The Catholic University of America

Conceptual Framework

The conceptual framework is seen as a mechanism to allow music educators at all experience levels to move fluidly between philosophy, theory, practice, and personal reflection.  To accomplish this task, the framework introduces three components to guide reflections and decision-making. One component consists of the elements of the learning environment (see Figure 1). These elements are designed to help educators systematically analyze the complexities of each teaching and learning experience. Originally based on Schwab’s (1973) four commonplaces of teacher, student, content and context, the new model expands this notion to include eight elements: diversity of student needs, the educator’s personal educational beliefs, stakeholders, collaborative practice, instructional strategies, discipline knowledge, assessment, and classroom structures. Candidates are guided through exercises that address these elements individually and then in concert. Key features of this component include the role of the learner as the central figure in every teaching/learning experience and the interactive nature of the elements (for example, it is meaningless to consider assessment without considering the needs of the learner and the nature of the discipline knowledge being assessed, just as stakeholder expectations and personal beliefs shape the classroom structures used). Echoing Bronfenbrenner’s work (1989), candidates are expected to consider the learning environments as embedded within larger social structures as well (see Figure 2).

It is tempting for educators, especially teacher education candidates, to focus on the day-to-day technical aspects of teaching. At this level, all challenges are viewed as problems to be solved with whatever tools are currently available. While it is important not to minimize the importance of these daily challenges that all educators face, the conceptual framework is designed to help educators move beyond the surface level of teacher-as-technician to see the larger systematic impact classroom practice has on individual students and society in general.

The second component of the reflective practitioner framework builds on the work of  Berlak and Berlak (1981) to describe and define fundamental educational essential questions, or dilemmas, that lie under the surface of classroom challenges. Reflective practitioners need to stop to consider how one’s perspective on these key questions can both inform and limit the options that seem reasonable in a given situation. Using this component of the framework, educators can explore a broader range of possible solutions for a given situation by recognizing that there are multiple, morally defensible positions. This process helps candidates address two of the most challenging elements of the learning environment: the impact of their own philosophy on their classroom choices and the possibly competing needs and values of the other stakeholders in the learning community. When considering options to best meet the needs of a non-English speaking P-12 student, for example, the answers to large questions of curriculum (e.g., who decides what is worth knowing?), control (e.g., who sets the standards?) and society (e.g., what role should schools play in enculturation?) shape the strategies that seem reasonable. Not only do these essential educational questions impact decisions on a practical level, they also help situate ongoing classroom concerns in larger philosophical questions.
To continue that process of considering larger philosophical issues, the third component of the three-prong  approach to reflective practice consists of an iterative reflective decision-making process see Figure 3). Reflective practitioners must consider their decisions on three different levels (Van Mannen, 1977), or modes of reflection as CUA call them. The philosophical mode prompts the educator consider the role that education should play in society in general and in the life of the particular child.

Each decision should be examined for consistency and efficacy in supporting those larger goals. The descriptive mode addresses the technical issues of how educational decisions are carried out. Educators must strive to assess their own practice and to look for new methods to meet the needs of individual. The interpretative mode encourages the reflective practitioner to consider the explicit and hidden messages sent to students and all stakeholders by classroom decisions. Are expectations uniformly high? Are the knowledge, skills, and cultural traditions children bring to class valued or marginalized? Are parents seen as partners or obstacles? These types of questions move the reflective practitioner back to the larger philosophical questions to begin the process again. While it does not matter if the initial question is descriptive, interpretive, or philosophical, the model prompts the educator to see the process as ongoing and interrelated, as illustrated in figure 3.

The complete CUA Conceptual Framework document can be found at handbook includes the CUA Conceptual Framework standards as well as a matrix that aligns all standards from Specialized Professional Associations and the CUA Conceptual Framework.

Figure 3

Figure 1

Figure 2