II Approaches & Practical Examples

II.b Students' Biographical Self-reflection

A reflective document for students in the NAIP Programme.


1. Purpose and Outline

The document summarizes two years of students’ reflective practice during the MMus NAIP. This reflective practice consists of three strands:

a. The almost weekly mentoring sessions of the student.
b. A self-kept log / diary that is supporting students’ portfolio (the portfolio preferably shared with reviewers/coaches in a digital environment like an online research catalogue).
c. A self-analysis in the form of discovery through autobiography.

All of these strands will take place within an environment that respects the students’ privacy and in which elements are only shared with mentors/coaches and peers upon invitation of the student.

The document serves to share knowledge and insights gained by the student in these three strands in the public domain, and as an underlying document for the students’ final presentation (viva voce) that is part of the graduation procedure and final assessment of the MMus NAIP.

 ad. a: Mentoring is a formal part of this Masters program. See course description and chapter III Coaching Research.

ad. b: Students will be stimulated and coached to keep a log or diary and to document important moments/results/thoughts/outcomes/products in the online portfolio.

2. Discovery through Autobiography

2.1 Discovery through autobiography

This tool for self-exploring the student’s processes is based on dr. Rineke Smilde’s (2009) study Musicians as Lifelong Learners. The tool follows the analysis of biographical interviews on which her study was built, but applies it to autobiographical narratives.

Smilde’s analyses use the following key notions to describe learning processes:

  • formal, non-formal and informal learning

  • critical incidents and educational interventions

  • significant learning

  • significant others

  • musicians’ roles

The methodology applied by Smilde is based upon:

  • narrative research through narrative interviews

  • grounded theory (testing sensitizing concepts by confronting it with the data in a circular process)

  • interpretative coding

The adaptation of this research to what could serve as a useful tool for developing individual reflective practice would follow the same steps, yet based on the autobiography of the student (and not on a narrative interview), focusing on the ‘musical career’ of the student.

The student is invited to start writing her/his own biography as a musician as detailed as possible, merely as a ‘stream of consciousness’. Just writing down whatever they can remember from early childhood on that is related to their musical development. It is important that the student knows that this document is for private use only and does not have to be shared with other readers, unless the student wishes to do so. The role of the mentor/coach is to stimulate the student to be as detailed as possible and to give this time. It is not unusual that students end up with ten pages of text. Their notes may be in bullet-points; they do not have to consist of well written prose.

Crucial is that the student writes this document before the process of coding is introduced. It has turned out that introducing the next step (designing codes) is ‘steering’ the process of self-searching/writing, which is not meant to be as the writing should be as intuitive and free as possible.

2.2 Introducing the coding

The coding serves to find patterns, similarities or any other significant issues and topics that can be found by the students themselves in their auto-biography once this document is completed.

Students are invited to draft their own lists of codes that could be applied. It may be helpful to hand out a list of suggestions for coding, as long as it is clear that this list is only meant to act as a guide and contains a lot of examples that may very well not apply to the students’ biography or, on the contrary, misses important elements.

Suggestions for coding:

a. formal, non-formal and informal learning

  • moments of informal learning (childhood, family background, bands)

  • moments of non-formal learning

  • moments of formal learning (music-school, primary/secondary school, conservatoire)

b. critical incidents and educational interventions

  • being ‘thunderstruck’ by music

  • choice of instrument

  • changing of instrument

  • finding a good teacher / struggling with a bad teacher

  • change of learning style

  • change of method

  • injuries

  • winning prizes, competitions

  • life-time incidents (loss of people, health issues, moving to other places)

  • dealing with stage fright

  • dealing with anxiety for exams

  • making money

  • dealing with expenses (instruments, getting lessons, masterclasses)

  • traveling

  • successful concerts

  • disastrous concerts

  • failing on stage

  • not being able to play a piece/ black-out on stage

  • having to cancel a concert/project

  • problems in collaborating with others

  • problems in finding the right musical partners

  • etc.

c. significant learning

  • dealing with discipline

  • dealing with motivation

  • dealing with inspiration

  • practicing

  • dealing with time management

  • need for encouragement

  • finding your own way of learning

  • needing time to search

  • needing time to meditate

  • enlightening visions

  • being inspired by reading

  • acquiring new insights

  • overcoming technical problems

  • learning how to learn

  • acquiring new skills

  • becoming creative

  • acquiring reflective skills

  • reflexivity (= the ability to reflect whilst playing/performing/teaching)

  • etc.

d. significant others

  • an inspirational family member

  • an inspirational friend

  • a dominant person

  • the ‘right’ teacher

  • getting away/having to struggle with a teacher that was not the right teacher

  • role models

  • people shaking you awake (not necessarily nice people)!

  • people supporting you no matter what happens

  • etc.

e. musicians’ roles

  • being a performer

  • being a creator/composer

  • being an innovator (explorer, creator, risk-taker)

  • being an identifier/commentator/journalist (the one pointing out what is missing and where to look for to acquire what is missing)

  • being a partner/co-operator (within formal partnerships, share knowledge and energy)

  • being a reflective practitioner (asking yourself questions all the time about your profession)

  • being a collaborator (loyal to peers and the system)

  • being a connector (bringing people and ideas together)

  • being an entrepreneur (creating jobs and opportunities)

  • being a formal teacher

  • being a coach (“yes you can do it, if you change this & that.”)

  • being a mentor (“what do you think yourself you should develop now…?”)

  • being a buddy (“yes you can do it, I’ll stay with you whatever happens…”)

  • being a leader (“Follow me!”)

  • etc.

2. 3 Applying the coding / coaching by mentor

The process of applying the coding consists of grouping individual statements and/or sentences from the autobiography under the self-determined codes. For some codes the student may find many statements in their autobiography.

It is important that the student in this phase is coached by the mentor to apply selective coding. The choice of codes could be subject of a conversation with the mentor who may suggest to add different or other codes. In practice, students come up with new codes during this process. All of this in the students’ private atmosphere, sharing what they want to share only with their mentor or peers.

Finally, the student is invited to write a reflective document summing up their findings after they have finished the process of coding.

2.4 Applying the findings of discovery through autobiography in the mentoring process

As a substantial part of the mentoring process, the student is invited to share the findings of the discovery through autobiography with the mentor or in a co-mentoring situation with other students. In an open conversation the student will be invited to apply their findings to describe their personal way of learning as a musician and to reflect on their learning in the course of the two years of the NAIP programme.

3. Format reflective document

So far, all the writing and researching of the student has taking place within the privacy of her/his own reflective practice and the safe environment of the mentoring and coaching. As a final step, the student is invited to write a short document, describing the findings and outcomes of this process that can be made public and that can underpin the viva voce final presentation of the MMus NAIP. The document itself will not be assessed.

4. Literature

Alheit, P. (1993). The Narrative Interview. An Introduction. Voksenpaedagogisk Teoriudvikling. Arbejdstekster nr. 11 Roskilde: Roskilde Universitetscenter. This article can also be found in the reader.

Charmaz, K. (2006/10). Constructing Grounded Theory – A Practical Guide Through Qualitative Analysis. London: Sage.

Flick, U. (2007). Designing Qualitative Research. London: Sage.

Gibbs, G. (2007). Analyzing Qualitative Data. Analyzing Qualitative Data. London: Sage Publications.

Smilde, R. (2009a). Musicians as Lifelong Learners: Discovery through Biography. Delft: Eburon.

Smilde, R. (2009b). Musicians as Lifelong Learners: 32 Biographies. Delft: Eburon.