Skip to main content Accessibility help

An activity theory analysis of the relationship between student identity and the assessment of group composing at school

  • Vicki Thorpe (a1)


The purpose of this article is to contribute to existing literature about how activity theory might be used in music education research. It draws from the author's doctoral action research into the assessment of group composing for New Zealand's secondary school qualification, the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA). It outlines and explains how activity theory was used to examine three interacting activities: social jamming, group composing and achievement in the NCEA. Analysis revealed a relationship between students’ identities, their achievement in NCEA group composing, and socio-economic disparity.



Hide All
ALLSUP, R. E. (2003) Mutual learning and democratic action in instrumental music education. Journal of Research in Music Education, 51 (1), 2437.
BARAB, S. A., BARNETT, M., YAMAGATA-LYNCH, L., SQUIRE, K. & KEATING, T. (2002) Using activity theory to understand the systemic tensions characterizing a technology-rich introductory astronomy course. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 9 (2), 76107. doi:10.1207/S15327884MCA0902_02
BARRETT, M. (2005) A Systems View of Musical Creativity. In Elliot, D. J. (Ed), Praxial Music Education: Reflections and Dialogues (pp. 177195). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
BIASUTTI, M. (2012) Group music composing strategies: A case study within a rock band. British Journal of Music Education, 29 (3), 343357. doi:10.1017/S0265051712000289
BISHOP, R. & GLYNN, T. (1999) Culture Counts: Changing Power Relations in Education. Palmerston North: Dunmore Press.
BROPHY, J. (2008) Developing students' appreciation for what is taught in school. Educational Psychologist, 43 (3), 132141. doi: 10.1080/00461520701756511
BURNARD, P. (2012) Rethinking ‘music creativity’ and the notion of multiple creativities in music. In Odena, O. (Ed.), Musical Creativity: Insights from Music Education Research (pp. 528). Farnham: Ashgate. Retrieved from
BURNARD, P. & YOUNKER, B. A. (2008) Investigating children's musical interactions within the activities systems of group composing and arranging: An application of Engeström's Activity Theory. International Journal of Educational Research, 47 (1), 6074. doi:
CAMPBELL, P. S. (1995) Of garage bands and song-getting: The musical development of young rock musicians. Research Studies in Music Education, 4 (1), 1220. doi: 10.1177/1321103x9500400103
COLE, M. & ENGESTRÖM, Y. (1993) A Cultural-Historical Approach to Distributed Cognition. In Salomon, G. (Ed), Distributed Cognitions: Psychological and Educational Considerations (pp. 146). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
CSIKSZENTMIHALYI, M. (1996) Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: Harper Perennial.
DANIELS, H. & WARMINGTON, P. (2007) Analysing third generation activity systems: Labour-power, subject position and personal transformation. Journal of Workplace Learning, 19, 377391.
DAVIS, S. G. (2005) That thing you do! Compositional processes of a rock band. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 6 (16), 119. Retrieved from
DILLON, S. C. (2007) Music Meaning and Transformation: Meaningful Music Making for Life. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle, United Kingdom. Downloaded from
EISNER, E. (2007) Assessment and evaluation in education and the arts. In Bresler, L. (Ed.), International Handbook of Research in Arts Education (pp. 423426). New York: Springer.
ENGESTRÖM, Y. (2015) Learning by Expanding: An Activity-theoretical Approach to Developmental Research (2nd Edn). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
ENGESTRÖM, Y. (2001) Expansive learning at work: Toward an activity theoretical reconceptualization. Journal of Education and Work, 14 (1), 133156. doi: 10.1080/13639080020028747
ENGESTRÖM, Y. (1993) Developmental studies of work as a testbench of activity theory: The case of primary care medical practice. In Chaiklin, S. & Lave, J. (Eds.), Understanding Practice: Perspectives on Activity and Context, (pp. 64102). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
ENGESTRÖM, Y. (1987). Learning by expanding: An activity theoretical approach to developmental research. Helsinki: Orienta-Konsultit Oy.
FAUTLEY, M. (2005) A new model of the group composing process of lower secondary school students. Music Education Research, 7 (1), 3957. doi: 10.1080/14613800500042109
FAUTLEY, M. (2010) Assessment in Music Education. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
GLĂVEANU, V.-P. (2011) How are we creative together? Comparing sociocognitive and sociocultural answers. Theory & Psychology, 21 (4), 473492. doi: 10.1177/0959354310372152
GREEN, L. (2002) How Popular Musicians Learn. A Way Ahead for Music Education. Aldershot: Ashgate.
GREEN, L. (2008). Music, Informal Learning and the School: A New Classroom Pedagogy. Aldershot: Ashgate.
GUILFORD, J. P. (1950) Creativity. American Psychologist, 5 (9), 444454. doi:
HAKKARAINEN, K., PAAVOLA, S., KANAGA, K. & SEITMAA–HAKKARAINEN, P. (2013) Sociocultural perspectives on collaborative learning. In Hmelo–Silver, C., Chinn, C. A., Chan, C. K. & O'Donnell, A. M. (Eds.), International Handbook of Collaborative Learning. (pp. 5773). New York, NY: Routledge.
HENLEY, J. (2015) Prisons and primary schools: Using CHAT to analyse the relationship between developing identity, developing musicianship and transformative processes. British Journal of Music Education, 32 (02), 123141. doi:10.1017/S0265051715000133
HIPKINS, R., JOHNSTON, M. & SHEEHAN, M. (2016) NCEA in Context. Wellington: NZCER Press.
HYNDS, A., SLEETER, C., HINDLE, R., SAVAGE, C., PENETITO, W. & MEYER, L. H. (2011) Te Kotahitanga: A case study of a repositioning approach to teacher professional development for culturally responsive pedagogies. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 39, 339351. doi:10.1080/1359866X.2011.614684
JAFFURS, S. (2004) The impact of informal music learning practices in the classroom, or how I learned how to teach from a garage band. International Journal of Music Education, 22 (3), 189200. doi: 10.1177/0255761404047401.
KEMMIS, S. (2009) Action research as a practice based practice. Educational Action Research, 17 (3), 463474. doi:10.1080/09650790903093284
KINSELLA, V. & FAUTLEY, M. (2017) The use of activity theory as an analytical tool for the music learning processes. In Bugos, J. A (Ed.), Contemporary Research in Music Learning Across the Lifespan (pp. 2638). New York: Routledge.
LAVE, J. & WENGER, E. (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
MacDONALD, R., MIELL, D. & WILSON, G. (2005). Talking about music: A vehicle for identity development. In Miell, D., MacDonald, R. & Hargreaves, D. J. (Eds.), Musical Communication (pp. 321338). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
McPHAIL, G. J. (2012a) From singular to over-crowded region: Curriculum change in senior secondary school music in New Zealand. British Journal of Music Education, 29 (3), 317330. doi:10.1017/S0265051712000058
McPHAIL, G. J. (2012b) Knowledge and the curriculum: Music as a case study in educational futures. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, 47 (1), 3346. dio:null.
NEW ZEALAND QUALIFICATIONS AUTHORITY (NZQA) (2010) 91092. Compose Two Original Pieces of Music. Downloaded from
ODENA, O. (2012) Perspectives on musical creativity: Where to next? In Odena, O. (Ed.), Musical Creativity: Insights from Music Education Research (pp. 201213). Farnham: Ashgate. Retrieved from
REINHARZ, S. (2011) Observing the Observer: Understanding Ourselves in Field Research. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
RUSCIO, J., WHITNEY, D. M. & AMABILE, T. M. (1998) Looking inside the fishbowl of creativity: Verbal and behavioural predictors of creative performance. Creativity Research Journal, 11 (3), 243263. doi:10.1207/s15326934crj1103_4
SAVAGE, C., HINDLE, R., MEYER, L. H., HYNDS, A., PENETITO, W. & SLEETER, C. E. (2011) Culturally responsive pedagogies in the classroom: Indigenous student experiences across the curriculum. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 39 (3), 183198. doi:10.1080/1359866X.2011.588311
SHERIDAN, M. & BYRNE, C. (2002) Ebb and flow of assessment in music. British Journal of Music Education, 19 (2), 135143. doi:10.1017/S0265051702000220
SOARES, J. (2012) The nature of engagement of Brazilian adolescents in composing activities. In Odena, O. (Ed), Musical Creativity: Insights from Music Education Research. Farnham: Ashgate. Retrieved from
STAKE, R. E. (1995) The Art of Case Study Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
TARRANT, M., NORTH, A. C. & HARGREAVES, D. J. (2001) Social categorization, self-esteem, and the estimated musical preferences of male adolescents. The Journal of Social Psychology, 141 (5), 565581.
TAVANI, C. M. & LOSH, S. C. (2003) Motivation, self-confidence, and expectations as predictors of the academic performances among our high school students. Child Study Journal, 33 (3), 141151.
THORPE, V. E. (2008) We Made This Song. The Group Song Writing Processes of Three Adolescent Rock Bands. Unpublished Masters thesis, New Zealand School of Music, Wellington
THORPE, V. E. (2009) Help from My Friends: Group Composing and Informal Music Learning. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the Joint Conference of XXXIst ANZARME Annual Conference and the Ist Conference of the Music Educators Research Center (MERC).
THORPE, V. E. (2012) Assessment rocks? The assessment of group composing for qualification. Music Education Research, 14 (4), 417429. doi:10.1080/14613808.2012.699957
THORPE, V. E. (2015) Assessing Complexity: Group Composing and New Zealand's National Certificates of Educational Achievement. Unpublished doctoral thesis. Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand.
THORPE, V. E. (2017) Assessing complexity: Group composing for a secondary school qualification. British Journal of Music Education. doi: 10.1017/S0265051717000092
TOBIAS, E. S. (2013) Composing, songwriting, and producing: informing popular music pedagogy. Research Studies in Music Education, 35 (2), 213237. doi: 10.1177/1321103x13487466
VAN AALST, J. (2013) Assessment of collaborative learning. In Hmelo–Silver, C., Chinn, C. A., Chan, C. K. & O'Donnell, A. M. (Eds.), International Handbook of Collaborative Learning. (pp. 280296). New York: Routledge.
WALKEY, F. H., MCCLURE, J., MEYER, L. H. & WEIR, K. F. (2013) Low expectations equal no expectations: Aspirations, motivation, and achievement in secondary school. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 38 (4), 306315. doi:
WALLAS, G. (1926) The Art of Thought. London: Jonathon Cape.
WATERMAN, A. S. (2005) When effort is enjoyed: Two studies of intrinsic motivation for personally salient activities. Motivation and Emotion, 29 (3), 165188. doi:10.1007/s11031-005-9440-4
WEBSTER, P. R. (2002) Creative thinking in music: Advancing a model. In Sullivan, T. & Willingham, L. (Eds.), Creativity and Music Education. (pp.1634). Edmonton, AB Canada: Canadian Music Educators' Association. Retrieved from
WEBSTER, P. R. (1990) Creative thinking in music: Introduction. Music Educators Journal, 76 (9), 21. doi: null
WELCH, G. F. (2007) Addressing the multifaceted nature of music education: An activity theory research perspective. Research studies in Music Education, 28 (1), 2337. doi: 10.1177/1321103x070280010203
WENGER, E. (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
WIGFIELD, A. & ECCLES, J. S. (2000) Expectancy-value theory of achievement motivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25 (1), 6881. doi:
WIGFIELD, A., TONKS, S. & ECCLES, J. S. (2004) Expectancy value theory in cross-cultural perspective. In McInerney, D. & Van Etten, S. (Eds.), Research on Sociocultural Influences on Motivation and Learning: Big Theories Revisited (Vol. 4, pp.165198). Greenwich, CT: Information Age.
YAMAGATA-LYNCH, L. C. & HAUDENSCHILD, M. T. (2009) Using activity systems analysis to identify inner contradictions in teacher professional development. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25 (3), 507517. doi:
ZILLMANN, D. & GAN, S. (1997) Musical taste in adolescence. In Hargreaves, D. J. & North, A. C. (Eds.), The Social Psychology of Music (pp.161187). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
ZUBER-SKERRIT, O. (1996) New Directions in Action Research. London: Falmer.

An activity theory analysis of the relationship between student identity and the assessment of group composing at school

  • Vicki Thorpe (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed