«INDIVIDUALIZING ELEMENTARY GENERAL MUSIC INSTRUCTION: CASE STUDIES OF ASSESSMENT AND DIFFERENTIATION By Karen Salvador A DISSERTATION Submitted to ...»
Finally, Ms. Wheeler’s inquisitive disposition was marked by her reflective practice. Not very many teachers would be willing to take on a time-consuming project like participation in a dissertation study that required interviews, think-alouds, and seven weeks of observations and journals. Ms. Wheeler was a mother of two, college teacher, church music director, and many other roles in addition to her elementary school teaching. However, she contributed thoughtful journal entries regarding nearly every observation and made herself available for several hours of interviews. She seemed to enjoy having a “music person” observe her and discuss her teaching with her. Ms. Wheeler’s reflective natures showed in comments like: “It would be interesting to see my response if I had walked by and not seen anything. She was just sitting there, I wonder what I would have said?” (DW Think Aloud 3/22, p. 2) and “I’m not sure without that video there… I mean, I know they are all working, but seeing the process is very interesting, because I am not sure that I had picked up on everybody’s different process” (p. 3). In the final interview,
When you came, I thought I had dropped some things, and this [participating in the dissertation] would be good, to make me go back there. I think I was just… naturally doing it [assessment]… I thought I had gotten lax, but I think [assessment] was just a natural thing that I was just normally doing. I had written it into the curriculum, or I’d written it in with particular activities—that this was what I was looking for or checking
Ms. Wheeler’s reflective nature resulted in continually striving to find out more about her students, so that she did not realize how much assessment she was doing.
Ms. Wheeler integrated assessment components into her teaching essentially in isolation.
Without her inquisitive disposition, she could easily have decided not to engage in any form of assessment. She had to be self-motivated; no one was requiring her to assess music learning. It took curiosity about what her students could do, coupled with interest in how assessments could improve learning, for Ms. Wheeler to be motivated to assess students’ musical abilities and achievements. She needed the assistance of additional training and sought out venues for learning more. Danielle was reflective about her assessment practices, and they became semiautomatic.
Linkage of curriculum to assessment. Nearly every time Ms. Wheeler discussed assessment, she mentioned curriculum. Three years prior to the time of this study, Ms. Wheeler and the other elementary teachers in the district had written a cohesive, sequential curriculum for k through 5 music. Ms. Wheeler was stymied by other teachers’ resistance to continuing on from writing the curriculum to creating assessments and ways to report progress, which she viewed as interrelated parts of instruction.
Even before that assessment piece, I am looking at the curriculum… then, when I am writing my lesson plans, I am looking for a variety of activities that can meet the needs of all the different students. Then, I can do the assessment while I am [teaching]… and then I see what the outcome is (DW Final Interview 5/31, p.1).
Although she viewed curriculum, planning, and assessment as interrelated, Ms. Wheeler consistently indicated curriculum as the root of instruction. When I asked her about the most important factor in her ability to meaningfully assess learning, she replied, I think the more training you have, the more you have to choose from, and pick from, the more variety of things you can bring to your students so you can meet all the needs of your students, I think that helps. I think that... I still go back to… that curriculum, I think, needs to be in place (DW Final Interview 5/31, p.1).
In discussing assessment with practicing teachers who were her students in a masterslevel college course, Ms. Wheeler discovered that this linkage of assessment to curriculum was also problematic in some general classroom settings. “[Their] main concern was that they have all this information from assessments but don’t know how to use it, and more important, they don’t have enough activities/skills/or curriculum to meet the needs of all the students once they have the test results” (DW Journal 3/1, p. 2). While Ms. Wheeler felt that her district had a strong music curriculum that would benefit from embedded assessments, these other teachers in the M. A. program felt that they had too many assessments, at least in part because they were not linked to a strong curriculum.
Ms. Wheeler was a proponent of a spiral curriculum, in which young students learned a variety of music skills and information at basic levels, and then circled back to review and add context, depth, and theory in continuing spirals as they matured. “When you have the whole building over 6 years, you can spiral curriculum and they [the students] really learn something” (DW Think Aloud 2/15, p. 19). In Ms. Wheeler’s model, the fifth grade year was a sort of capstone year. In fifth grade, …I let them go a little more. We are doing more things… Individual creative-type activities or more creative group activities where I am not teaching them concepts as much any more. I am still spiraling concepts, but… now what can you do with [all the material you have learned]? (DW Think Aloud 2/15, p. 8).
Since her curriculum is cumulative, Ms. Wheeler’s fifth grade year became the time for synthesis activities that were summative assessments of the k-5 music learning experience. All of the
activities and assessments of previous years have spiraled to that point:
It’s so hard—that building piece… Because we don’t see [the students] very much. So how can you… You’ve got to build year after year. I think that’s the only reason I can now get to things like figuring out the chords [improvised accompaniments based on chord symbols] because they [the students] have previous information. But that’s taken
According to Ms. Wheeler’s experience, a cumulative spiraling curriculum requires the same teacher to see the students at every grade level. “I think you have to have the kids from kindergarten all the way up to fifth. When you have 500-something children… [talks at length about social issues like divorce, behavior issues, skills, abilities, preferences]. I think you need to be there the whole time to understand” (DW Think Aloud 3/22, p. 7). In the past, Ms. Wheeler had shared a building with another teacher, and the grade level assignments had varied from year to year. Even though she and the other teacher “…would do the exact same thing, then the next year, the next teacher would get [the students], and they would say ‘She didn’t teach me that…’ How frustrating!” (DW Think Aloud, 2/15, p. 19).
Due to budget issues, Ms. Wheeler learned near the end of this study that she would be transferred to teaching first grade. In the final interview, I asked her what she would like to see
from her replacement (another music teacher from the district). She replied:
We are a lot the same, we’ve taken classes together, we’ve had many conversations… But I can’t really make a comment on that for her. She is starting over. She doesn’t know the kids. That spiraling piece I think is so important and even though we both have Orff background, MLT training, and she has experience, she still doesn’t know the kids. She is starting over again (DW Final Interview, p. 6).
Even though Ms. Wheeler admired her replacement as a teacher and considered her to be a close personal friend, she thought that her replacement would need 5 years to become an optimally effective teacher in her new building because of the cumulative nature of the spiral music curriculum.
Teacher behaviors conducive to differentiation. Ms. Wheeler had a variety of frameworks in her classroom that were conducive to differentiated instruction but that were not necessarily assessment-based differentiation of music learning. For example, students in Ms.
Wheeler’s class each had an assigned seat. Learning often occurred while moving around the room, playing instruments, or sitting on the carpet. However, at the beginning of each class, for some whole-group instruction, and during written work, students sat in their assigned seats. I saw students in this setting helping one another with behavior and work, so I asked Ms. Wheeler about how she assigned the seats.
In kindergarten, I have no clue, I just do boy/girl/boy/girl, or try to… In my next grades up, I consider behavior first with them. So it’s not alphabetical, its boy/girl/boy/girl and behavior. If it’s somebody I feel needs to be by me, I put them close to me. Or I might, like some of them that are right next to me this year and I’m on them and on them, next year they might be away from me… Next year, when I go to do the seating chart, I make sure that the child [who] was a helper is not a helper next year, she needs a break… I do try sometimes to put a boy that’s a really good strong singer next to a boy that maybe is not. Especially if it may be a behavior sort of thing, maybe he can get him on task… I try to think of all that stuff. Behavior, singing… and I look back in my past records for that
The seating chart facilitated peer assistance, which is one way to differentiate instruction. It was based on previous assessments of students’ strengths and weaknesses. However, I did not consider it to be an assessment-based form of differentiated instruction because it was not explicitly applied—it was simply a framework.
Some activities had built-in differentiation that was not linked to assessment. For example, when the fourth grade students composed eight-beat B sections to play on their recorders along with a refrain they already knew. Ms. Wheeler sprinkled hearts with notes on them around the students. They were allowed to draw eight notes semi-randomly (the first note had to be tonic and the final note had to be the resting tone). However, students also could play different combinations on their recorders to decide what they liked (DW Think Aloud 2/15, p.
10). Students could choose to challenge themselves or to take the easier route. Because Ms.
Wheeler only recorded who chose to play their B section for the class, this activity provided a framework for students to operate on different levels but not for Ms. Wheeler to assess either composition or playing, or to differentiate her instruction based on the known musical needs of individual students.
In a similar example, Ms. Wheeler sang a melody line that the students were learning on recorder. Based on provided chord symbols, the class played triads by having individual students choose to play different chord tones on their recorders. Again, this provided a framework for various levels of challenge. Some students simply played chord roots, which was a skill that they had practiced as a class and was the easiest option, because the chord symbol named the chord root. However, some students chose other options, such as playing the same note the whole time (sol), playing the same series of notes each time the song was sung (i.e., memorizing rather than improvising), or playing something different each time (DW Field Notes 2/8, p. 1). Because there was no way for Ms. Wheeler to track which students were choosing the various options or to require certain students to choose certain options, this activity was a framework for differentiation but not an example of differentiation of instruction.
Over the course of the seven-week observation period, Ms. Wheeler planned activities that allowed a variety of work and response styles on a number of levels of achievement. These activities may not have featured differentiated instruction when taken independently, particularly when differentiated instruction is conceived of as teaching different things in different ways to different groups of people. However, one of the ways Ms. Wheeler tried to differentiate instruction for her 500 students was to vary the difficulty of activities as well as the methods of information delivery (aural, visual, kinesthetic) and response style in an attempt to reach different children on different days. Ms. Wheeler did not assess students’ responses to these various modes of information delivery, which might have allowed her to track student progress and tailor her instruction more specifically.
Ms. Wheeler’s teaching was marked by a reliance on established routines and strict enforcement of expectations, which she believed was conducive to differentiated instruction.
You’ll see my room is set up in a certain way, where each person has their own space… One principal says I’m like an army sergeant. I’m very distinct in everything that I want them to do. I’m constantly saying rules… I start the same language in kindergarten is the exact same language I use in 5th grade. When I am saying I want this done, do this or that. So I think they feel comfortable but they also realize my routine. Same routines in kindergarten, same routines in 5th grade (DW Initial Interview, p. 11).
Ms. Wheeler felt that her routines helped those with ASD, learning disabilities, and ESL to participate and learn because expectations were clear and the need for verbal direction was reduced. In combination with the spiral curriculum, Danielle believed that her strict classroom management allowed for more exploration and creativity in older grades: “I think that is why I can be a little more free, especially with 5th grade, when we do a lot of creative project activit[ies]” (DW Think Aloud 2/15, p. 3). Knowing that her students were aware of her rules allowed Ms. Wheeler to release direct control and allow the individualized activities necessary for differentiation of instruction. Conversely, these rules also allowed some students with special needs the predictability that they needed in order to participate. I did not observe any aspects of this strict classroom management as directly detrimental to music learning, although I sometimes wondered if a little more freedom to explore or respond might have allowed different response styles for children who preferred them.