«INDIVIDUALIZING ELEMENTARY GENERAL MUSIC INSTRUCTION: CASE STUDIES OF ASSESSMENT AND DIFFERENTIATION By Karen Salvador A DISSERTATION Submitted to ...»
To see if they really do arrive at an answer that fits the description of what their goal is supposed to be. It tells me a lot more about their learning, when they completely get there, and on their own. If they can do that, then “aha!” If they are totally far away… Everything inside of me is going… “No no no that’s not right, see if you can make it sound better.” But, to let them go through that process themselves, it seems to be a stronger reinforcement of learning, and a stronger picture for me… A snapshot of their thought process, which is more important than the product (CD Initial Interview, p. 2).
One of the goals in a constructivist music classroom would be to foster self-motivation and learning independence so that students might be more likely to undertake projects or find things out by themselves (Chen, 2000). When I asked if some students might prefer more specific guidance, Carrie replied, Definitely. And I try to incorporate some of that… there are days where I will sit down and say “OK, kids. I am going to give you a lot of rules to follow in this activity, because we know some friends really like to have a lot of rules to follow.” So… You didn’t see any of that while you were here (CD Think Aloud, p. 2).
Essentially, Carrie facilitated music learning by providing strategies and allowing students to use them (or not) and by assigning musical problems to solve and staying out of the way as students struggled through them. Because I did not hear responses from individual students, the effect of this facilitation on the music learning of individual students was difficult to ascertain.
Positioning herself as a facilitator who allowed students to work through problems resulted in a classroom atmosphere that might seem chaotic to some teachers. When I asked her
about this, Carrie replied:
It seems chaotic to me, too. It is totally against everything that I am comfortable with.
Basically, I am a very type-A kind of personality. I want everything lined up and in order. But my first couple of years teaching, I noticed that kids just weren’t being very creative. Then, I went to some workshop… We were working in small groups, pretending we were kids. And there was a group that I remember they—on purpose—started to do something a little off-task. But, it was still musically related. I think they were curious to see what she [the workshop leader] would do. And she somehow just gave them enough guided prompts here and there, that she was able to incorporate that into what they were doing. And we were just all going “whoah!” And then, because she hadn’t said: “No, stop it, do what I asked you to do.” Theirs ended up being the strongest [project], because they could incorporate… Sometimes with kids they seem to need that, “Let me work around it,” or “Let me see what others are doing,” because their ideas don’t flow as
Student needs such as those she described resulted in students floating from group to group to see what others were doing and a high amount of classroom noise as students experimented and talked. Ms. Davis frequently did not redirect behavior that seemed off-task (e.g., CD Field Notes 4/19, p. 3) because she believed that different students’ learning processes required a variety of behavior.
Carrie’s role as facilitator transferred most of the responsibility for classroom management onto the students. In my field notes, I made frequent reference to students solving their own problems within a group (e.g., CD Field Notes 4/19, p. 2) and calming down extraneous noise from other students so class could continue (e.g., CD Field Notes 4/21, p. 2).
When Ms. Davis did intervene, it was typically brief and (1) subtle and individual, or (2) wholegroup and logistical. For example:
(1) Think ADHD children who did not take their meds, in class at 2:30 PM and completely distracted by noise… I bite my lip, fight for the right words… sidle up to that child inconspicuously, ask them quietly if there’s a spot they see where they’d be able to concentrate better, and give them more space to wiggle beyond the boundaries because that’s what they need at the moment (CD Journal p. 13).
Two boys have been pretty poorly behaved—talking to each other and poking each other with their recorders during a class discussion. The whole class is moving from the circle to sit near the board. During the brief period of chatting, walking and settling back in, Carrie walks over to the two boys and simply says, “Take this opportunity to solve the problem.” They do not sit together up at the board (CD Field
(2) Ms. Davis stops the group discussion of which ideas should be incorporated into the commercials as jingles. She says, “Ideas are not bad or good… Ideas can be good in different ways.” She asks the students to be careful of how they give comments and feedback. “How would that feel if someone said that to me? I have to
The third grade class has chosen dancing the Virginia Reel as a for-fun break activity instead of working on their scripts. As the dance progresses, some students start to be picky about touching other students, primarily based on gender differences, but also some personal issues. (That is, some people of the opposite gender seem to be OK but not others). As the reel continues this behavior escalates, with some boys refusing turns to reel. I was surprised that Carrie did not intervene, although I think she hoped the students would take charge and correct the problem. After a few minutes of dysfunction, she turns off the music and tells the students they need to respect one another and the reel. She starts the music again and the problem is
I often commented in my notes about how well students managed challenges without Carrie’s intervention, such as getting the needed materials for a project (e.g., CD Field Notes 5/26, p. 2), putting materials in their binders (CD Field Notes 5/3, p. 1), and deciding who would get a turn with an instrument (e.g., CD Field Notes 4/19, p. 2). However, just as some students preferred more direction on projects, I wondered if some students would prefer that Ms. Davis was quicker to intervene or more direct in her classroom management style. For example, I noticed some exasperated, frustrated faces, voices, and words in third grade as some students continually strove to keep the class on track, particularly as the performance date loomed closer and closer (e.g., CD Field Notes 4/28, p. 4).
As a part of her role as facilitator, Ms. Davis strove to be sensitive to the psychological/sociological needs of her students. This sensitivity sometimes resulted in changing her lesson plans. The third grade students came straight to music from their gym class, and one hot, humid day they ran a mile as part of their fitness evaluation for the year (CD Field Notes 4/21, p. 3).
I basically threw everything out the window plan-wise for the day when the kids came in from running that mile. Wow. Even Riley, who is 100% athletic and full of energy… came in and sat down silently, red-faced, and seemed down-right lethargic. On went the fan, out went the lights, and I had them listen silently to the Libera CD. My intent was to listen for a minute or two, let them relax, and then go on to [the planned activity].
However, by the end, they remained quiet (a huge sign for this class that something is not right) and content to lie on the floor. To give them more time to re-charge, I decided on the spot to have then listen to the piece again, this time listening for timbral things—one voice vs. many… solo vs. unison—this wound up requiring further listens. Musically, I learned very little about the class today. (CD Journal, p. 7).
Only 17 students were in the classroom—several were in the office with twisted ankles or cramps. The students trickled into music class, and some had clearly been crying (CD Field Notes 4/21, p. 3).
By the time they seemed to be perking up and most of the class was finally in the room and over their “injuries” there were only a few precious minutes remaining. Given their mental state, I decided to ditch everything and just improvised what to do until the end. I had no real motive other than filling time. Poor instruction, yes, but sometimes you just have to cut your losses. I came, I tried, they weren’t at a point to receive new learning, I adjusted, they remained unready, I adjusted more, they started to recoup, time to go. Win
The students had work to do on their scripts and the music for their mini-commercials.
However, Carrie noticed their exhaustion and stress and changed her plan to something that would soothe them and allow them to rest. This excerpt also illustrates how critical Ms. Davis could be of her own instructional choices; she might not have given herself enough credit for the music learning that may have occurred from students listening and evaluating aspects of an unfamiliar recording.
Ms. Davis’s role as facilitator also led to changes in lesson planning based on music learning needs.
I had to do reactive teaching at that point in time… As rhythms were the biggest challenge for this, we hopped up to keep the macrobeat and microbeat while hearing the patterns in the song, repeating the patterns in the song, and reading the patterns in the song with no help from me. That was the instant plan (CD Journal, p. 11).
On another occasion, Ms. Davis told me she felt like the kids “just need to play,” and she was not going to work on their recorder performance material that day (CD Field Notes 4/21, p. 1). The lesson that followed included learning a new song (Sandy Land), singing melody and chord roots in small groups, playing tonic and dominant chords on boomwhackers, learning Sandy Land on recorders, and playing chord roots on recorders, including learning a new fingering (low D).
This was a strong music lesson that Carrie improvised because she felt the students were tired of working on their performance material.
Carrie was reflective about her practice and often critical of herself and the choices she
made during improvisational teaching based upon the immediate needs of her students:
I switched gears with the rhythmic work a little but, but, reflecting back, I should have entirely scrapped the piece, gone on to another activity, and them come back to it.
Instead, I foolishly decided to plow ahead. Never mind the signals of obvious “I’m done” from so many of the students (Hear that buzz? See those restless movements? See the dueling recorder rods? I did, but I chose to ignore them)… In retrospect, this class session was two thumbs down. I gathered very little to no musical insight into my students. My students became disengaged probably about 20 seconds into [the activity], yet I kept going because I couldn’t think of what else to do…. I know I missed a lot of behavioral clues that normally would have tipped me off to switch gears, take a different route, ditch things altogether… (CD Journal, p. 12).
Ms. Davis’s skill as a facilitator and her improvisational teaching were evident in the third grade group composition projects, which were organic, evolving, and student-driven.
With third grade right now, because they are working on kind of composing their own thing, my goals are quite open at the moment, seeing where we need to go. Like after today, I want to steer them toward hearing a sense of finality in a piece. Bringing them back to what they already know about form… A lot of their experimentation today was jut kind of random, with no pitch center. I want to try to steer them toward getting some sense of fixed tonality in their piece… A lot of it was, they were just so excited with those instruments that they rarely get to use. So that’s going to be one of my right-now goals (CD Initial Interview, p. 7).
Carrie’s improvisational teaching was sensitive to students’ psychological and sociological states, as well as their music learning needs. It also sometimes resulted in stops and starts and incompletions of the music learning it was intended to facilitate. For example, the coaching toward a sense of pitch center and finality mentioned above never occurred, and the experimental melodic material from that day’s work was never revisited (CD Field Notes), perhaps because of the time pressures of the upcoming performance. In another example, the final version of the “Tom Izzo Show” skit did not have any music (CD Field Notes 5/24, p. 1). However, I recorded a jingle that a child composed in group work and performed for the class (CD Field Notes 5/12, p. 2) that would have functioned well in the performances (Figure 5.1).
Figure 5.1 Tom Izzo Jingle Ms.
Davis’s role as facilitator allowed her students to take the lead in classroom management, group dynamics, and music learning. The extent to which individual students benefited from this approach in terms of their music learning may have varied based on their personality and prior music experience. Teaching through questioning and problem solving might encourage higher-order thinking about music. Most of the effects of teacher-as-facilitator seemed social in nature—encouraging self-monitoring, self-control, leadership, and selfmotivation.
Differentiation inherent in Ms. Davis’s practice of constructivism. In the classes I observed, some differentiation of instruction was inherent in the way that Carrie applied constructivism. Ms. Davis’s use of choice allowed students considerable freedom to determine what they worked on and how they approached their goals. Flexible groups utilized students with dissimilar social and musical backgrounds as teachers and leaders and differentiated by learning style. Use of centers was one way Ms. Davis allowed students a variety of pathways to interact with music information and demonstrate what they had learned.
Ms. Davis allowed her students considerable latitude to choose how they would work and what they would work on. For example, during one group composition project, I noticed a student circulating around all the groups (CD Field Notes 4/19, p. 1). He did not appear to be working on the project but seemed off-task and social. However, after a few minutes, he
returned to his group, sat down, and offered some ideas. Ms. Davis chose not to intervene: