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Journal of Research in Music Education http://jrm.sagepub.


Comparisons of Higher-Order Thinking Skills among Prospective Freshmen and Upper-Level Preservice Music Education Majors
Deborah A. Sheldon and Gregory DeNardo Journal of Research in Music Education 2005 53: 40 DOI: 10.1177/002242940505300104 The online version of this article can be found at: http://jrm.sagepub.com/content/53/1/40

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JRME 2005, VOLUME 53, NUMBER 1, PAGES 40-50

High school students aspiring to become music educators (n = 116)and upper-he1 musit education majors (n = 130)took part i n this investigation comparing higherorder thinking skills in a n observation analq'sis task. i l k wed certain proceduresfrom . 'DeNardo, 2004; Standley & Madsen, 1991). previous inuestigations (Sheldon 0 Upperclassmen demonstrated greater higher-order thinking skills, rneasured by success in pmuiding dacn'ptive and inferential statements in a n observation task, compared to prospectivefmhmen. This outcome is consistent with those ofprior studies (Sheldon 0 . 'DeNardo, 2004; Standley 0.' Madsen, 1991) and suggests that the continued deuelopinent of higitermder thinking skills ainongpmspectiue music educators can be cultivated within a n undergraduate music education degreeprogram. W i e n entrance examination variables of prospective freshmen were analq'zed for relationships, fm strong correlations werefound.

Deborah A. Sheldon, Temple University Gregory DeNardo, University o f IZlinois at UrbanaChampaign

Comparisons of Higher-Order Thinking Skills among Prospective Freshmen and Upper-Level Preservice Music Education Majors
Higher-order thinking is often a key objective in many educational circumstances (Hmelo & Ferrari, 1997). Although there are some discrepancies concerning its definition, the reasoning skills associated with higher-order thinking are generally agreed upon by many experts (Harrigan & Vincenti, 2004). These skills include moving
Deborah A. Sheldon is an associate professor of music education in the Boyer College of hiusic, 108 Presser Hall, Temple University, 2001 N. 13th Street, Philadelphia. PA 19122-6079; e-mail: dsheldon@temple.edu. Gregory DeNardo is an associate professor of music education in the School of hlusic, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2136 hiusic Building, 11 14 West Nevada, Urbana, IL 61801; e-mail: denardo@uiuc.edu. Copyright 0 2005 by hlENC: The National Association for hlusic Education.
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beyond cognitive understanding of available information to discovery, advanced organizing, argumentation, and assigning probable meaning from ambiguity (Paul & Nosich, 1991; Torff, 2003). Skill in higher-order thinking takes the student from fragile knowledge to the freedom of application and learning offered by the mastery of transfer techniques (Darmer, 1995; Ivie, 1998; Snyder, 2001; Stoney & Oliver, 1999). This freedom culminates in the learners independence when the individual is equipped with processes that facilitate continued learning outside of the classroom. Just as K-12 education generally focuses on such solid and necessary skills for school students, continued development of higherorder thinking is also essential for teachers (Smeaton, 1993). The better teachers are at inferring and deriving meaning through consideration of given information, thus demonstrating skill in higherorder thinking, the more skillfully they tend to use such strategies in teaching (Amdur, 1990; Manning & Payne, 1993). Torff (2003) found that secondary socialstudies teachers with no teaching experience teach using a more direct approach that he characterized as HOTS [higher order thinking skills]-lean (p. 567), compared to experts, whose approach was more HOTS-rich and student-centered. This finding is supported by Brookhart and Freeman (1992). A similar attitude was reported by Daniel and Bergman-Drewe (1998), who held that while critical thinking is very important in the development of the physical education teacher, the continued development of higher-order thinking skills in physical education teacher preparation programs has generally been overlooked, and a change in approach in teacher education programs should be emphasized. Music educators sometimes tend to engage in relatively direct methods of teaching that emphasize the imparting of knowledge. A constructivist approach, one that places responsibility on the learner to derive meaning from given information, although less direct, may equip music learners for independent lifelong learning well past their time with a teacher (Bauer & Daugherty, 2001; Burnard & Younker, 2004; Ivie, 1998; Pagliaro, 1997). Teachers who use a constructivist approach associated with the use and teaching of higherorder thinking skills have often been characterized as effective. In addition, children who are taught with such an approach have been shown to improve their own higher-order thinking skills (Boddy, Watson, & Aubusson, 2003). Cultivation of higher-order thinking among teachers is thought to be of ultimate importance in the development of effective teachers who continue in the profession and inservice teachers are apt to express positive attitudes toward the importance of these skills in their own learning as well as their teaching to help children gain skill (Daniel & Bergman-Drewe, 1998; Marlow & Ingman, 1992). The improvement of proficiency in higherorder thinking was shown to be attainable among teachers who were trained in specific HOTS techniques in relationship to the assessment of student work (Cousins, Ross, & Prentice, 1993; Quellmalz, 1985).
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It seems that teacher research in general may be somewhat ahead of music education research in terms of the study of higher-order thinking and its relationship to teaching. While studies in music teacher effectiveness have been ongoing for some time (Madsen, Standley, & Cassidy, 1989; Madsen, Standley, Byo & Cassidy, 1992), efforts made by music education researchers to promote the development of higher-order thinking by preservice music teachers are only beginning to come forth. Of particular interest in this investigation is an early study conducted by Standley and Madsen (1991). They generated an observation task using video stimuli to determine whether expertise in reflective practice among preservice and practicing music educators and therapists was dependent upon years of experience. The video contained 20 1-minute music interaction excerpts; each was separated by 2 seconds of blank tape:
The 20 examples consisted of music in special education intenctions ( n = 9) w i t h mainstreamed groups and people who were mentally retarded, had cerebral palsy, were hearing-impaired, learningdisabled, geriatric, abandoned, or were juvenile delinquents: music education interactions (n = 9) with general, instrumental, or choral groups at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels: and professional, formal music performances ( n= 2) that included a piano concerto with both full orchestra and soloist shown and a violin solo accompanied by piano with only the violinist shown. (Standley& hladsen. 1991. p. 7)

Results revealed that experience had an effect and did help to differentiate but was not the sole factor of differences in observation scores between less experienced and expert teachers. Sheldon and DeNardo (2004) replicated Standley and Madsens procedures in studying differences in levels of observational expertise between prospective music education majors (high school seniors aspiring to become music educators) and junior music education majors (those who had successfully completed 3 years of preservice training in a program that included music education methods instruction from the freshman year). The study was developed to determine differences between the two groups in the demonstration of higher-order thinking skills subsumed within inferential statements in written reflections about occurrences in a series of music interactions. It was assumed that the outcomes of thinking practices evidenced in description and inference b y prospective music education majors might resemble outcomes of those used by university freshmen of the Standley and Madsen (1991) study. This was indeed one of the findings. Further pursuit of this tendency with additional participants was called for. Data from this limited sample demonstrated that higher-order thinking skills might develop with time and instruction. After the experience of coursework specific to the p r e fession, students may be more likely.to, accurately describe occurrences observed in music interactions and make more accurate inferences. Since higher-order thinking skills have been linked to teacher effectiveness, it is prudent to examine the degree to which these
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qualities are evident among those who have not yet begun teacher training compared to those at various stages in music teacher education programs. Schools of music generally require a medley of entrance measures that sometimes include SAT/ACT scores, high school grade point average, class rank, and letters of recommendation. Would a measure that concentrates on diagnosing higher-order thinking skills be valuable to music teacher educators in identifying the magnitude of such qualities among prospective music teachers? Could the same measure track and inform the development of these skills throughout the music teacher education program? Diagnosis of higher-order thinking skills and the development of methods by which these skills are increased help university students to move from one-shot thinking toward precise processing so they can make refined analyses of any relationships or situations that may be important to them (Whimbey, 1984). The development of inferential skills seems to be associated with development of the undergraduate as a preprofessional and the continued development of the effective teacher (Amdur, 1990; Manning & Payne, 1993; Standley 8c Madsen, 1991; Torff, 2003). This study assumes that focus on higher-order thinking skills in an observation task may be a valid measure of a valued teacher characteristic based on this previous research. It also assumes that proficiency in reporting at an inferential level may be an indication of ones ability to think at a higher level. As impetus for the present study, we questioned whether these skills might be diagnosed in high school seniors with the stated intent of .majoring in music education. The strength of the relationships between entrance criteria in a battery of exams meant to screen prospective incoming music education majors was also examined.

The nvo groups involved in this study comprised 246 people, and procedures replicated those of Sheldon and DeNardo (2004). Groups were divided by experience in music education study. Those in the prospective freshman group (PF, n = 116) were high school seniors planning on majoring in music education. Students in this group participated in the study as part of the college audition entrance process at a large university in the midwestern United States. They were tested during a scheduled audition-interview date; test administration took place between 3 and 6 months prior to their high school graduation. Preservice teachers who completed the project were upperclassmen (juniors, seniors, and student teachers) who had completed at lcast 2.5 years of college instruction in the music education program at the same institution (UC, n = 130). Each had completed at least two conducting and two music teaching methods courses. The video stimuli created by Standley and Madsen (1991) and used by Sheldon and DeNardo (2004) were used in this study. The
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participants watched the videotape and simultaneously wrote as much as possible about their observations. Participants watched the tape continuously except for a brief rest a t the midpoint. A test administrator gave instructions, ran the video, and monitored participants so that no discussion took place during testing. Participants responses were assessed for factual and inferential content. A single point was awarded for each accurate descriptive statement (e.g., an orchestra in rehearsal = 2 points) and one was subtracted for each inaccurate descriptive statement (e.g., an orchestra in concert = 0 points when the segment showed an orchestra rehearsing). Statements of inference were weighted more heavily than factual statements, with accurate inferences receiving 5 points each (e.g., these orchestra students are less-experienced players; they appear to be middle school-aged and probably have not been playing very long, in general = 5 points). Inaccurate inferential statements resulted in a loss of 5 points each (e.g., these orchestra students never practice = -5 points). Events that occurred in each video segment were identified, described, and classified. Likewise, inferential observations about each segment were identified and described by the researchers following a series of passes through the video. After discussion and eventual agreement, these items formed a type of answer key against which reliability was determined. Following this, participant responses were analyzed and codified by music education faculty having several years of experience in identifying qualified teacher education candidates, preparing preservice teachers, teaching in-service teachers and other graduate students, and conducting teacher preparation research (M= 12 years) and a graduate music education student trained in analysis and codification for the purpose of this study. All those participating in the analysis underwent training in identifying descriptive and inferential comments. Independent analysis of more than 25% of responses yielded a high agreement among raters, with agreements ranging between .82 and .94. In addition to observation analysis, scores for several other variables were obtained for prospective freshmen and included ACT scores, interview ratings, audition ratings, class rank (percent), and music theory entrance exam scores. These scores were compared. RESULTS

Two groups of analyses were performed. First, comparisons of group observation analysis outcomes were examined. Also reviewed were relationships between prospective freshman observational analysis scores and results of all other portions of the entrance exam battery. Group data were analyzed by level of experience, comparing responses of prospective freshmen with preservice upperclassmen (UC). A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) w a s used to compare scores. A significant difference in observation analysis, as determined
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hlean Score

61.28 9-107 18.27





84.22 40-143 23.82


74.33 22-143 23.79 130


73.85 26108

Score Range

22-132 25.52 57



by levels of descriptive and inferential statements, was found as a function of experience. Preservice upperclassmen demonstrated greater success in the observation task compared to prospective incoming freshmen [I; (1, 244) = 22.88, p < .01]. Scores from prospective freshmen still in the final year of high school were found to be significantly different from those in teacher preparation classes or experiencing a practice teaching internship. This finding is consistent with those of Sheldon and DeNardo (2004). Table 1 shows a comparison of mean scores, ranges, and standard deviations for the PF and UC groups. Greater variability and a larger range of scores can be seen among those in the music teacher education program while data for prospective freshmen are somewhat less variable. When data from preservice upperclassmen are further split by class and, therefore, experience (juniors, n = 5% seniors, n = 46; student teachers, n = 27) , score ranges, means, and variability are fairly similar between juniors and seniors, but scores tend to climb for student teachers (refer to Table 1). Results obtained within the preservice group were again split by level, revealing differences among the three groups (juniors, seniors, and student teachers) [ F (2, 127) = 3.30, p < .05].Post hoc anaIysis revealcd a significant interaction between juniors and student teachers ( p < .05). Further investigation into the relationship between selected entrance examination variables for prospective freshmen yielded surprising results. Of the variables that included scores for the observation task-ACT, class rank (in percent), interview, audition, and theory entrance exam-correlations were generally positive but exceedingly low (see Table 2). The strongest relationship occurred between ACT scores and class rank ( r = .40) while the weakest relationship occurred between observation and interview scores ( r = -.01). The strongest inverse relationship occurred between higher-order thinking skills in the observation task and audition rating scores ( r =--13)Downloaded from jrm.sagepub.com at Universiti Putra Malaysia on February 7, 2013


Table 2 Correlation hfatrixfor Scores of Prospective Freshman Entrance Exam B a t t q

Obsenation Analysis

Theory Exam


C l a s s Rank (%)

Inteniew Rating

Audition Rating

Observation Analysis

1.00 -.02

-.02 1.00
.29 .20

.14 .29 1.00




Theory Exam
Class Rank (%)


.28 .29 .32

1-00 .20


-.01 -.13


Interview Rating Audition Rating

.28 .17

.29 .09

3.18 .15


We sought information pursuant to determining differences between a group of prospective freshman music education students and a group of preservice music education upperclassmen in their ability to demonstrate differentiated levels of higher-order thinking skills in providing description of and inference about a series of music interactions in video segments. We also compared the relationships of this observation procedure to other diagnostic and entrance tools used in the screening of prospective music education majors. The literature suggests that there may be a link between a teachers ability to assess and infer from a situation and the effectiveness of the teacher (Amdur, 1990; Brookhart & Freeman, 1992; Hamgan 8c Vincenti, 2004; Smeaton, 1993; Standley 8c Madsen, 1991; Torff,2003; Torff 8c Sternberg, 2001). Clear and significant differences in levels of higher-order thinking as shown in responses to observations of various music settings between prospective freshmen and upperclassmen suggest that the ability to infer can be developed with training and time. A focus on these skills in the undergraduate experience may lead to greater teacher effectiveness as the student enters the profession. Insofar as the link between inferential skills and teacher effectiveness has been noted in research, further investigation concerning the development of these skills and music teacher effectiveness seemsjustifiable. Although undergraduates with upperclassman standing generally demonstrated greater abilities to describe and infer in this observation task compared to prospective freshmen, there were some upperclassmen who demonstrated weak descriptive and inferential skills. Conversely, although prospective freshmen generally demonstrated
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less adeptness in the task compared to undergraduates, there were some prospective freshmen who demonstrated strong descriptive and inferential skills. That certain prospective freshmen demonstrated greater higher-order thinking prior to university admission compared to others in this group may be a factor to watch among those seeking to enter music teacher education. Since the advancement of higher-order thinking and problem solving among children are present charges of educators (Hmelo & Ferrari, 1997; Whimbey & Lochead, 1982), it would follow that teachers who have developed such skills might be more likely to teach using methods that would help to hone these skills in children. The effectiveness of prospective teachers in microteaching and internship at different stages during the undergraduate music education degree program could be compared to the development of higher-order thinking skills in an effort to clarify the relationship between these abilities. In addition, further study should compare abilities of preservice and in-service teachers to demonstrate higher-order thinking skills (via methods similar to those used in this study and methods that would replicate other studies, such as thinking-aloud problem solving [Whimbey & Lochead, 1982)l) and the use of teaching techniques that require higher-order thinking among children. In this way, the link between the development of higher-order thinking in teachers and the use of techniques that develop higher-order thinking in students among teachers could be reviewed more specifically. When the interview results of prospective freshmen in this sample were examined, 25% were identified as possible scholarship recipients in music education, 60% were identified as acceptable, 12% were put on a waiting list, and 3% were denied admission to the program. Among prospective freshmen whose scores in this analysis task ranked in the lower 25th percentile, six of the 29 students were either not accepted or given Waitstatus. These students constitute 30% of all prospectives in the group who were given No or Wait status. Sixteen prospective freshmen, or 14% of this sample, attained observation scores as determined by levels of descriptive and inferential statements in the 75th percentile and higher; only one w a s given the lowest interview rating. As to the upperclassmens observation scores, 23 students fell below the 25th percentile. Such information might assisting music education professors in identifying differentiated levels of higher-order thinking skills early in the degree program and adjust instruction accordingly to meet the needs of the individual. At the same time, prospective freshmen who demonstrate greater abilities in higher-order thinking skills measured by success in providing descriptive and inferential statements in an observation task might be identified as good candidates for music teacher education programs, following the rationale that there is a link between a teachers inferential ability and teacher effectiveness (Amdur, 1990; Brookhart & Freeman, 1992; Harrigan & Vincenti, 2004; Smeaton, 1993; Standley & Madsen, 1991; Torff, 2003; Torff & Sternberg, 2001). Results of this study support views of Standley and Madsen (1991)
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that this task clearly demonstrates sensitivity to pedagogical expertise and values and therefore can be used as one component in a battery of assessment measures for screening and selection at various levels of the degree program, from the undergraduate major to the Ph.D. candidate ... (p. 9). Upperclassmen generally demonstrated greater abilities to describe and infer compared to prospective freshmen; differentiation between mean scores and variability in this case seems to be a function of level of expertise derived from participation in a music teacher training program. This is an outcome that teacher educators would certainly expect. While this development could be a result of many factors that affect the university student, inclusion of teacher preparation courses that concentrate on higher-order thinking and problem solving throughout the entirety of the music education degree program could help in early development of teacher expertise in this area. Further inquiry would be prudent to determine the effect of teacher preparation course content and instructor effectiveness on students abilities in higher-order thinking skills at various times during the degree program. This study reviewed the relationships between levels of higherorder thinking skills in an observation task and diagnostic and entrance measures for music teacher education programs, such as audition and interview results, music theory examination scores, class rank, and ACT assessment. Analysis revealed little correlation among them. From this sample, skills and aptitudes tested by these measures seem unrelated. That there appears to be little relationship does not mean, however, that the measures should be discounted. As in a pointillist painting, when viewed from a close perspective, the points may seem unconnected and discrete. Mhen viewed from a different position, however, the interdependent dots define the artwork. Perhaps it is such with the prospective music education major. Maybe each of these separate skills is unique, yet they work together to create a complete picture. Hoiv can the information gleaned from among the diagnostic tools of the battery of tests administered to prospective freshmen be used to steer and modify teaching practices to best meet the needs of those wishing to study music teacher education? Hoiv can outcomes of diagnostic measures be used to inform instruction among music education faculty? These are important questions that should be addressed in further study. The inclusion of a specific measure that requires prospective and current music education majors to describe and infer may shed light on a vital area of growth for educators and could be important in the diagnostic process. This is particularly relevant in light of the attitudes toward further development of higher-order thinking in educational settings, since this constructivist approach may lead to independent lifelong learning. In this study, differentiated levels of higher-ordcr thinking skills were shown between those with no experience in undergraduate music education work but with a stated desire to become music eduDownloaded from jrm.sagepub.com at Universiti Putra Malaysia on February 7, 2013


cators a n d undergraduates already involved i n s u c h programs. Advancement of these critical skills seems t o o c c u r d u r i n g music teacher training. The identification of higher-order thinking skills among prospective music educators and the cultivation of such skills among preservice teachers are components in the i m p r o v e m e n t o f teacher effectiveness. The continued development of curricula in teacher-training programs may focus on a more concerted effort in training prospective music educators i n higher-order thinking s u c h that these practices are reflected in teaching techniques. Such practice may lead to greater effectiveness a m o n g f u t u r e music educators.

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Submitted February 27,2004; accepted December 14,2004.

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