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Orff-Schulwerk as a pedagogical tool for the effective teaching of Italian to upper primary students in Western Australia

Annamaria Paolino
Edith Cowan University
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Music and Languages (formally Languages Other Than English or LOTE prior to 2005) are presently fighting for survival in the Western Australian curriculum at all levels due to curriculum pressures. There is an ever increasing need for teachers to become 'interdisciplinarians'. This study aims to investigate whether songs and music are being used as pedagogical tools in the teaching of Italian in Western Australia's primary schools. The study will also investigate Italian teacher's attitudes towards the use of music and songs in the classroom. The study combines both qualitative and quantitative methods, using both questionnaires and interviews to ensure triangulation of data. It will involve 255 primary schools across the state of Western Australia. 153 of the Department of Education, 15 from the Association of Independent Schools of Western Australia and 87 Catholic Education Office primary schools.


Main aim of the study

It is common practice for teachers to use songs/music in the classroom, particular in junior primary. Research literature contains positive statements about music as a cognitive, linguistic and affective enhancer and how it increases pattern memory, working memory, spatial temporal reasoning, eyesight, coordination, hearing, concentration and higher level thinking. However, due to curriculum pressures the learning areas of Languages and Music are presently fighting for survival in many Western Australian primary schools and there is an ever increasing need for teachers to become 'interdiscipinarians'.

This study aims to investigate if primary Italian teachers consider the Orff-Schulwerk approach (a music teaching approach) an effective pedagogical tool for the teaching of Italian in the upper primary context.

Orff-Schulwerk was created by the German composer Carl Orff in the 1930s. It is a multisensory approach which allows students to "feel the music and feel the language". If Languages teachers allow their students to 'feel the language' and 'feel what they say' it will help them to better understand relationships between what they say and read and between what they say and write.

Orff-Schulwerk incorporates music with movement, speech and rhythm. It employs the instinctual behaviours of children, such as; singing, chanting, clapping, creating, moving and performing. Is directed by hearing and prepares children for using music. This is also the direction which a quality language program should take.

Background of the study

The researcher is a Music and Italian primary school specialist. This study began as action research to see whether there were other Italian teachers who shared a similar background and who used music to teach Italian. Orff-Schulwerk is an effective approach for the researcher, could it work as effectively if used by non-music specialist Italian teachers? Music and Italian have played a significant part in the researcher's life. Proud of their heritage and growing up in an Italian environment filled with language, culture, tradition, song and music, it is from here that is born the vested interest in songs and music and the belief that music and language are essential ingredients in today's educational curriculum. Not only are they enjoyable but these learning areas provide many social, cognitive and educational benefits to students. In our "global" world it essential to gain insight and understanding of others in order to see oneself as a "global citizen". Music and Languages provides this insight.

Evidence exists that music is a valuable tool in supporting the acquisition of a second language, even if only as a supplement to the teaching programme. In contrast to these findings the Australian Primary Principal Association (APPA) does not consider Languages and Music to be one of the four essential core school subjects. Removing these learning areas from today's educational curriculum would result in students being neglected the opportunity to develop many social, cognitive, educational and neurological benefits which they provide.

Significance of the study

This study aims to raise teacher awareness of the potential of music and song, in effective language teaching. It aims to establish the extent to which specialist teachers of Italian use song/music as a pedagogical tool in Western Australian primary schools. It also aims to inform the practice of Italian language teachers in Western Australian primary schools. It is anticipated that the study will provide some empirical support for song/music as a vehicle for second language acquisition and provide Italian Language teachers with a strategy which enables them to increase song/music use in their senior classes as well as give them increased confidence in using song with these students. Finally, this study aims to encourage third parties to see the value and the power of music/song and the benefits that an interdisciplinary curriculum can provide.

Theoretical and conceptual framework

This study is a qualitative one. It is framed following the philosophy of phenomenology. It is naturalistic in its ontological stance and follows the epistemology that knowledge is acquired by constructing and interpreting phenomena. The applied methodology is action research. The study has been conducted in two phases.

Data collection methods used in the study includes; questionnaires, interviews, an eight week intervention, teacher professional development, weekly email contact with teachers and a focus group discussion.

Phase one consisted of the researcher conducting action research to find teachers who shared similar backgrounds and pedagogical stance to them. It aimed to answer the following research questions:

  1. Do Italian teachers in Western Australian primary schools use music/song in their Italian lessons?
  2. How do Italian teachers in Western Australian primary schools use music/song in their Italian lessons?
  3. Why do Italian teachers in Western Australian primary schools use music/song in their Italian lessons?
Phase two consisted of the researcher conducting action research with non music specialist Italian teachers in their classrooms to determine the responses to the following research questions:
  1. Do Italian teachers in Western Australian primary schools consider the Orff-Schulwerk approach to be a useful pedagogical tool with upper primary students?
  2. How well do Italian teachers in Western Australian primary schools consider the Orff-Schulwerk approach engages upper primary students?
  3. How do Italian teachers in Western Australian primary schools rate the potential of Orff-Schulwerk as an effective pedagogical?

Research Methods

The researcher invited all primary teachers of Italian to participate of which there are 215 in 255 primary schools across Western Australia across all educational sectors. 50 schools and 34 teachers were involved in Phase One of the study. Eight of those teachers were also interviewed. Phase two involved 6 primary schools and 7 teachers. It also involved 21 students.

The primary objective of Phase One was to find out if, how and why music/song is being used in Italian lessons. This data was collected via the use of mail out questionnaires to teachers and teacher interviews. These interviews were conducted both face to face and via telephone

Phase 1: Preliminary findings

Teachers stated that: The primary objective of Phase 2 was to establish whether Italian teachers in Western Australian primary schools considered the Orff-Schulwerk approach to be a useful pedagogical tool with upper primary students. This data was collected via the use of an eight week Orff-Schulwerk intervention, a four hour intensive Orff-Schulwerk teacher professional development seminar, student pre and post intervention questionnaire, student pre and post intervention phone interview, weekly teacher email to enable the researcher to support, guide, advise teacher participants, teacher post-intervention exit interview and a teacher post-intervention focus group discussion. All interviews were recorded and transcribed by the researcher.

Phase 2: Preliminary findings

Teachers stated that:

Constraints of the study

The researcher acknowledges the following constraints to this study:

Limitations of the study

The researcher acknowledges the following limitations to this study:

Future study

The researcher hopes that this research will lead to the following areas for future study:
Author: Annamaria Paolino is undertaking a PhD research project at Edith Cowan University. Email: annamarp@our.ecu.edu.au

Please cite as: Paolino, A. (2010). Orff-Schulwerk as a pedagogical tool for the effective teaching of Italian to upper primary students in Western Australia. In Proceedings Western Australian Institute for Educational Research Forum 2010. http://www.waier.org.au/forums/2010/paolino.html


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Created 25 Sep 2010. Last revised 25 Sep 2010. URL: http://www.waier.org.au/forums/2010/paolino.html
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