For my Fall II 2018 course in my doctoral program, I am taking Introduction to Music Education Research. For our first unit, we looked at the structure of good argument. Specifically, we were asked to read two books (A Rulebook for Arguments and Zen and the Art of Writing) and two journal articles (Performance Stress and the Very Young Musician and “Knowing Their World”: Urban Choral Music Educators’ Knowledge of Context). Our assignment over this two week period was to analyze the “Knowing Their World” article in the context of the rules put forth in A Rulebook for Arguments. The online modules provided a sample analysis of the Performance Stress article, and our professor paired us up to exchange rough drafts of our analyses. Here is the prompt:

Apply A Rulebook for Arguments (4th ed.) to Shaw's research problem presented on pages 198-199 and the Discussion section from page 216 to the end. It is not appropriate to analyze other sections of the article as they do not contain academic arguments, but rather contextual material, the methods, and a description of the findings. That said, be sure to read the entire article so that your analysis can be placed in the correct context. Your analysis should be presented in a paper that generally follows the ways in which Boucher and Ryan's study was analyzed. Specifically, please identify each premise the author offers and determine if it is reliable or not. Then, identify the empirical support the author cites to support the premise (assuming the author has done so). Finally, identify the claim or conclusion the author draws from the premises and determine if that claim is reasonable or logical. Please do this for each argument the author offers (there are several). Of course, please rely upon the Weston to frame your discussion and cite accordingly. For this assignment, it would be better to play the role of a judge interpreting the law (Weston's rules), rather than a commenter offering a critique in terms of quality. Remember: Your task is not to critique the article; rather, you are to analyze its components according to the procedures in the examples. Save your critique for the upcoming assignment in Module 2 where you will be expected to consider the entire article/study to determine the relative strengths and weaknesses of various aspects of the research (including the scholarly arguments, research design, methods, implications, etc.). There is no specified word limit on this assignment, and citations will rarely include anything other than Shaw and Weston. Make sure to format your paper using APA 6. Your paper should include a title page, the body of your paper, and a reference list. If APA is new to you, you may find the sample paper here useful: Purdue Owl - APA Sample Paper.

Grading is much more simplified for this course: there is a simple rubric for the grades of A, B, C, D, or F.

I really struggled with this assignment because the prompt, the grading scale, and a range of 1,000-1,500 words were all we were given. The module was designed to demonstrate an analysis of the Performance Stress article, but it was not in a format similar to our assignment. Instead, it highlighted pieces of the article and asked questions like, “Is this premise reliable, concise, and concrete?” “Show me the evidence.” Here is my final product after my classmates revisions:

“Knowing Their World”: An Analysis of Shaw’s Collective Case Study

In her collective case study, Shaw (2015) explored how successful urban choral educators used contextual knowledge to inform pedagogical practice. Specifically, she observed four music educators teaching several different after-school choirs in a diverse urban community.  This paper will provide an analysis of Shaw’s case study through the lens of Weston’s (2008) A Rulebook for Arguments.

In the statement of the research problem, Shaw (2015) put forth four premises about education in urban communities: educators miss opportunities to affect positive social change through teaching due to assumptions about urban environments; the obstacles of teaching in urban settings reinforce negative perceptions of urban education; research is needed to identify knowledge and skills for music educators to successfully navigate urban education; successful teaching in urban contexts can be determined by how teachers navigate their classroom environments and communities.  These premises established her research questions about the necessary contextual knowledge, pedagogical practice, and experiences choral music educators need to be successful teaching in an urban environment.  Her collective case study led Shaw to three conclusions in response to her research questions.  First, the contextual knowledge needed to be a successful urban choral music educator are knowledge of their learners, knowledge of their contexts, and personal practical knowledge.  Second, using this contextual knowledge to inform their pedagogical practice is a skill Gay (2002) defined as culturally responsive teaching.  Finally, to be effective urban choral music educators, teachers need skills and dispositions necessary to develop the contextual knowledge and pedagogical practice referenced in the first two research questions and conclusions.

Shaw’s (2015) first premise that educators are missing opportunities in urban education came at the conclusion of a paragraph of evidence from a book on urban education.  Because this evidence does not appear to unfold in a natural order as Weston (2018) suggested in his second rule, it is difficult to identify the first premise. Are teachers “trepid” about urban education because of their assumptions of poverty, violence, and low academic achievement (Shaw, 2015, pp. 198-199)?  Is this assumption reinforced by the media’s coverage of the negative aspects of urban environments?  From the structure of the paragraph, these statements from Shaw appeared to be anecdotal. She also seemed to deduce through modus ponus(Weston, 2018) that educators are missing opportunities to affect positive social change because of these assumptions, but Shaw (2015) did not demonstrate that these assumptions are causing this missed opportunity.  More evidence of a correlation between these assumptions and educators’ missed opportunities would strengthen this premise.

Shaw’s second premise–obstacles to teaching in urban settings reinforce negative perceptions of urban education–was reliable, concrete, and concise (Weston, 2018). Shaw (2015) provided several evidence-backed examples of this premise.  First, she moved from inequities in funding leading to disadvantaged schools and underserved communities.  Next, she highlighted how focuses on testing and standardization led to the removal of creative outlets for teachers and students.  The language of Shaw’s first two premises were not consistent as Weston (2018) suggested in his sixth rule: Shaw (2015) used urban teaching, teaching in urban settings, and urban education interchangeably.

The third premise of a need for further research set up the purpose for Shaw’s collective case study.  After citing difficulties in recruiting, retaining, and preparing teachers in urban settings, Shaw concluded that research is needed to identify knowledge and skills for music teachers to successfully navigate urban education. This was a reliable, precise, and concrete premise because of the evidence Shaw provided (Weston, 2018). While the issues of recruiting and retaining effective teachers in urban settings likely demonstrated the need for further research in this area, it was the further evidence of teachers feeling discomfort, anxiety, and unpreparedness in urban contexts that solidified this premise.  Shaw (2015) contrasted the research called for in this third premise to the assumptions of urban education in the first premise: how can teachers find success in urban education?  In her first two premises, Shaw started broadly with educators in general before narrowing the focus to music educators in her third and fourth premises.

Shaw’s fourth premise defined urban teaching success by how teachers navigate the cultures of their classrooms and communities.  This fourth premise continued the natural flow of her argument, drawing on research of successful urban teaching models.  It is from Grossman’s (1990) concept of contextual knowledge that Shaw (2015) drew the purpose of her collective case study–exploring “how successful urban choral music educators use contextual knowledge to inform pedagogical practice” (p. 199).

From her collective case study, Shaw concluded that her participants’ use of knowledge of learners, knowledge of context, and personal practical knowledge were the necessary contextual knowledge held by successful urban choral music teachers.  She also concluded that this contextual knowledge informed the participants’ teaching practice in the form of Gay’s (2002) concept of culturally responsive teaching.  These conclusions were supported by Shaw’s (2015) observations of repertoire selection, concert programing, instructional design, engaging performances, and recruitment and retention of students.  She recognized that her study only focused on the perspectives of teachers and used research from other studies to flesh out student perception, student engagement, and student identity as results of culturally responsive teaching.  Shaw also cited work asserting that culturally relevant pedagogy is effective in all contexts, not just urban settings.

Shaw (2015) also concluded that teacher education programs and professional development need to equip educators with the contextual knowledge and pedagogical practice to successfully navigate urban contexts.  She provided ample evidence to support the preservice teacher education programs, citing several different university experiences.  Shaw (2015) used the perceptions of her participants and calls for research into various formats to support the need for professional development.

Shaw admitted that her research was limited in scope to the perspectives of her four participating teachers, and because culturally responsive teaching is a developed orientation instead of a prescriptive method, her methods could not be replicated in similar contexts.  She did not discuss alternative measures of or methods to success for urban education, nor did she look for alternative explanations for why her participants were considered successful choral music educators.

Overall, Shaw’s conclusion that her collective case study exemplified strategies for successfully navigating urban teaching contexts was supported by most of her premises.  She did not provide much evidence for her first premise that teachers are missing opportunities for social change in urban contexts due to assumptions about the environment, but this premise could be reasonably concluded from her anecdotal sources.  Her second premise regarding obstacles to successful urban education reinforced her first premise and is strengthened by the several examples of obstacles she cites. These first two premises set the stage for the final two, demonstrating a need for research into how teachers can successfully navigate urban education.  Each of her premises followed Weston’s (2018) fifth rule of building on substance not overtone, and his 13th and 14th rules regarding citing and seeking informed sources. Where Shaw’s (2015) collective case study fell short was in her lack of exploration into alternatives and objections to her measures of success.  Are there other means for successfully navigating urban teaching contexts?  What objections might there be to Shaw’s selection of personal practical knowledge and culturally responsive teaching as measures of success?  The collective case study did identify successful strategies for the specific contexts that were studied, but further research is necessary to determine if these strategies would be successful in more contexts.


Gay, G. (2002). Preparing for culturally responsive teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53, 106–116.

Grossman, P. (1990). The making of a teacher: Teacher knowledge and teacher education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Shaw, J. T. (2015). “Knowing their world”: Urban choral music educators’ knowledge of context. Journal of Research in Music Education, 63(2), 198-223.

Weston, A. (2018). A rulebook for arguments (5th ed.). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.


Burton Hable

Burton Hable is an instrumental music educator from Central Iowa. In 2013 he helped open Centennial High School in Ankeny, the first time in forty years that a school district in Iowa expanded to two high schools. He served there through 2018 as Assistant Director of Bands: conducting the 10th Grade Symphonic Band, directing the varsity Jazz Collective, co-directing the Centennial Marching and Pep Bands, teaching music theory, and providing individual and small group lessons to brass students in grades 6-12 at Prairie Ridge Middle School, Northview Middle School, and Centennial High School. During his tenure in Ankeny, enrollment in band grew from 450 to nearly 700, the jazz program expanded from four to seven ensembles, and ensembles under his direction were invited to perform at Iowa State University, Harper College, and the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.