Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Martina Miranda

Second Advisor

Margaret H. Berg

Third Advisor

John Drumheller

Fourth Advisor

A. Susan Jurow

Fifth Advisor

David A. Rickels


The purpose of this case study was to examine how fourth grade students negotiated musical meaning in a mixed-language group learning environment. Specifically, the research questions were: 1) What roles do home and Academic Language play in communicating musical ideas? 2) What cultural practices emerge around the sharing of musical ideas? 3) What roles do mediating artifacts play in facilitating student communication? This study examined the music composition process of ten fourth grade students without previous school music instruction, six of whom were English Language Learners (ELL), who participated in an after school music class. Students used iPads to compose soundscapes, soundtracks, and songs in small groups over five months. The GarageBand application was used to create melodies, record sounds and voices, manipulate prerecorded loops, and mix compositions. Students shared their compositions regularly and provided feedback during group editing sessions.

Data included student compositions, video recordings of classes, student artifacts, and researcher analytic memos (Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña, 2014). First level coding, based on observations and literatures, was initially used to code video recordings. Next, second level coding was used to identify examples of students negotiating music meaning (LeCompte & Schensul, 2013). Data were then analyzed using discourse and/or gesture analysis (Burnard & Younker, 2008)(Scherr, 2008). Results were interpreted through the theoretical framework of Cultural Historical Activity Theory. Findings included 1) Students communicate musical ideas physically when they lack the corresponding verbal lexicon; 2) Students use shared popular culture to describe music; 3) Work attribution of musical products changes with time; 4) Students cyclically assume and release control of the locus of attention during composition experiences; 5) Students struggle with accepting musical interpretations of others that differ from their own; and 6) Students use technological tools to mediate peer assistance when composing. Gestures, pop culture references, and the GarageBand application were used as mediating artifacts for negotiating music meaning among group members. Implications for teachers include valuing gestures and personal experiences that contribute to learning Academic Language, particularly in students with diverse cultural backgrounds. Future research suggestions include an investigation into the development of formal assessment tools for alternative communication.