«INDIVIDUALIZING ELEMENTARY GENERAL MUSIC INSTRUCTION: CASE STUDIES OF ASSESSMENT AND DIFFERENTIATION By Karen Salvador A DISSERTATION Submitted to ...»
Although Ms. Wheeler did not group students in a way that she could specifically challenge those who had demonstrated high levels of achievement, offering options ranked by difficulty level for duets and trios to play resulted in some individuals challenging themselves.
“The kids by the sink… asked me ‘What’s this challenge with the chords?’ I explained it real quick, and I wrote the chords in for him [like guitar chords above the melody line], left, came, back, and he was able to play… harmony while his friend played the song. And I was like ‘Oh, how sweet is that?’” (DW Think Aloud 2/15, p. 18). In this case, one child opted for the more basic option of playing the melody of a song that they had learned in class, while his partner played an improvised harmonic accompaniment based on chord tones.
Ms. Wheeler used a combination of information gained from observational assessments (lists), duets and trios, and rocket notes to seek out individuals for additional instruction during free warm-up. Warm-up typically constituted about 5 minutes at the beginning of recorder days.
Ms. Wheeler checked in and worked with students whom she noticed struggling (informal assessment) or who were having trouble as discovered by means of more formal assessment practices (playing in duets/trios, checklist of correct fingering while circulating, rocket notes), and also based on IEP diagnoses.
Differentiation based on assessments of others. Individual Education Plans (IEPs) served as a guide to Ms. Wheeler in differentiating instruction. She frequently relied on the assessments of other educators, such as classroom teachers, special educators, and psychologists, when she decided how to help children with special needs learn in music class. However, perhaps because these professionals do not consider music in their assessments, use of the IEP goals resulted in social and academic differentiation rather than in differentiation of music learning. Children with an IEP had been assessed to determine physical, occupational, cognitive and social learning strengths and needs. Ms. Wheeler used this information to alter her instruction so that instruction for students with an IEP was consistent across settings. For example, one child’s goal was to learn how to ask for a break when he needed it, and Ms.
Wheeler made this a goal in music as well. In the past, Ms. Wheeler had also used picture schedules or lists of tasks that needed to be accomplished as indicated by a child’s IEP (DW Initial Interview, p. 10). Ms. Wheeler also took student differences into account when she managed behavior. For example, she was struggling to help a kindergarten student who spoke
very little English:
…it seems like I am on him quite a bit, so sometimes I might let things slide. I don’t want to be on him all the time… I’ve talked to the ESL teacher about him, and she says he’s a little stinker sometimes. She hasn’t really offered me anything to do with that… I want him to learn the information, I’m helping him with his English skills, and yet he is being naughty… or does he just plain not understand? There is a lot going on with him
In such a case, Ms. Wheeler would rely on the assessments, judgment, and advice of other teachers based on conversations and on the IEP document in order to structure interventions that would help the student in question succeed in the music room.
Use of IEPs and the assessments of other educators resulted in a variety of methods to differentiate instruction. Ms. Wheeler used students in the LINKS program, a building-wide buddy program, to provide peer assistance for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (DW Think Aloud 2/15, p. 8-9). Most students with ASD had paraprofessional aides, but those aides rotated every month. Ms. Wheeler stated that many of these aides lacked the music skills (such as reading notation, willingness to sing) to assist the students with ASD as well as the peer buddies could (p. 9). In addition to the students with ASD or ESL, Ms. Wheeler was also familiar with the IEPs of students with learning disabilities (LD) who were served in a pull-out
resource room. In the context of a conversation about composition projects, and she commented:
You’ve got to check those resource [room] kids first to make sure they understand what you are doing and that they have started… [then] if you have those special needs kids like those with ASD, you’ve gotta go check them, or make sure they’ve got somebody to helps them, and THEN you check the others (DW Final Interview 5/31, p. 3).
Familiarity with IEPs also helped Ms. Wheeler select modifications that might be helpful for individual students with learning difficulties: “…don’t write the pattern as long, don’t write as many patterns, here is a pattern for you to copy” (DW Initial Interview, p. 12).
Ms. Wheeler worked tirelessly to integrate students with special needs into her music classes, primarily by helping with social skills, academic skills, and logistics. One day, the kindergarten class was playing a game that required children to choose another child and hand her a paper heart. Knowing that the student in the class with ASD would need help with this, Ms. Wheeler anticipated his needs and seamlessly helped him without other students noticing (DW Think Aloud 2/15, p. 4). Ms. Wheeler stated that she did not differentiate as much for these students in terms of music learning, because, in her experience, students who were ESL or had ASD or LD did not need help musically--just with written work, vocabulary, and/or social skills.
movement that day. That’s OK ‘cause we will do something else for you. Or maybe somebody else will come in with another disability, but we’re going to modify no matter what. We do modification for that particular student. I have found that, basically, [children with special needs]’ve been able to do everything just like any other kid. As long as I am taking care of that social piece for them and making sure they are on task”
Summary. Ms. Wheeler differentiated instruction based on her own assessments of musical skills and abilities as well as the behavioral and academic assessments of others.
Differentiation was present to varying degrees in different grade levels; in kindergarten it was relatively rare, whereas in fourth grade it was more frequent. Differentiated instruction ran the gamut from using prior knowledge to provide social or academic scaffolding for a child with special needs, to using assessments to decide whom to assist during free warm-up time or group work. Group work itself functioned to differentiate instruction, particularly on centers day in kindergarten, and when the fourth grade students worked together in duets and trios to prepare songs to perform on their recorders.
Emergent Themes Data analysis revealed additional themes that were not encompassed by my initial research questions but were still pertinent to the relationship of assessment and differentiation in Ms. Wheeler’s teaching. These themes included Ms. Wheeler’s inquisitive disposition, her linkage of curriculum to assessment, and teacher behaviors conducive to differentiation.
Inquisitive disposition. Ms. Wheeler demonstrated an inquisitive disposition that contributed to the quality and frequency of assessment activities as well as to differentiation of instruction in her classroom. Her inquisitive disposition was characterized by self-motivation to integrate assessment components into her teaching, curiosity about the results of assessments, ongoing learning regarding music teaching, and reflective thinking about her teaching practices and the progress of her students. These qualities seemed interdependent and interrelated.
Ms. Wheeler’s journals and interviews made it clear that she was the one motivating herself to integrate assessment components into her teaching, and that her assessments had little to do with grading, per se.
After we got done with the curriculum and I become interested in assessment, then I wanted to identify all the different kinds of assessment that were possible in the music classroom, and I tried to plug all that into my curriculum. Which didn’t match my report card… that was just something I became interested in (DW Initial Interview, p. 4).
[My principal] has no expectations for assessment in my classroom. When I try to tell him about assessments, he is surprised that I am doing them, but that conversation is very short. Being a tenured teacher, I get observed once every three years. When he is filling out my evaluation form, he always asks me what types of assessments I am using. He is always surprised that I use a variety of assessments. He expects a report card but he never looks at them… (DW Journal 1/15, page 3).
In addition to a disinterested administrator, many other music teachers in Ms. Wheeler’s district were resistant to assessment of music learning.
Teachers in our meeting did not want to look at assessments and tried to change the subject several times… Several teachers commented that our assessment is our performances. I made the comment—Yes, that is our MEAP [Michigan Educational Assessment Program, a yearly achievement test]. But other teachers teach MEAP and still teach a variety of curriculum (science, etc.)[that is not tested] and still assess for each subject area. They don’t just test one time (DW Journal 1/22, p. 3-4).
“The negative is they don’t want kids to walk out of the room thinking that they are not a good singer… and that’s the kind of conversations we have about why we shouldn’t assess” (DW Initial Interview, p. 2).
Ms. Wheeler compensated for a lack of support from her administration and other teachers in her district by being independent and resourceful. For example, she found a book on assessment by MENC and adapted a form to use as kindergarten report card (DW Journal 1/29, p. 2). She talked to the kindergarten teacher about kindergarten classroom assessment practices to get ideas (DW Journal 2/1, p. 1), and she discussed assessment practices in general education with her students in the Master’s of Arts in Teaching program at a local college (DW Journal 3/1, p.2). Ms. Wheeler sometimes struggled with frustration regarding how to fit in all of the assessment components, track individual progress, and still teach and enjoy music (DW Journal 1/22, p. 3; DW Journal 3/1, p.2 and p. 6).
Even after 26 years in the classroom, Ms. Wheeler demonstrated unflagging interest in her students’ progress and curiosity about their abilities. She commented frequently on how she was interested to see how students had performed on “Rocket Notes” (e.g., DW Journal 2/19, p.
3) or what their compositions would be like (e.g., DW Journal 3/1, p. 4). She also made statements like “I am curious to see what he did” while watching video (DW Think Aloud 2/15, p. 2).
Ms. Wheeler’s curiosity extended to designing a mini-study.
I don’t like doing drill [of note reading]…. I thought I’d rather [the students] write songs and learn through modeling of songs... But now I’m thinking I’ll go back to drilling a little more… There’s been a lot of conversation in the faculty meetings about [how] we’ve gone to this higher level thinking in math, and you can think this way and you can think that way and we’ll all come to the same answer. But now they realize that they are not drilling facts enough, so that piece is missing. So they need to get back to drilling.
So I’ve been thinking, well, maybe I need to drill, so I’m going to try it. So in the one class you are observing we are doing the little drilling test [Rocket Notes]. I’m going to compare that in like a month or two and see who seems to be achieving getter in writing songs. We’ll see if that makes a difference. I am thinking that will be a[n] interesting piece to see (DW Initial Interview, p. 17).
The fourth grade I observed was the lowest achieving academically of her three sections. She commented in her journal, “I am interested to know the growth of my students in taking the “Rocket Notes test. I think it will show growth—and I think I will use this with everyone next year at the beginning of the recorder unit” (DW Journal 2/19, p. 3).
Perhaps curiosity also contributed to Ms. Wheeler’s belief in the need for ongoing and diverse training in music education.
I think the more training you have, the more you have to choose from, the more variety of things that you can bring to your students so you can meet all the needs of your students, I think that helps… … As I have gotten more training I have more things for the students
Ms. Wheeler felt that post-baccalaureate study had allowed her to become a better teacher, particularly regarding her ability to assess. “The assessment piece, for me, I wasn’t trained very well. There was not training, or there was no assessment when I started teaching. There is still not a whole lot [of training regarding assessment at the undergraduate level] at this point” (DW Final Interview, p. 4). Based on our informal conversations, Ms. Wheeler was not simply referring to her master’s degree study, but also to Orff and MLT certification, numerous workshops, and conference attendance.
7 In case the reader is curious, DW detailed “Rocket Notes” results in her Journal 3/1 p. 5.
Although she described the class being tested as her “low” class, only one student had trouble with notation on the songwriting project, compared to four in each of the other classes. DW concluded that “Rocket Notes” did help.