«INDIVIDUALIZING ELEMENTARY GENERAL MUSIC INSTRUCTION: CASE STUDIES OF ASSESSMENT AND DIFFERENTIATION By Karen Salvador A DISSERTATION Submitted to ...»
Some children in the classes I observed were labeled as having “special needs,” specifically learning disabilities (LD), English as a second language (ESL), or “giftedness.” Ms.
Stevens felt that her approach to teaching music separated musical abilities from students’ other
challenges or gifts:
[Regarding ESL students] I do not find a significant difference in their [music] performance compared to other students, especially at early grade levels. I think this is because I tend to teach music by experiencing and DOING music (by ear) rather than trying to explain it. Even when I do explain it, I don't see language issues as a barrier. A good example is one of the third graders in Ms. Lea's class (Hiroyuki) who came to us in the fall from Japan with little or no English. When we started playing an elimination game where students had to jump only on major tonic patterns or they were out, Hiroyuki was winning the game only a month or two into the school year!” (HS Initial Interview,
[Regarding students with LD] Maybe it’s my philosophy or my beliefs… maybe it’s the way I go about teaching music… I don’t teach music in a traditional way. I don’t start with notation, I don’t teach letter names of the lines of spaces on the staff. So I can see that a student with a learning disability would struggle with that in music. But especially with younger students, I tend to teach [music] by ear. We just sing and chant and move, and I don’t find that things like learning disabilities really impact [students’] ability to participate in music class in that way (HS Initial Interview, p. 5) [Regarding “gifted” students] I do not find that students who qualify for gifted/talented are necessarily gifted in music, and I do not believe that intelligence, IQ, or academic achievement are related to musical potential. Rather than the term "gifted", I would prefer to use "high aptitude" in a music setting because I don't like to see it as a "gift" or talent that some people are born with and others not. I try to keep [musically] highaptitude students challenged by giving them more difficult material, giving them more difficult tasks, having them make generalizations/inferences, or being an example for the class (HS Initial Interview, p. 1).
Ms. Stevens believed that music was a separate intelligence that could be developed, regardless of academic skill level or behavioral challenges (HS Initial Interview, p. 10). By teaching and assessing music orally and aurally, she tried to access musical intelligence in a way that bypassed the need for the reading, writing, or spatial skills that could cause problems for many students with learning disabilities. Similarly, children who spoke English as a second language could respond musically by moving, playing instruments, and singing songs without words (a common activity in Ms. Stevens’ classroom). Use of aptitude testing (specifically PMMA and IMMA, which do not require music or English literacy, Gordon, 1986a; 1986b) as well as frequent, varied assessments of aural, oral, and movement-related musical achievement assisted Hailey as she worked to separate musical from other areas of intelligence for students who carried special needs labels as well as those who did not. Because Ms. Stevens taught and assessed musical skills primarily through musicking (moving, singing, chanting, playing instruments), she was able to disentangle a child’s musical achievement and aptitude from his or her academic or behavioral gifts or deficits. Therefore, she could differentiate instruction based on music achievement and aptitude rather than behavior or academic skills.
Data-driven, student-centered learning. Hailey’s assessment practices also contributed to differentiation of instruction by creating a climate of data-driven, student-centered learning.
This atmosphere was characterized by flexible grouping practices, teaching for a variety of learning styles, and using assessments and assessment data as motivation for learning.
Having the teacher step back and allow the students to work in groups (that have often been purposefully chosen so that each group contains strong AND weak students) and teach each other is something that happens frequently in the general education classroom, but I’m not sure it happens enough in music classrooms. So often in music classrooms (in mine, too!) students are always in a large group and/or are always being led by the teacher/conductor [and they] never have an opportunity to develop independence and ownership of their own learning/music making (HS Journal 3/23, p. 2-3).
Hailey valued group work as a way to allow students to take ownership of their learning, to build musical independence, and to allow students to teach one another. Ms. Stevens used a variety of grouping practices in her teaching. For activities such as play parties and folk dancing, she often let students choose their partners or groups (e.g., HS Field Notes 2/11, p. 4). If a few students were not behaving well, she would assign partners only to those students, while the rest of the students still chose on their own (e.g., HS Field Notes 2/25 p. 3). When students choreographed a song in small groups and sang it in a round, Ms. Stevens initially allowed the students to choose their own groups. However, when some groups were not able to sustain their part of the round, she reassigned a few strong singers to help lead each part of the round (HS Field Notes 3/11, p. 1). In many classroom activities, students were allowed to choose their own groups unless Hailey needed to intervene for behavioral or musical reasons.
Sometimes, Ms. Stevens assigned groups. In third grade when students were writing compositions in groups of two to three students, Hailey assigned groups based on behavior and musical achievement (HS Final Interview, p. 2).
I usually try to mix up abilities… …socially and behaviorally I can get them with who
is at least one kid in there who is [musically] pretty strong, who can be a leader. I always try to include a kid who is maybe completely clueless, so they can have someone to go along with. So I do set it up based on ability, rather than having all the high kids in a
In this case, Ms. Stevens grouped students with other students with whom they would behave, and tried to ensure that a variety of ability levels were represented. Data from her previous assessments influenced her view of which students could provide leadership on this task.
Ms. Stevens also differentiated instruction according to the variety of learning styles in her classes. For example, some students learn best in teacher-led, whole group instruction, others prefer group work with other students, and some children prefer to work alone. In Hailey’s classroom, students often received instruction as a whole group (HS Journal 3/23, p. 2), but they also worked cooperatively in smaller groups on compositions (HS Final Interview, p. 2), or with partners, such as in first grade when students improvised rhythmic conversations with each other (HS Field Notes 3/4, p.3). Occasionally, students worked independently, playing instruments (e.g., HS Field Notes 2/23, p. 2), working on white boards (e.g., HS Field Notes 3/2, p. 2), or completing written assessments (e.g., HS Field Notes 2/25, p. 3).
Differentiation by learning style also was reflected in the variety of response styles available to students. Students sang, chanted, and moved their whole bodies and parts of their bodies in formal choreographed dances, movement and singing games, and activities involving improvised or creative movement. Students also played instruments, interacted with props such as scarves, balls, and stretchy bands, wrote on paper or white boards, and occasionally described music or musical features in words. Correspondingly, Ms. Stevens used a variety of methods to convey information, such as through demonstrations of singing, chanting, playing, or moving (by teacher or students); visual information such as body language (use of sign language, facial expressions) and written information (a large white board, bulletin boards, flash cards); and auditory stimulus, including recorded music, and verbal directions.
Hailey displayed sensitivity to students’ responses and adjusted her teaching accordingly.
One day, third grade students were working on associating solfege syllables to tonal patterns that Hailey was singing on neutral syllables (HS Field Notes 3/11, p. 1). Many students struggled with this activity, singing the pattern accurately but with incorrect solfege. Ms. Stevens changed her strategy by speaking the solfege and asking the students to sing what that solfege would sound like.
I didn’t want to encourage the problem [by] singing incorrect solfege with the pattern.
But I chose to speak it to see if they could make that transfer. Because some kids think of it that way. They think “Ok, I want it to be re ti,” and how does that sound? Some kids think the pattern first, like bum bum (sings do mi on neutral syllable) in their head and then apply, “ok, that’s do mi.” But I was realizing, for some kids it’s really the other way around. The solfege is informing the choice that they are making… so a kid might be picking mi do so, and not being able to figure out how it would sound. So I wanted to give them examples of that. For those kids that were thinking in that way (HS Think
Ms. Stevens saw that some students thought of solfege syllables and then associated music, while others “heard” their musical answer than then added solfege. She changed her teaching to accommodate those students whose learning style was the reverse of the way she had been teaching. In addition to allowing students a variety of response styles and teaching through a variety of media, Ms. Stevens analyzed students’ responses in light of assessment data to determine how best to proceed in their instruction.
Hailey used assessments and assessment data to motivate students’ music learning.
Well, [the students] benefit… if I am giving them appropriate instruction based on what they have accomplished so far, that is going to benefit them in their learning. Versus if I didn’t assess, and didn’t realize that those five kids had no idea what that concept was, and I move right along, they are going to fall farther behind. Then, also I think it’s important… you know, sometimes when I’m assessing something, I’ll tell them what I am looking for. SO they can know that x, y, and z are the focus in the assessment, and that kind of helps them focus in their learning, too (HS Initial Interview, p. 2).
Ms. Stevens felt students would be more motivated to learn if they were operating on their own level of appropriate challenge, and that some students learned more when they knew what they were supposed to be working on. As such, assessments and differentiation of instruction in Hailey’s classroom exemplified Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development,” which is a way to describe learning activities that are perfectly positioned between what a child can already do independently and those that are beyond his reach—the zone in which optimal learning would occur. Vygostky believed that by giving children experiences that were within their zones of proximal development, teachers could encourage and advance individual learning (Chen, 2000).
Hailey felt that students wanted to show her what they could do, and assessments allowed that opportunity. “When I do say ‘this is what I’m listening for’ oftentimes I find it makes them all try a little bit harder, you know… sit up a little bit taller… really make sure they are doing their best…” (HS Initial Interview, p. 2). In addition to a chance to show that they could do, individual assessment also allowed students to reflect on their own learning, because they could hear their own responses and the responses of other students.
[Assessment] gives [students] time to process and reflect. Hopefully they are reflecting in a way that accurately reflects what they have been doing. And, a lot of kids CAN do that… Some kids you think, really??? Did you and I just experience the same thing? But the reflection piece I do think is really valuable (HS Final Interview, pp. 7-8).
Assessment activities can contribute to motivation by allowing students to show what they know and can do, helping students understand what they are working toward, and allowing them to reflect on their learning.
Summary of the impact of assessment on differentiation of instruction. Assessment and differentiation of instruction were inextricably intertwined in Ms. Stevens’ teaching.
Differentiated instruction resulted from her assessment practices, both when teaching in the moment and also in lesson planning. Assessment activities also provided opportunities for differentiation of instruction. Because of Ms. Stevens’ frequent and varied assessments, she was 14 Although Hailey did not mention Vygotsky, her teaching was in line with his theories. She told me that as a teacher, it was her job to “…provid[e] experiences and activities that are going to give each child what they need in a progression that is going to take them farther in their musical development.” (HS Think Aloud 2, p. 2).
able to separate musical abilities from academic or behavioral abilities for all students, including those with special needs. Assessments facilitated data-driven student-centered learning, in which various grouping strategies and sensitivity to varied learning and response styles were used to motivate and direct learning.
Emergent Themes In addition to information regarding the initial research questions for this study, a number of themes related to assessment and differentiated instruction emerged as a result of data analysis. Several facets of Hailey’s classroom climate facilitated her practice of assessment and differentiation, including her normalization of independent musicking and use of activities with multiple levels of response. Ms. Stevens’ beliefs regarding the nature of musicality and the process of music learning were also crucial to her classroom climate, use of assessments, and differentiation of instruction.