«INDIVIDUALIZING ELEMENTARY GENERAL MUSIC INSTRUCTION: CASE STUDIES OF ASSESSMENT AND DIFFERENTIATION By Karen Salvador A DISSERTATION Submitted to ...»
Report cards. Ms. Davis’s district required grading music students on report cards twice a year, once in January and once in June (CD Initial Interview, p. 4). She described the grading system as “…kind of generic. ‘Making Progress’ or ‘Needs more Time to Develop’ for the lower el. For the upper el, it’s outstanding [face, hands and voice express awe], good, satisfactory, or needs improvement” (CD Initial Interview, p. 4). Students were graded on “Do they show development in use of singing voice… rhythm skills, and listening skills? And we have behavioral components as well. And then in third and fourth grade they add another area… combining those skills [singing, rhythm, and listening]” (CD Initial Interview, p. 4; CD Artifacts 1 and 2; lower and upper elementary report cards). Although Ms. Davis worked conscientiously to ensure that the report cards accurately reflected student performance levels, she did not feel that grading students was a necessary use of assessment data. She preferred to use the results of assessments to monitor students’ progress (CD Think Aloud, p. 6).
Observational assessments. Ms. Davis’s journal entries included notes on her observations of students’ individual achievements in class, which Ms. Davis stated she tried to
record regularly. Here is an excerpt regarding fourth grade students I observed:
Jason is still using his head voice when he thinks the other boys aren’t listening
Abigail continues to be oblivious that the pitches she sings are not matching others. She is, however, becoming aware of the surprised/frustrated looks of her
9 All names in this dissertation are pseudonyms. Abigail is also discussed below.
Ms. Davis provided entries like this regarding ten of the twenty-two students in class that day, and her observations were triangulated by the video for that day and my field notes (CD Field Notes, 4/21, p. 1). I observed Carrie jotting down handwritten notes, which I think she turned into a more polished, storytelling format as she typed her journal.
Other formal assessments. When I asked about how she and other teachers in the district valued assessment, Carrie replied, “We are all constantly assessing… We all wiggle it in, in different ways, but we all find it very important. We all agree on the fact that you have to know where your students are [in their musical development]” (CD Initial Interview, p. 3).
I can’t imagine not assessing my students as I go. Assessment… plays a huge role in music education. You have the assessment with different skills that lets you know if your students have it or not, whether you can move on. That would be kind of a summative;
see if they’ve gotten it. Then you’ve got the formative assessment, where you test the waters to see where they are in the first place. And then, through along the way, you’ve got to stop and see where your students are, see what they are understanding, so you know how to proceed…. If you don’t ever take stock of that—you are just singing with them all the time, or just doing games… but not really focusing on their learning, then… it would kind of be an empty experience for all (CD initial Interview, p. 2).
Interviews revealed this philosophical valuing of assessment as well as descriptions of some specific formal assessment strategies such as aptitude testing and grading on report cards. I also saw sign-up lists in the hall for recorder playing tests during lunch or recess to earn different colored belts (a la “Recorder Karate”). These playing tests (“auditions”) were also mentioned in passing during an interview (CD Think Aloud, p. 16). In her journal, Ms. Davis referred to note recognition quizzes taken by the fourth grade class (CD Journal p. 10). She also used selfassessments of the compositional process and product with the third graders (CD Field Notes 5/26, p. 2). During my final observation, third grade students started to learn “Summer’s Coming,” a song that included solo responses from three different singers each time the song was sung (CD Field Notes, 5/26 p. 3). Carrie told me this would be used as a final test of singing voice development and aural skills for the year. “Aurally, I am hearing if they can accurately do tonic, dominant, and subdominant patterns, and I am also hearing singing voice [development] at the same time. They each get a turn with all three of [the responses]” (CD Think Aloud, p. 19).
Although Ms. Davis was preparing students for performances and did not formally assess music learning during our observation period, I saw evidence of a variety of formal assessment techniques.
Importance of individual responses. When I asked about “checking the group” (Hepworth-Osiowy, 2004) as a method of assessment, Carrie replied: “I would ask, what about the kids who are faking? [laughs] The child whose mouth is moving across the room and looks like they are singing, but isn’t singing at all? If you just listen to the group, it can sound great, because your strong ones [students] are carrying the group” (CD Initial Interview, p. 4). In conversation, Ms. Davis repeatedly emphasized that assessments must be of individual responses (e.g., CD Initial Interview, p. 2). When she taught the class for students with cognitive impairments (CI), most activities had some component of individual response. In third grade, composition activities allowed Ms. Davis to circulate among groups and interact with individuals as they worked with musical material, and she must have learned about individual skills and abilities during this process. I did not observe evidence of record-keeping regarding students’ progress and learning needs in this context.
In fourth grade, I observed only one class period in which instruction provided obvious opportunities for assessment of individual musical responses (CD Field Notes 4/21, p. 1). That day included chances to gather data on individual students while they: sang melody in small groups, sang chord roots in small groups, played chord roots on boomwhackers, played chord roots on recorders, and played melody on recorders. However, Carrie chose not to track individual progress that day because the activity was “just for fun” (CD Field notes 4/21, p.1). I did not see Ms. Davis’s typical instruction, particularly in fourth grade, as they prepared recorder music for their concert.
Challenges to assessment. Ms. Davis mentioned several challenges to assessment of music learning. She stated that assessment was difficult because of how many students she taught and only seeing them twice a week. “I would love to hear them all, multiple times per class, solo, and that’s not possible” (CD Initial Interview, p. 2). Ms. Davis also struggled with record-keeping: “…sometimes, even with the pencil and paper in my hand to mark assessment information, a class leaves and I see I’ve missed half of them that did perform, or that I can’t seem to remember my own [rating] system” (CD Journal, p. 13). Furthermore, Carrie was concerned that her students were “hung up on grades” (CD Think Aloud, p. 6).
Usually I have my seating chart out, and I am marking [assessment data]… A lot of them have figured out that even though I am telling them that I am [marking] turns, they know there is more going on. They know, because they know that everyone assesses. And they are asking, “What grade did I get?” I tell them “I am not giving you a grade, what are you talking about?” “Well, you were marking on the seating chart, so it must be a grade.” “You had a turn.” “Well, how did I do?” “Did you do your job?” “Yeah” “Well, then you did great. Then you know you did what you were supposed to” (CD Think
When I asked her about the relationship of assessment and grading, she replied, Assessment lets you know where your students are at in the learning that you are hoping to be imparting to them. That is very poorly worded. But it also lets you know what you need to re-teach. If an idea hasn’t gotten across. And it lets you know their background knowledge. Assessment should inform what you are going to do. OK, so this is how I need to approach this concept, because this is where they are at. And then it is summative also. But there is that piece in the middle, where you are constantly taking those snapshots to see. Assessment really is more for the teacher, to inform their
Ms. Davis reported problems assessing due to the number of students she taught, how little she saw them, and how difficult it was to keep adequate records. She was concerned about how grade-conscious her students seemed, and felt that assigning a grade may actually detract from the more important role assessment could play in guiding her instruction.
Summary of self-reports of assessment. Ms. Davis expressed a philosophy strongly supportive of assessment as a way to improve music teaching and learning. She reported regular use of aptitude tests (specifically PMMA), her district’s report cards, observational assessments and other formal assessments, some of which were triangulated in my field notes (specifically, self assessments of group composition activities, recorder playing tests, and a singing voice assessment). Ms. Davis believed that individual responses were a necessary prerequisite for an assessment to be valid. She said that the number of students she taught and the infrequency of music classes made formal assessment difficult to fit in. Ms. Davis used informal assessment and emergent assessments during the third grade composition activities, and those will be discussed in the following section.
Assessment and Differentiation of Instruction in Small-group Composition Ms. Davis’s third grade students spent the observation period composing musical “commercials” for their performance. Ms. Davis had never undertaken a project like this before and was unsure about having me observe and about what the performance outcomes would be (CD Initial Interview, p. 7). As the composition project unfolded, it displayed aspects of differentiated instruction, including flexible grouping, student-centered learning, and peer coaching. Ms. Davis employed a variety of informal, emergent assessment methods to track student progress and learning, and used both the performance in front of an audience and a written self-assessment as summative assessments.
Flexible grouping. Work groups were often student-chosen and were flexible. For example, one set of groups wrote scripts (CD Field Notes 4/21, p. 1), and students experimented to find musical material with a different group (CD Field Notes 4/19, p. 2). However, Ms. Davis used student requests and a lottery system to assign parts in the commercials, so the performance groups were somewhat random (CD Field Notes, 5/3, p. 3). Flexible grouping strategies are one of the hallmarks of differentiated instruction (Tomlinson, 2000). Ms. Davis did not assign groupings so that different groups or individuals were learning different material, progressing at different paces, or asked to achieve more or less sophisticated outcomes. Nevertheless, different groups created responses that included various musical material and evidence of differing levels of musical sophistication.
Student-centered learning. Ms. Davis viewed the student-centered nature of the composition activities to be a form of differentiation (CD Think Aloud, p. 5). Because the students were writing their own commercials based on their interests, this composition activity inherently was student-centered. Topics for the four “commercials” were student-chosen and included a beauty product (“Glam-in-a-can”) that ruined the user’s appearance, a grocery store that sold everything (“Meglanita”), a commercial recruiting new students to their school, and an excerpt from a sports talk show featuring Tom Izzo, a university basketball coach (CD Field Notes 5/5, p. 3). However, in this case, student selection of topics may have functioned more as a motivator than a method of differentiation.
If students select a specific topic to learn about as part of a unit of study and present their findings to the class, this would be an example of differentiation of instruction based on student interests. In the elementary general music room, an example of this approach might be if the class was studying form, and groups or individuals investigated the form of their favorite three songs to report back to the class. Clearly, Ms. Davis did not intend for her students to study Tom Izzo and report their findings as a part of music class. Using student choice as a motivator is an appropriate, student-centered approach but may not constitute differentiation of instruction.
The composition project allowed an assortment of student-centered learning and response styles. Ms. Davis presented a variety of composition styles, methods of composition, and possibilities for performance, and she tried to balance the need for structured directions with the freedom to create. Allowing multiple pathways to learning about a particular topic and designing a variety of possible methods to express what has been learned are integral to differentiation of instruction (Adams and Pierce, 2006). One day, each group composed a melodic idea on xylophones for possible incorporation in one of the commercials. Then, each group played its idea for the class, and the class could decide to use it for a specific commercial or bank it for possible use later (CD Field Notes 4/19, p. 2). After about 20 minutes of group exploration and practice, five different groups presented ideas, and the class “banked” all of them.