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your head what YOU want to come out of YOUR mouth. And not be distracted by everything else around you. I think that’s built in when they are building audiation…

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Developing skills in audiation was one way that Ms. Stevens built her students’ readiness for independent musicking.

Ms. Stevens used classroom management strategies and built readiness in order to normalize independent musicking. Ms. Stevens required students to be supportive of one another and cultivated an atmosphere in which mistakes were welcomed as a chance to learn.

Ms. Stevens also mitigated the risk of independent musicking by presenting the opportunity to experiment with new activities as a whole group and by demonstrating sample responses before students were required to musick alone. Normalizing independent musicking helped create an environment conducive to assessment and differentiation. Individual students were accustomed to singing, chanting, moving and playing by themselves as well as alongside other students.

Therefore, Ms. Stevens was able to plan multiple assessments of individual musicking on various tasks and levels of difficulty as a normal part of music class.

Structuring activities with multiple response levels. Ms. Stevens designed opportunities for individual musicking that were open-ended to allow multiple levels of appropriate response.

Some of these activities involved responses that were comfortably within the abilities of most, if not all of the students. However, differentiation of instruction was evident in activities that I categorized as “self-challenge” and “high-challenge.” In self-challenge activities, opportunities for individual musicking were structured to allow a myriad of “correct” responses that varied in level of difficulty or musical sophistication.

For example, when improvising over chord roots, a child could choose a “safe” answer, like singing the chord roots with a rhythmic variation, or a child could choose to sing a sophisticated improvised answer. Either response was “correct,” but each child responded at a different level based on factors such as personality and musical readiness.

I observed one example of a self-challenge activity when first grade students improvised rhythm patterns using neutral syllables on chord roots in mixolydian (HS Field Notes, 3/11 p. 3).

Hailey and I watched a video excerpt of this activity, in which several children responded by singing rhythm patterns on chord roots or making up non-patterned rhythms on the chord roots.

Some children simply sang the chord roots without any added rhythm, while other children chanted rhythms in a speaking voice during their turn. I asked Ms. Stevens what she thought about me labeling these as “self-challenge activities.” I think it is appropriate because [the students] are choosing what they are doing in response to what I am asking them to do. So they could just be doing the chord roots plain like we learned the first time… you mentioned how [some students] kind of stop using their singing voice? Even that to me is saying, “I am not ready to use my singing voice and make up rhythms at the same time… so I am just going to make up some rhythms in my chanting voice.” But that tells me that they are giving themselves what they need, because they can’t handle doing both at the same time (HS Think Aloud 2, p.


Ms. Stevens believed that, by offering activities with a variety of levels of correct response, not only could high achieving students challenge themselves, but students who needed remediation also could scaffold for themselves. In essence, these self-challenge activities constituted both assessment and differentiated instruction, allowing Ms. Stevens to simultaneously assess what her students knew and could do and challenge her students to work at their own level.

I asked about the strengths and weaknesses of self-challenge activities. Ms. Stevens

thought for a minute and replied:

Well, the pros, is that the kids who need to be pushed for some harder things can do that.

And most of the kids who are ready to be challenged, do it, because otherwise they are bored. Those are the kids that are sitting there kind of plotting what they are going to do to throw you off. To add that weird rhythm at the end… like if we are making up rhythms, they might end not on just a macrobeat. They might end with microbeats or divisions or something unusual. So, the pro is those kids can challenge themselves. Also I think the kids that aren’t ready for the harder things can regulate and take a step back and give themselves something easier to do. Cons… I guess you may have kids who maybe are a little bit lazy… you know there are some kids that are high [aptitude] but lazy, just in general, who might not push themselves. They might just take the easy way out, if they are not being asked to do something more difficult... I guess that’s a potential

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I asked if she had ever asked a child to change a response when she thought they were capable of more. Ms. Stevens said, I might not do it immediately. I might just address to the class—we could also do… like if we were making up a melody like third grade, if there was a kid I thought could do a melody but just did chord roots and some rhythms, I might say to the class “we can make up totally different songs, like this, or this or this!” [Demonstrating different responses].

Then I might go back to that child and say “Would you like to do another one and try to make it different or totally different?” I might do something like that… where I kind of

–  –  –

As a part of normalizing individual musicking, Ms. Stevens would not directly criticize any serious response, and I observed her make whole-class suggestions as she described (e.g., HS Field Notes, 2/25, p. 2). I also watched her on several occasions ask an individual child for a better response if he was being silly or goofing around (e.g., HS Field Notes 3/11, p. 2), or if she thought he was capable of more (e.g., HS Field Notes 2/23, p. 1).

In another clip, the first grade students chanted rhythm “conversations” in triple meter

with some “peepers” (a mini-puppet). Ms. Stevens described the students’ responses:

The default pattern for some students was [Figure 6.4]. So you can tell the kids who kind of fell back on this [safe answer], versus the kids, I think it was Megan that we watched, who came up with [Figure 6.5] which is a pattern that we have done in LSAs. She’s obviously retained that. And I think it was Jada that did something like [Figure 6.6], with an elongation… I just think that’s a cool indication of them individualizing their own performances. Like, they were all performing at levels that were, you know, where they

–  –  –

Figure 6.4 “Safe” answer Figure 6.

5 Megan’s response Figure 6.6 Jada’s response Ms. Stevens was able to assess the various levels of her students’ achievement in triple meter because they could differentiate their level of response: from those who wanted to be “safe” and use a known pattern (but were able to perform accurately), to those who appropriated a pattern from another context, to those who created their own unique response. “It was interesting to me that the sophistication of each child’s rhythm seemed indicative of their abilities. It was as if the students were individualizing their own instruction by creating something that was at their own level!” (HS Journal 3/4, p. 2). It seems that self-challenge activities combine assessment, opportunities for students to work on their own musicking, and differentiation as equal collaborators in a single activity.

In addition to structuring self-challenge activities and planning whole-group activities in which most students were likely to succeed, Ms. Stevens also provided “high-challenge activities.” In a high-challenge activity, the expected responses were difficult enough that only 10 to 20% of the students could approach “correctness,” and the remainder of the students simply absorbed the new information or were exposed to trying a new skill.

If I am doing average things most of the time, I am hitting that middle percentage of kids, but what about that 10-20% that really have high aptitude, [who] need a challenge? I can’t just let them be bored, and never have anything pushing them and helping them grow. So, I do intentionally choose those things [high-challenge activities], hoping that it will engage that high [aptitude] percentage of students. And everyone else just kind of comes along for the ride. And sometimes they surprise you. Sometimes when you pick those really challenging things, you’ll have students that you didn’t think could do it, but they do, and you think: “Wow I never realized that that kid had that potential, and I wouldn’t have, had I not done this activity” (HS Think Aloud 2, p. 4).

By offering her students high-challenge activities, Ms. Stevens not only provided for the music learning of students she knew to have high aptitude and/or high achievement, but also for other students who surprised her by showing that they were ready.

I observed one high challenge activity in which third-grade students associated solfege to patterns Ms. Stevens sang on neutral syllables and they sang them back to her (HS Field Notes, 2/11, p. 2-3). The students had been given a few chances to try out this new skill as a group, and then Ms. Stevens asked for individual responses. According to my estimate, about a quarter of the responses were correct. However, perhaps due to Ms. Stevens’ established definition of mistakes as learning opportunities, which she reiterated in the course of this activity, or because of her playful demeanor (she said she was trying to “trick” them), I did not observe signs of anxiety or withdrawal. In fact, many students seemed to enjoy the challenge, greeting it with twinkling eyes focused on Ms. Stevens in anticipation of a turn. I asked Ms. Stevens if she

worried that students would be turned off by this type of challenge:

HS: I just can’t understand that. They LOVE it. When you have them engaged, and they are motivated to learn, they love to have those challenges thrown in… KS: Even if they are not necessarily successful right away?

HS: Right! And I think it goes back to establishing that environment of exploration, everybody participates, we all do it alone, if you mess up who cares, and I think that’s another piece of that. If they are not afraid to get it wrong, or to not know the answer, it’s a lot more fun to figure out what the answer is (HS Think Aloud 1, p. 11-12).

In Ms. Stevens’ teaching, the classroom environment in which individual musicking is normalized through management and readiness also allows students the freedom to try challenging material.

Ms. Stevens also seemed to enjoy keeping students “on their toes” by creating cognitive dissonance—occasionally tossing in an example they had not yet encountered or that could not be described by their vocabulary. One day in LSAs, third grade students were identifying whether a pattern was duple or triple (HS Field Notes 3/18, p. 1). Perhaps because this was an either/or choice, or because it was not difficult for most students, some were not as engaged as they were on other occasions. Noticing this, Hailey improvised a pattern in 5/8. I saw a wave of backs straightening as the students registered something different, regained their eye twinkles, and said “huh?” KS: You also threw them a curve ball and gave them an unusual paired pattern… and they respond really well to your curve balls, I think… HS: They are used to it now. [laughs] They know me. They know if they are getting it, I am not just going to give them the same thing. They know I’m gonna find some way to

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In Ms. Stevens’ classroom, high-challenge activities seemed to function as a motivator for the students, rather than creating anxiety or withdrawal.

Between the end of our observation period and the final interview, Ms. Stevens was pinkslipped due to budget problems in her district. Because she was facing the possibility of not returning to her students, she decided to try new things—to really push her kids, and they surprised her with their abilities (personal email communication, 4/2/2010). I asked her to

describe this experience:

[The students surprised me] in various ways, for example in fourth grade, we had sung in three-part harmony… with each group singing different chord tones. So I thought, why not have some fun, a lot of my fourth grade girls love Justin Bieber so we took that Justin Bieber song, “Baby,” and we… I forget the progression… it’s like I, vi, IV, V maybe?

And we did that same kind of thing, but we totally extended it to these new types of chords and we learned about submediant, and they could do it. If I had never pushed them to do that, I wouldn’t have known they could do it. And then we went to another song that’s out and popular right now… It’s got another weird funky progression that uses I, IV, vi and V. And they could totally do it, in three parts, by themselves.

Another example is just… with little kids, pushing them more to do more creating and improvising. I added some more tonal pattern conversation stuff in mixolydian with the first graders, and they could totally do it. Improvise patterns in mixolydian, who knew? [In another activity, w]e were doing this little chant that had a part in duple and a part in triple and then moving around the room in two different ways to the two different parts. So I said, OK, let’s see if they can generalize can we change it to buhs, and do the chant with buh buhs and see if they know when to move, and they did. And I thought, OK, this time I am going to improvise in duple or in triple on neutral syllables and see if they can tell whether they should move in the duple or triple way. We didn’t talk about duple or triple, but they could sense it, and they could do it. That’s something I wouldn’t have done until third grade, and here, all along, first graders could have been doing it (HS

–  –  –

I asked about why she had never tried these types of activities at these levels before, and Ms.

Stevens replied:

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