"Like Who You Are:" Socially Constructed Identity in the Middle School Band

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The purpose of this study was to explore the band classroom as a social context and examine its influence on middle school students' identity constructions. Identity theory in sociological research and social identity theory in the field of social psychology provided the theoretical bases for this study. However, the integration of both theories suggested by Deaux and Martin (2003) as well as Stets and Burke (2000) proved most applicable to this inquiry. Both intergroup processes and role identities were explored.

This qualitative study included six band students enrolled in a large public middle school located in a metropolitan area on the East Coast. Enrolled in the same sixth grade band class, each of the six participants played a different instrument, and therefore provided a unique perspective on social interactions and the school experience. Ethnography and narrative inquiry informed the data collection process and methodological choices for this collective case study. Data collection included classroom observations, open-ended interviews, and weekly student journals. Data was collected over a period of 5.5 months, ending as students chose to continue or discontinue their band enrollment for the subsequent school year. Interview transcripts, field notes, and student journals were systematically coded first on a case-by-case basis, then compared, contrasted, and interpreted across cases.

Findings supported prior research on musical identity and music education. Students simultaneously valued perceived characteristics of their own group while devaluing those of other groups. In addition to supporting prior research findings, this study indicated that middle school band students make choices regarding course enrollment based on influences (rejection or affirmation) of those around them. Students initially chose to enroll in band because friends, teachers, and family members encouraged them to do so. Once they felt accepted as band members, they found particular roles in the band classroom. Based on others' affirmation or rejection of their competency in such roles, they reevaluated whether they felt they belonged in the band. Those who felt rejected or less competent chose to enroll in other courses. Students who felt successful and found unique roles within the band more strongly identified with the group.