«INDIVIDUALIZING ELEMENTARY GENERAL MUSIC INSTRUCTION: CASE STUDIES OF ASSESSMENT AND DIFFERENTIATION By Karen Salvador A DISSERTATION Submitted to ...»
Another day, the class worked in different groups on a rap for a commercial about their school (CD Field Notes 4/28, p. 4). Perhaps because the students had more background listening to rap, speaking, and writing poetry, this project went more smoothly and resulted not only in more harmonious group work but also in more apparent enjoyment of the performances (by performer and listener alike) and more participation in adapting and combining the group raps into something the whole class liked (pp. 5-6). In each case (melodic material and rap composition), I saw a variety of levels of musical sophistication and achievement, more as a result of individual students utilizing different levels of background knowledge or challenging themselves than as a result of Ms. Davis differentiating instruction. Ms. Davis circulated the classroom listening to works in progress and reflecting with students about their progress. As Christensen (1992) posited, it seemed that the interactions of students with one another, with the teacher, and with the music were the primary vehicles of differentiated instruction in this case.
Although the students chose topics and there were a variety of different ways of composing and performing, Ms. Davis was unsure about the efficacy of this project in terms of music learning.
I feel like musically… I saw at the beginning a lot of [learning] potential, when they [the students] were asking if they could do this and they had brainstormed [musical ideas] and wanted to come up with their own [musical material]… [I thought:] We can pull in styles and genres, and we can, you know…what makes it sound more bouncy, if you have a ball commercial? And what would sound... and we could do that, talk about historical time periods, and all these amazing things we can pull in. And then it just DIDN’T. OK, that’s not going to work, and that’s not going to work… And the class, the way they were working together, it just… [became about trying to get something ready to perform in
Ms. Davis stated that she saw great potential for music learning from group composition activities. However, the pressure of trying to get the performance ready on time and the fact that students were distracted by the scriptwriting derailed some of the music learning potential of this particular project (CD Think Aloud, p. 19).
Peer coaching. One “tried and true” method of differentiation involves high achieving students teaching lower achieving students (Tomlinson, 2000). Ms. Davis established a variety of settings for students to teach other students. Some students took musical or behavioral leadership roles within groups without being assigned, which seemed to be a natural outcome of work in groups that were heterogeneous by ability (e.g., CD Field Notes 4/28, p. 4). One day, Ms. Davis assigned “directors” to design blocking and oversee rehearsals of commercials in the hall while she worked in the classroom with other groups (CD Field Notes 5/19, p. 2). Another day, a boy in the class who was taking private drum lessons acted as a resident expert by bringing in his drum set and suggesting various rhythmic possibilities for the “Glam-in-a-can” commercial (CD Field Notes 5/17, p. 1). These opportunities for leadership by those with more prior experience or aptitude seemed to be a way to value what those students brought to the classroom. Using students as teachers may also have served to build in remediation for students with less music background knowledge or lower music aptitude, because they received personalized instruction and attention from their peers.
Informal, emergent assessment methods. Attempting to track individual students’ music learning was one of the many challenges involved in allowing students to design their own performance material. Ms. Davis relied on a combination of roaming the classroom as a facilitator/observer and setting up mini-performances to check the various groups on an assortment of projects. For example, Ms. Davis used performances of the melodic material (CD Field Notes 4/19, p. 3) and raps (CD Field Notes 4/28, p. 2) to track student progress. However, because she did not keep records of these assessments, it seemed that their primary purpose was to be sure the class would be ready for their performance rather than to ascertain information about individual students’ music learning. Furthermore, these assessments were “checking the group,” which Carrie herself characterized as poor assessment (CD Initial Interview, p. 4). None of the data from any source reflects any evidence of Ms. Davis tracking individual or group music learning progress at any point in the third grade composition projects, as she warned me in advance might be the case (CD Initial Interview, p. 7).
Summative assessments. Ms. Davis considered both the performance in front of an audience and a written self-assessment as summative assessments of the group composition project (CD Field Notes 5/26, p. 2). The performance was video-recorded, but this functioned as a record of the performance rather than a formal measurement of any type of music achievement (CD Think Aloud, p. 19). For the self-assessment, each student got a pencil, a book to write on, and as much notebook paper as they needed. Carrie prompted them to write about: the process (creating, voting on ideas…), the performance (How did you do? Voices strong enough? Did you remember where to be?), composing (the rap, the jingles, the sound bank?) and if they would recommend this experience to future students (why or why not?). These prompts were presented verbally and written on the board (CD Field Notes, 5/26, p. 2).
Ms. Davis removed the names from the responses and allowed me to read them. The students primarily reflected on social facets of group work and especially issues of fairness relating to whose ideas made it into the performance and who got what part. “I only got one [part] that is what I didn’t like. It was unfair. One person had three but she gave one away… Still she had more than me ” (Student 7 Self Evaluation, p. 1). Students were astute and sometimes harsh critics of the performances of themselves and others. “Some people like Jason and Ally needed to work on projecting their voice[s] but you could still kinda hear them” (Student 4 Self Evaluation, p. 1). “I thought I didn’t do a very good job in the musical. I thought everybody else did a good job but me… I really wish that I could be as good as everyone else” (Student 10 Self Evaluation, p. 1). Most students recommended composing their own minimusicals again, although some did not. “That took like six music times… it was really, really, really boring” (Student 7 Self Evaluation p. 2). “When we were just started planning this I did not want to, but now I think this was the best idea. It was hard to plan but really worth it” (Student 17 Self Evaluation p. 1). One student’s summary seemed to encapsulate the general
feelings of the entire class:
Another thing I liked was that we could make it up with our imagination. I wish the musical was longer and each person got more parts because a lot of us got only one part in class. Making the whole thing up was hard because we all had different ideas. It was sometimes frustrating because sometimes you would feel like nobody was liking your ideas. Sometimes I felt like going off and doing it all on my own. In the end it all turned out all right. I thought this was more fun than our musicals with the whole school.
Sometimes it was hard to work with others but some people were easier to work with than others (Student 4 Self Evaluation, p. 1-2).
9 Student content edited by adding punctuation and correcting spelling.
Ms. Davis’s prompts were directed to musical issues—she asked students to comment on the process of composition and for their thoughts on writing the rap, the sound bank ideas, and the jingles, as well as for their review of the performance (CD Field Notes 5/26, p. 2). However, few students commented on musical performance issues, and discussion of the compositional process was limited to social-interactional and decision-making issues.
Summary of assessment and differentiation of instruction in small-group composition. Although the group work projects resulted in scripted “plays” that incorporated some musical material (a sung “jingle” using the tune from the can-can accompanied by percussion, improvised atmospheric barred instrument background music, and a rap), Ms. Davis expressed dissatisfaction with the amount of music learning engendered by this project. The students seemed focused primarily on writing the script, learning to share ideas, compromise, and cooperate.
I don’t feel that in the amount of time that it took that there was enough musical learning that took place to justify the whole experience. I think, as far as learning what it is like to put on a production, it was very helpful to them [the students], and it let them see it from my perspective… The class that, from my perspective as a music teacher did the best, was NOT that class [the class I observed]. They [the other class] got through their script rather quickly, and really focused on [composing] the ‘right’ music... (CD Think Aloud,
Ms. Davis indicated that her typical preparation for performance would include facilitation of a number of creative musical activities over the course of the year. Students would select which activities to polish for the program, and Carrie would write a script linking them together (CD Think Aloud, p. 19). According to the student self evaluations, students enjoyed being allowed to create their own performance pieces, but most of what they learned or struggled with pertained to social skills and script writing.
I saw evidence of differentiated instruction, including use of flexible groupings, studentcentered learning, and peer coaching. Furthermore, I think this model of small-group composition showed promise for differentiated instruction of music learning, but fell short for a
variety of reasons. Ms. Davis seemed to agree:
I felt like it did not go anywhere like the way that I wanted it to go. Looking back on it, I would have started the process… with the music, if I were to do it again. I would start with: think of a product, now think of a catchy song, and let’s write the script after.
Because we did the scripts first, I feel they were so focused on that, that the music became an afterthought... [later] If I saw them four times a week, for an hour at a time, I would do this project again in a heartbeat… But, because I see them only when I see them, [it is hard] to justify it musically. They did learn a lot, and I learned a lot” (CD
Group composition projects such as these are described as one way elementary general music teachers strive to teach the National Standards for Music (1994) (e.g., Phelps, 2008; Strand, 2006), and I appreciate being allowed to write critically about the lessons learned as Carrie incorporated them. It is my hope that examining and publishing Ms. Davis’s experiences will help other music teachers as they strive to incorporate these new ideas.
Differentiation of Music Instruction for Students with Cognitive Impairments Carrie’s school housed the district’s elementary program for students with moderate to severe cognitive impairments (CI). These students were served in two self-contained classrooms, divided into lower and upper elementary based on the students’ chronological ages.
The approximate mental ages of the students served in the upper elementary CI class ranged from about 6 months to about 3 years. Like many music teachers, Carrie felt underprepared to
work with this population (Hourigan, 2007; Linsenmeier, 2004; Salvador, 2010):
When I started here, my principal said, “Oh, don’t worry—just do music therapy with them.” And I said, “I don’t know music therapy!” “Oh, sure you do.” and I said “Oh, no, no, no…” She [the principal] said, “Just try something. You’ll be fine. Just sing about wiping your nose or something.” [Later] From the beginning, I was just trying something new every time they came. My first year, I had no idea what they were capable of doing, because I hadn’t been given any more information than “Don’t worry about it right now, you’ve got to get to know the whole rest of the school” from their teacher. And I’m like “No, please, give me a little bit… The expectations, at least?” (CD Think Aloud, pp. 14-15).
Students in the CI program came to music for 40 minutes twice a week mainstreamed with their age peers, as well as 25 minutes twice a week with their self-contained class.
For this study, I observed a fourth grade class that included several students with cognitive impairments. Zack and Katie both had Down’s Syndrome and were served in the upper elementary CI classroom. I did not ask for any additional diagnostic information, because Ms. Davis was the subject of my study, and my agreement with the school district indicated the students’ information was to remain confidential. Another student in the class, Abigail, was not in the CI program but had severe learning disabilities: “She is still at a beginning level wordwise… [reading] ‘the ball is red’ is hard for her” (CD Think Aloud, pp. 7-8). This section will describe Carrie’s differentiation of music instruction for Zack, Katie, and Abigail.
Early childhood approach. When the self-contained CI class attended music, Ms.
Davis used an early childhood model that she learned through a Music Learning Theory (MLT) certification course (CD Think Aloud, p. 17). In the MLT early childhood model, instruction is informal (Gordon, 2003). There is no particular expectation for response, and the early childhood music teacher varies the musical content and props according to student responsiveness in order to foster optimal musical development. That is, although the teacher may have a lesson plan in the form of a list of possible activities (songs, chants, movement) and related props (drums, egg shakers, scarves, puppets, etc.), this plan is used as a menu of possibilities to meet the emergent musical needs of individual students when they become apparent. This informal mode of instruction is not typically used in elementary music education.