Graduate Program

Music with Music Education Option

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Danelle Larson


The purpose of this action research is to study the effects of student-centered learning as compared to teacher-led instruction in an elementary general music classroom. This research study is framed by the conjunction of the lenses of sociology, specifically constructivism, in a music classroom with special learners. Students in fifth and sixth grade general music classes study the musical concepts of composition and reading notation in one of two manners. One group of students is instructed in a traditional format of teacher-led lectures and discussions, with guided practice following. The other group is instructed using a student-centered approach, in which students are given basic instructions and then given time to explore concepts and discover their own meanings. Attention is also given to students with special needs, in order to determine if a different learning approach works best for them.

The study is designed to investigate the following research questions: (1) What are the effects of project-based, discovery learning on student growth? (2) How is this same question answered when studying special learners? (3) How confident do non-special learners feel in learning through project-based learning? (4) How confident do special learners feel in learning through project-based learning? The primary research question for this study is: What are the effects of project-based, discovery learning on students with and without special needs in the elementary general music classroom?

The data collected is in the form of graded rubrics and rating scales, journal notes of the researcher, and student self-assessment in the form of Likert-scales and interview questions. Results are inconclusive in regards to student performance growth. Student attitudes show that they prefer the approach they are most familiar with. Students are more likely to thrive when choices are provided. Those students with special needs do not show significant differences when compared to students without special needs, other than struggling with the social aspects of student-centered learning. Students enjoy their time working in groups on musical projects.