«INDIVIDUALIZING ELEMENTARY GENERAL MUSIC INSTRUCTION: CASE STUDIES OF ASSESSMENT AND DIFFERENTIATION By Karen Salvador A DISSERTATION Submitted to ...»
Environment conducive to assessment and differentiation. Ms. Stevens’ classroom environment included multiple features that facilitated assessment and differentiation of instruction. The clear goal of music class was to help individual students progress musically. In order to meet this goal, Hailey used a combination of classroom management strategies and building readiness in order to normalize independent musicking. Most importantly, assessment and differentiation were achieved by structuring activities with multiple response levels, including self-challenge activities and high-challenge activities.
Purpose of music class. Hailey was unequivocal about her purpose as an elementary
I view my job as to help [students] learn [music] by setting up an appropriate environment, by guiding them and providing 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. I don’t see myself as someone who is just imparting knowledge onto the kids. I don’t see myself as just being there to entertain them or babysit. So we are making progress towards goals. And I help them do that by guiding and providing appropriate experiences (HS Think Aloud 2, p. 2).
This purpose was reflected in Ms. Stevens’ expectations for participation. On one occasion, a class seemed disengaged and lethargic and she compared their participation in music with participation in spelling. “If the class is taking spelling tests, that’s what you do, ‘cause that’s your job. And when you are in music class, we do music. That’s what you do, because that’s your job” (HS Field Notes 3/16, p. 1). According to my observations, conversations like this were unusual, because students typically appeared alert and interested during class, and Hailey could usually engage students in musicking by playing, teasing, laughing, and encouraging.
However, this discussion was one example of Ms. Stevens’ communication with her students regarding her ideas about the purpose of music education; namely that everyone would try, learn and progress.
I asked Ms. Stevens about requiring music participation from students for whom music was not a preferred subject, and she answered, “Not everybody wants to do spelling, not everyone wants to be there for math! It’s something that everyone can and should learn, so why shouldn’t they?” (HS Final Interview, p. 4). I responded, “So, you would push the kids who
don’t want to be [in music class]?” And Hailey replied:
I would, but also… I am not saying you would do it in a forceful way. There are ways that you can bring those students on board with you and make them want to learn—by building relationships, and making connections, maybe connecting to music they listen to, or something that they do in the home. I am not saying that it has to be a forceful “you are GOING to do this.” It can be more of a drawing them in sort of approach, and meeting them where their needs and interests are. (HS Final Interview, p. 4).
This exchange accurately depicts my observations of Ms. Steven’s teaching regarding the purpose of music instruction. Every child was expected to participate and progress but was never coerced or demeaned. Instead, Hailey encouraged participation through fun activities, a playful attitude, and constant reminders that learning music, like any other subject, is something that requires perseverance.
Ms. Stevens balanced fun and work within a classroom atmosphere that was clearly focused on each student’s music learning progress. In our final interview, I described my overall impression of Hailey’s teaching persona (HS Final Interview, p. 10). Hailey was warm and playful toward students: smiling, energetic, genuine, and encouraging. Music classes involved a large amount of play and were conducted in a generally joyful atmosphere. At the same time, it was crystal clear that the kids were there to learn music—not to just enjoy it, or to be passive
consumers, but to actively engage as musicians. Ms. Stevens responded:
Good… because that’s my focus… Maybe this is bad of me—I never plan anything just thinking what’s going to be fun. It is always what should they be learning next, what COULD they be learning next… and THEN how could I make it fun (HS Final
All of the playful, exciting activities the children in Ms. Stevens’ room had come to expect were planned with their music learning needs as the primary goal and fun as an intended, but secondary quality. “[M]y first purpose is to help them learn, and learn something of substance.
And if I can make it fun, cool!” (Final Interview, p. 10). This approach to balancing musical progress with fun appeared similar to the teaching style one would expect from an excellent elementary classroom teacher.
Ms. Stevens’ thoughts on the purpose of school music education contributed to an environment conducive to assessment and differentiation. Hailey frequently articulated her thoughts regarding the purpose of music education in class, and her students knew that they were expected to learn and progress in music (e.g., HS Field Notes 2/25, p. 3). Students were reminded that, just as in other subjects, some would have to work harder than others, and some might be more advanced than others, but that every student was expected to participate, put forth effort, learn, and grow (e.g., HS Field Notes 3/25, p. 1). Perhaps because of this, Ms. Stevens’ keeping track of her students’ progress [assessment] seemed as natural for her students as a classroom teacher keeping track of their progress in math. The fact that some students would offer more or less sophisticated responses, or that Ms. Stevens would offer challenges or remediation to individual students [differentiation], were also natural outgrowths of her stance on the purpose of music education.
Normalizing independent musicking. Ms. Stevens’ teaching was characterized by normalizing independent musicking behaviors, such as singing, chanting, movement, and instrument play. The most obvious examples of independent musicking were the myriad opportunities for individual sung, chanted, or played responses already described in this chapter.
In addition, Ms. Stevens rarely sang with students, so they demonstrated independent musicking as they assumed leadership of singing in unison and in parts.
It is when I STOP singing that the students truly accept the responsibility for the singing.
This is where some students really step up and become leaders for their classmates, and they can all take ownership of the singing, as well as modeling appropriate behavior. If I sing with them, they typically back off in their singing for whatever reason (HS Journal
Independent musicking also was evident when students responded in chorus with their own musical answers. For example, Hailey sang a Major pattern that was either tonic or dominant (HS Field Notes 3/2, p. 1). Individual third grade students decided if her pattern was dominant or tonic and created a different pattern of the same variety in their heads. If Hailey gestured to an individual, he would sing his pattern alone. If Hailey gestured to the class, they all sang their response at the same time, resulting in a harmonic pastiche of tonic or dominant. Opportunities such as individuals responding with their own answers in chorus might be called “individual musicking alongside other students.” Independent musicking alongside others allowed students to try out their own ideas within the group and strengthened independent musicking skills by requiring students to “hold their own.” My observations indicated that during every class Ms. Stevens taught, individual students responded alone, singing, chanting, playing, and moving. In addition, in every class I observed, the students led unison singing and sometimes part-singing, and students often would musick individually alongside one another. Hailey stated that she normalized independent musicking with two main approaches: Classroom management and building readiness.
One is just creating that culture of: “We are all supportive and we are all respectful, and everyone is going to take turns, and it’s not a big deal…” so that you can get to individual responses. And I think also, building that expectation that everyone CAN do this. So that all students feel empowered and they feel like they CAN achieve. It just might take some students longer than others, some students might succeed at a different level. But everyone CAN do it. I think those are two important things (HS Final Interview, p. 3).
Ms. Stevens used classroom management strategies to create a culture in which individual musicking was safe, expected, and normal. I observed a class of third graders singing solo improvisations on neutral syllables while the rest of the class quietly hummed chord roots (HS Field Notes 2/25, p. 2; 3/4 p. 2; 3/9 p. 1). All of the students took at least one turn, and I was surprised to note that the majority wanted additional chances to improvise. I asked Ms.
Stevens how she accomplished this level of personal risk taking. She replied:
Well… I think it goes back to, you set that environment from the very first days that you have them, that we all participate, we all take turns, you don’t have to be afraid to make mistakes, if we do make mistakes, no one is going to laugh… there’s not going to be teasing… it’s ok to just give it a try… and then over time, I think a lot of them feel empowered to be able to do the stuff like improvising (HS Think Aloud 1, p. 5) From the first days of kindergarten, Hailey established expectations that (1) everyone would participate, (2) everyone would be supportive of one another’s efforts, and (3) that you don’t always have to do it “correctly” (HS Think Aloud 1, p. 2; HS Think Aloud 1, p. 7).
If a kid does mess up, we just go, “Oh, no big deal. Let’s give it another try. I mess up all the time. We make mistakes, that’s how we learn.” I hope that I can establish an environment like that, where we don’t have to worry so much about putting kids on the
Ms. Stevens coached students toward waiting and listening quietly to other students’ performances, and celebrating one another’s successes (e.g., HS Field Notes 3/2, p.4). Any behavior that was not supportive and respectful was dealt with immediately through redirection or a time-out (e.g., HS Field Notes 3/11, p. 2). When intervening to manage behavior, Ms.
Stevens was not punitive. Instead, she was likely to remind students that their job at school was to learn, and part of that job included creating an environment in which other students also could learn.
I think that goes back to the empathy idea like with Love and Logic® [a popular approach to parenting and classroom discipline]. Expressing to the kids it is not me against you, I am trying to help you learn by putting you here [move to sit by another student]. Or, by asking you to go here [time out], that is going to help you learn, and that
Before students were expected to sing, chant, play, or move alone, they had the opportunity to try out similar material as a group (HS Think Aloud 2, p. 4). When she wanted individual responses in a new activity, Ms. Stevens would often start with students she knew felt confident and whom she thought would be successful (HS Think Aloud 1, p. 1), and she often provided examples that students could use to guide their musicking (HS Think Aloud 1, p. 4). Moreover, most activities in which students musicked alone were structured as games, individual answers were brief, and fun was the focus.
Ms. Stevens also worked to build musical readiness as a way to reduce the risk of independent musicking. For example, in third grade, Hailey was preparing students for an activity in which pairs of students would compose a song using tonic and dominant harmonies in
minor (Final Interview, p. 2). They practiced the compositional process as a whole group:
children tried out phrases of music by singing independently alongside one another, sang their ideas to another child, and then raised their hand to volunteer to singing an idea to the group (HS Field Notes 3/ 23, p. 1). Ms. Stevens then demonstrated her process of turning those sounds into notation, so that students would have a model for their work in pairs and small groups.
I asked Ms. Stevens if there were assessment activities that influenced her thinking regarding if the students were ready to engage in this kind of compositional activity. She
I think so… the majority of the tonal things we have been doing up until this point, listening to them sing alone… Are they singing in tune? Can they sing a tonic and a dominant pattern in minor in tune? Can they sing chord roots alone in minor? Which, you know, is building their harmonic sense… So I think all of those things go into knowing if they can do this. Little things like improvising tonal patterns… (HS Think
Before Ms. Stevens asked a student to take the risk of independent musicking, she used assessments to be sure that the skill set required for the activity was in place. She also supported students’ various levels of readiness by building scaffolding into some activities. For example, when the children were songwriting in pairs, Ms. Stevens planned to provide the poem so the children would have a rhythm and prosody to inspire their musicking and guide their collaboration (HS Think Aloud 2, p. 8).
“Audiation ” was important in Ms. Stevens’ concept of readiness. She wanted her students to internalize the music in a cognizant way, so that they could manipulate musical
material in their heads and so that they could sing their own ideas alongside others:
Even that I try to build in from a young age… in first grade, we’ll do tonal patterns where I’ll sing a pattern, they will audiate theirs, and then as a group they all sing their different pattern together. So, that is a readiness for this, even though it is on a smaller scale… What makes it hard to all respond at the same time is, you really have to be hearing in 15 “Hearing and comprehending in one’s mind the sound of music that is not, or may never have been physically present” (Gordon, 2007 p. 399).