All of the previously mentioned challenges of teaching will be informed by a teaching philosophy. In the last ten years, two new philosophies have taken center-stage in research: student-centered learning and critical pedagogy. Conway and Hodgman describe the learner-centered classroom as a place where “students will need to ‘learn how to learn’” (p. 85) in an environment that promotes “student interaction, dialogue, and contribution” (p. 85). Music theory teachers are experimenting with different classroom practices that encourage student-centered learning, like flipped classes that “put the student, rather than the instructor or the progression of content, at the center of the class, and to use in-class and out-of-class time as effectively as possible to help students meet the course goals” (Shaffter & Hughes). An additional student-centered practice is problem-based learning, “an inquiry-driven pedagogical practice in which students learn course content by thinking through real-world problems” (Duker, Shaffer, & Stevens). Critical pedagogy is an approach to teaching that “insists on the classroom as a site of moral agency” (Rorabaugh) and “is an approach to teaching and learning predicated on fostering agency and empowering learners (implicitly and explicitly critiquing oppressive power structures)” (Stommel).
As noted above, both student-centered learning and critical pedagogical philosophies include a consideration of student engagement and motivation. N. Rogers comments that the Engaging Students: Essays in Music Pedagogy series of ebooks focuses on “engaging students as active participants in the music theory curriculum.” However, research in music theory pedagogy currently focuses on anecdotal or philosophical approaches to teaching practices and issues of course content, as previously discussed. Therefore, the challenge of creating an engaging learning environment that motivates our students in music theory remains.
Furthermore, not enough research takes into account student conceptions before entering the classroom and how that may affect engagement and motivation once in in the classroom. Students entering higher education for a music degree are not entering the field of music for the first time: many students have been studying and practicing music for many years prior. In order to fully understand the mindset of entering students, we need to understand any incoming biases they may have about music theory.