The purpose of this study was to investigate the role of reflection in the acquisition of expertise in teachers of music. The phenomenon of expertise has been studied in professional and every-day contexts (Berliner, 1986, 1988; Borko & Livingston, 1989; Glaser, 1985; Hatano & Inagaki, 1986; Kennedy, 1987). Just as expertise is displayed in the action of a professional baseball player narrowly escaping a triple play, a ballet dancer executing a perfect arabesque, a pianist interpreting Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto or a businessman negotiating a complicated transaction, so, too, do pedestrians on city sidewalks exhibit expertise as they maneuver through crowds and traffic without colliding. Expertise is the result of “learning from experience” and earliest indicators of expert performance are exhibited in children when they learn to walk or solve a problem with building blocks. Not every professional in every field reaches a high level of expertise, however, and Berliner (1988, 1993) noted that very few teachers become experts.
To discover the missing component in the development of expertise, one needs to take a closer look at what constitutes “learning from experience.” I started with the concept of experiential learning as articulated by Dewey (1933), and demonstrate how Dewey’s process of “reflective thought” has been expanded and impacts professional growth. Professional growth is represented here as a developmental process through which individuals grow from novice to expert. Specifically, Berliner’s (1988) stages of professional growth in teachers were examined. Schön’s (1983, 1987) contributions to the research on reflection in professional practice were described, as well as three perspectives on the outcomes of reflection. What constitutes purposeful, productive reflection that can assist in transforming one’s teaching practice was also explored.
To investigate the impact of reflection on music teachers, I used case studies submitted by four subjects, all of whom were initially identified as experts according to criteria adapted from the literature on expertise (Berliner, 1988; Glaser, 1985; Hatano & Inagaki, 1986; Kennedy, 1987). They began by writing a platform statement, that is, a personal statement of beliefs about music, education, students and themselves. They then used a classroom event as the basis for further reflection and analysis.
I found evidence of Berliner’s expert teacher in the responses of all the subjects. From their statements and from current research in this area, I have concluded that expertise is heightened through a process of professional growth which is initiated by self-awareness and continues throughout one’s entire career in a continuing cycle of knowledge acquisition, accumulation of experience, and reflection-in-action.
Further investigation is required to determine the optimal way for schools to integrate reflection into every teacher’s day and whether such implementation is possible or even desirable to mandate. Also in need of further investigation is the impact reflection will have on the role of music in our schools and in our culture.