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I struggled with the pressures enumerated by many elementary general music teachers (high number of students, lack of time, big class sizes, performance pressure, etc.). However, as I have pursued graduate work in music education, I have become convinced that we, as music teachers, do our students a disservice when we do not ascertain aptitude and achievement levels and use that information to modify our instruction to meet individual students’ needs. I think we can benefit from using multiple types of assessments to create a holistic portrait of a child’s musicianship. Assessments should not only reveal a child’s current abilities, but should also indicate what needs to happen next to build musical skills and knowledge. Assessments should also provide meaningful feedback to students regarding their progress, and not necessarily in the form of a grade. My interest in assessment has little to do with evaluation or grading. In fact, I regard assigning an “A,” a “U,” a percentage, or a numerical value to a child’s musical achievements only as a peripheral use of assessment information. I am more interested in the role that assessment could play in optimizing music learning for individual students. I am not sure that the dry words “assessment” and “differentiation” really capture the spirit of my interest, which is the dynamic intersection of knowing enough about a student (abilities, personality, achievement) to be able to respond to student needs, both in lesson planning and in the moment.

Design The purpose of this study was to explore the role of assessment in individualizing instruction in elementary general music classrooms. In order to illuminate this issue, I observed three exemplary teachers every time they taught two or three selected classes for five to eight weeks. I observed how these teachers differentiated instruction for the variety of students they taught each day. For several reasons, the participant teachers selected which classes I observed.

The research questions in this study targeted promising practices, so I wanted to allow the participants to show me what they considered to be their best teaching. Participants knew that I was interested in seeing how they differentiated instruction, so they seemed to choose classes in which students demonstrated a variety of needs and abilities. Also, because this study targeted assessment, and research literature indicated that some teachers assess more or less in different grade levels (Talley, 2005), I wanted each teacher to select grade levels in which I would see assessment activities during the observation period. From a logistics perspective, the participating teachers knew which classes would be missing music (because of holidays, teacher work days, conferences, etc.) or what classes were preparing for performances rather than engaging in typical curricular music learning. Finally, I wanted to honor the contributions of the participants by increasing their comfort level and the ease associated with their participation in whatever ways that I could. Therefore, allowing participant teachers who were familiar with what I was studying to select the classes I observed seemed to be the best course of action.

This study followed a qualitative case study design. Specifically, it was an instrumental, collective case study: instrumental because the cases were examined to provide insight into the specific issue of how teachers used assessment to individualize instruction (Stake, 2000, p. 437), and collective because I described more than one case (Creswell, 1998, p. 62). The informants were purposefully selected (Miles and Huberman, 1984) because they provided exemplary teacher perspectives concerning an area of music education about which many teachers are inexperienced or uncertain. I gathered multiple types of data, which allowed for triangulation of sources, including observation field notes, teacher journals, video, and interviews.

Transcriptions of interviews were returned to the participants for “member checks,” in which participants ensured that their thoughts were accurately portrayed by editing or adding to the transcript (Janesick, 2000, p. 393). Once transcribed and member checked, these multiple sources were analyzed for themes, using the constant comparative method of data analysis (Glaser and Strauss, 1967).

Participants Similar to Niebur’s (2001) study, participants for this study were selected purposefully based on recommendations of the faculty at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. I contacted faculty members and asked them for names of practicing “exemplary teachers” who (1) were known for their ability to individualize instruction, (2) could be reflective about their teaching practice, and (3) could articulate thoughts and ideas regarding assessment and differentiation. I intentionally chose teachers who had varied philosophies, teaching methodologies, and curricular goals. The criterion for selection included a master’s degree in music education (or a related field), at least eight years full-time elementary general music teaching in a public school, and state certification to teach music.

I experienced some difficulty in recruiting participants. I visited several classrooms of teachers who had been recommended, and, based on my observations and discussions with these teachers, I concluded that they did not use ongoing assessment or, if they did, it was not used to differentiate instruction. I excluded one master teacher who wanted to participate, because she taught part-time in a private school for gifted students, so the results from her classroom would have been less transferrable to public school settings. Some teachers whom I contacted were understandably uncomfortable with the idea that their practices would be examined and/or stated that they did not feel that their teaching practices were exemplary with regard to assessment and differentiation. Other teachers were uncomfortable with the time commitment—6 weeks of observations and biweekly journaling, two interviews, and two think-alouds in addition to member checks of transcripts was not something they were willing to take on in addition to their already busy schedules. Participant Hailey Stevens told me after our last observation session that she had initially been reluctant to participate because of the demands on her time, but that she found the experience of reflecting on her teaching in writing and in conversations with me to be rewarding and was glad that she had decided to take part.

Danielle Wheeler. I met Danielle Wheeler through the local Orff chapter when I first began to teach. We later reconnected when I observed a student teacher in her classroom.

Danielle has taught for 26 years in a variety of placements, including k-8 general music, first grade classroom instruction, k-2 general music, and middle school general music and chorus. At the time of this study, she had taught in her current placement, Developmental Kindergarten through 5th grade general music, for 13 years. Danielle is certified to teach all subjects k-8 and music k-12 in her state. She holds a Master of Arts in Teaching, with an additional 40 credit hours of master’s level courses in music, including certifications in Orff (Level I) and Music Learning Theory (Early Childhood and Elementary). She has served as Secretary and Vice President of the local Orff chapter and was their current President. In addition, Danielle has presented on several occasions at state-level conferences and workshops, and has published articles in the state music educators’ journal. She also served as the music director at a local church and was an instructor at a nearby college in their Master of Arts in Teaching program.

At the time of data collection, Ms. Wheeler taught 498 students each week in a mediumsized suburban district (about 5,000 total students) in the Midwest. Elementary students in this district received general music instruction twice each week for 30 minutes. The district was nearly 90% white and was a low-poverty district (fewer than 15% of students qualified for

free/reduced lunch). Danielle described the elementary school in which she taught:

[It was] a neighborhood school when I first began. But in the past 5 years, many apartments have been built and the school is getting a more transient population, and is transitioning to a lower economic population—more students are beginning to get free or reduced lunch. We have added an ESL teacher in the past 3 years due to a significant rise 4 All names of participants and their schools are pseudonyms.

in students with no English skills or English as a second language. This school also houses the Autistic room. We currently have 13 autistic students who are all mainstreamed (Interview, January 15, 2010).

Ms. Wheeler is an advocate for assessment in her district and has encountered resistance from other music teachers in her district who prefer not to integrate assessment into their teaching.

Carrie Davis. At the time of data collection, Carrie Davis was just completing her eighth year teaching k-4 general music. She also taught music to the Young Fives, Early Childhood Special Education, and Cognitive Impairment (CI) programs housed in her buildings.

Carrie completed the final two credits of her master’s degree in music education the summer directly following her participation in this study, and holds a BM in music education. She is certified to teach k-12 Music, 6-8 Spanish, k-5 All subjects, and k-8 self-contained classroom in her state. Ms. Davis is certified in Music Learning Theory (MLT) at both the Early Childhood and Elementary Levels, although she said “I'm not an MLT die-hard...more like a dabbler due to a different philosophical perspective than Gordon” (Email communication, April 14, 2010).

Ms. Davis has been trained as an Odyssey of the Mind facilitator and described herself as a frequent “meeting attendee and/or workshop participant” who has not yet taken on any leadership roles due to conflicts with her performance schedule and master’s degree program. At the time of this study, Ms. Davis served as the Youth Personnel Director in charge of the middle school and high school ensembles for her regional flute association. Within the same organization, she was a member of the flute orchestra and played in the chamber ensemble, which was the auditioned group that played the "meatier" music. Ms. Davis played in pit orchestras “here and there” (most recently for a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta), played regularly with a local wind ensemble, and subbed regularly for the volunteer orchestra in her community.

In the past, Ms. Davis accompanied children's choirs at various churches on keyboard and performed in handbell ensembles. Until the year of the study, Ms. Davis was the flute instructor for middle school and high school flute lessons for two districts in which lessons were provided by the schools rather than the families, but, due to budget cuts, those programs were cancelled.

Until she started a master's degree program during the summer of 2008, she taught at two or three marching band camps each summer.

Ms. Davis taught in a large suburban district that served a mostly upper middle-class SES area. The district enrollment was approximately 10,000 students and was growing by approximately 200 students each year. Ms. Davis described a community-wide desire to "push for success" in all areas. Many students were in multiple extra-curricular activities from elementary through high school. According to Ms. Davis, the community (including the upper administration) was supportive of the arts; concerts, plays, and student art shows were often just as well-attended as athletic events.

The specific elementary school in which Ms. Davis taught served about 500 students.

Each grade level received 35 to 40 minutes of general music instruction twice each week, except kindergarten, which met once a week. The additional classes such as young fives and early childhood special education attended music once each week for 20 to 30 minutes, and the two CI classes each came twice a week for 25 minutes. Ms. Davis described the climate of her building


…generally one of open acceptance of all diversity—one of the many goals of our staff being to create a climate in which students are first-inclined to think of another student NOT as "special needs," "from Kosovo," or "Muslim," but rather as "my friend George," "my friend Marik," or "my friend Asar." Yet at the same time, there is still a strong sense—even [among] the students—of "keeping up with the Joneses" as far as possessions, name brands, etc. A large percentage of our families consist of two parents who are working-professionals who demonstrate great concern for their children's education (namely, wanting them to get good grades). (email communication, April 14, 2010) Hailey Stevens. Hailey Stevens had also taught for 8 years and was recommended as a rising star by faculty at both her undergraduate and graduate institutions. At the time of the study, she had recently completed her Master’s Degree in Music Education and had presented her teaching practices and research at conferences and workshops in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois,

Wisconsin, and South Carolina. She holds several certificates in Music Learning Theory (MLT):

Elementary General Music, Levels 1 & 2 and Instrumental Music Level 1. She is certified to teach music k-12 in her state. Hailey has served as President, Vice President, and Newsletter Editor for a state music educator’s organization and was the current Education Commission Chair for their national organization. Hailey is one of fewer than 25 people nationwide who are accredited MLT certification faculty.

Ms. Stevens taught k-5 general music in a large suburban school district (more than 12,000 students) in the Midwest. Hailey traveled between two elementary buildings and saw about 350 students per week. In her district, kindergarten through fifth grade students attended general music twice per week for 40 minutes. Hailey also taught two self-contained classes of students with Autism Spectrum Disorders three times per week for about 25 minutes per class.

Ms. Stevens only taught fifth grade students who did not participate in instrumental music, and she directed an optional choir of fourth and fifth grade students once per week for 40 minutes.

She described her students as:

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