frame for completion. Even more interesting, when students are improvising music under a set of performance rules determined by them, they are actually helping to create their own contract.
If the students like the piece of music (and a good music teacher will have chosen such pieces to ensure they are compelling and achievable) then they are buying in. As long as the instruction gives them what they need to succeed, they will abide by the terms of the music. Those who do not will stick out like a sore thumb and, if group cohesion is high, will most likely want to return to compliance.
In creating effective agreements with students, Dr. Alderman makes a distinction between teachers with High Expectations for their classes, versus teachers that have High Positive Expectations. In a personal study, he noted that teachers with High Expectations “used time wisely, were well prepared, used effective and sometimes creative teaching techniques, etc.” Teachers who had High Positive Expectations “demonstrated all of the competencies <just> described…however, their classrooms were more cooperative. More encouragement was provided to students and teacher expectations were communicated in ‘we’ rather than ‘you’ terms.” (p. 58)
The last sentence I quote here is particularly relevant to music instruction. One of the fundamental powers of rehearsal is that it turns an “I / you” experience into a “we.” In the best musical environments, the conductor acknowledges his or her connection, vulnerability and shared experience with the ensemble.
Dr. Alderman recommends the use of rewards as a means of encouraging a group to follow its contract agreements. He makes the argument that, without rewards of some kind, students may instead find reinforcers for their negative behavior: In other words, they’ll take the bad attention for their poor choices if it’s all they can get. Good rewards in Dr. Alderman’s description are always earned, never given, and are designed so that the teacher never has to take away from the group to punish it, but instead can withhold a reward if the group’s members are not on task.
Again, even if a music teacher never creates a reward system, there is a powerful one waiting for all students who comply: The making of the music. The succesful performance of good music is always a desirable outcome, and the applause is an added bonus! The joy of the performance is something positive that the students withhold from themselves if they do not comply, giving them an incentive to follow any teacher who they know is leading them effectively towards a great result.
With music instruction implicitly containing these ideas, and with music teachers generally supplementing these natural elements with their own solid organizational and behavioral skills, it is inconceivable to me that anyone would consider music instruction an extra. Schools and systems that cut these programs for whatever financial gain they might receive will lose that money again in high turnover rates from teachers whose students have never had the experience of being in a disciplined environment. Anyone looking for powerful advocacy for their music program need only to show that, as always, the arts are doing what everyone else wants to be doing.