«INDIVIDUALIZING ELEMENTARY GENERAL MUSIC INSTRUCTION: CASE STUDIES OF ASSESSMENT AND DIFFERENTIATION By Karen Salvador A DISSERTATION Submitted to ...»
Part of it is I like things to be sequential. And I like to really build in step by step the process… So, part of it was not wanting to short-circuit that process—to spread it out over time. I also think part of it, too, was just thinking: “they can’t do that, it’s too hard for them” (HS Final Interview, p. 1).
Possible drawbacks of highly teacher-directed and sequential music instruction include the assumptions that learning sequences discerned in research on groups of children would necessarily apply to each individual child, and that the teacher knows exactly what her students need and in what order. High challenge activities not only allowed students with high aptitude to be challenged, and students with the required readiness to expand their abilities, but they also allowed Ms. Stevens to be amazed by the capabilities of her students. Strict adherence to sequential presentation of musical material may actually have held some students back.
According to my field notes, most of the time in music class, Ms. Stevens’ students were engaged in active musicking. Non-musicking moments I observed included some direct instruction, some discussion of appropriate behavior, and two written assessments. At the third grade level, about 50% of musicking activities targeted a medium difficulty level at which most students could successfully respond. Many of these activities were whole-group (e.g., folk dances or singing), and some included solo responses with answers that were right/wrong or an
echo of the prompt. Perhaps 30 to 40% of activities involved some element of self-challenge:
individual response within the group or alone, with innumerable possibilities for “rightness.” The remaining 10 to 20% of activities were high-challenge. In first grade, perhaps due to the developmental and musical readiness of students, more of the activities were medium difficulty—perhaps 70%, with about 15 to 20% self-challenge and 10 to 5% high challenge.
In self-challenge activities, students could practice at their own level and simultaneously allow Ms. Stevens to assess their performance. Structuring an activity with innumerable “correct” responses allowed each student to respond at his or her level and be “right.” Ms.
Stevens also differentiated instruction during self-challenge activities by asking for more from students she knew were capable, and by praising progress at each student’s level. Highchallenge activities allowed assessment of more advanced skills, differentiation of instruction for those students in need of challenges, and opportunities for learning and experimenting with new skills. Use of these open-response activities was integral to Ms. Stevens’ practice of assessment and differentiation.
Summary of environment conducive to assessment and differentiation. The environment Ms. Stevens created through her teaching practices fostered assessment and differentiated instruction. Hailey consistently reiterated her view that all her students could progress musically and that the purpose of music class was for all students to learn music. To that end, Ms. Stevens made independent musicking normal, both through classroom management strategies that reduced personal risk and also by building readiness before students were required to respond individually. Structuring activities with multiple response levels, including selfchallenge activities and high-challenge activities, both facilitated assessment and constituted differentiation of instruction.
Overarching impact of teacher beliefs. Although I did not intend to discuss methodology and philosophy in this dissertation (see “Delimitations,” Chapter 1), Ms. Stevens’ frequent discussion of her strong methodological and philosophical stances and their direct impact on her practice of assessment and differentiated instruction seem to demand that I do so.
[I] belie[ve] that anyone can learn music, anyone can be good at music. I don’t really think it is something that is a talent where some of us may be able to be good at music and some of us not. Some might have more success, or easier success, in music depending on aptitude, but I believe everyone can do it, and everyone is there to learn it, so everyone should be trying. And I think knowing that everyone can do it makes it… the kids understand that everyone is expected to do it and participate. So when I am trying to differentiate instruction and give each student individual attention based on what they need, I think it is just understood that they give that response, individually (HS Think
In our final interview, I asked about what factors contributed to Ms. Stevens’ self-motivation to
track individual progress. She replied:
Well, it’s funny, before you said “not necessarily philosophically,” but I think that [philosophy] is a big piece that goes into it. Because, for me, having an MLT [Music Learning Theory] background, and looking at students’ individual needs, and not looking at music as a talent, but as something that everyone can do, and everyone can succeed at... I think then enables me, or makes me want to track all of their individual progress, and to help them all achieve to the level [of their] potential… (HS Final Interview, pp. 3Many of Ms. Stevens’ instructional decisions, including required participation, structured activities with a variety of response styles and levels of difficulty, constant assessment, and differentiated instruction, resulted from her belief that all children could (and should) learn music.
If we just say, “I don’t need to assess you, because it’s OK, honey…you can’t really get it anyway.” I guess that stems from my belief that… I don’t believe that music is a talent that some people have and some people don’t. I truly believe it’s an intelligence, and it’s a skill that anyone can achieve at. Maybe not all at the same level or with the same amount of work. Some of us might really have to work at it. But everyone can achieve (HS Initial Interview, p. 10-11).
Although she acknowledged different innate capacities for learning music (which she called “aptitudes,” HS Initial Interview, p. 1), Ms. Stevens did not believe that music is a talent given only to the few. When I asked about concerns that a child would give up on music because of
being required to participate in singing, Hailey replied:
Anyone can learn to sing. Anyone can be musical. So I guess, I look at it as: everyone can do it. And I try to convey that to my students. You can do this. Some of us might need more time and more help. So, I find that my students don’t feel that way [like giving up]. Because they know that everyone can achieve the things that I am teaching… (HS
She responded similarly to my question about grading a student’s musical achievement and the
possibility of a child giving up on music as a result of a poor grade, adding:
I think a lot of parents think, “Can my kid really do this? Are all kids really going to be expected to do this?” So I think when you grade them all the same [i.e., give all “proficient” or “satisfactory” grades] it perpetuates that view… You know, whereas, if it comes out in your assessment that you do use those different categories, then yes, every kid truly is achieving at different levels, but yet everyone can achieve (HS Final
Ms. Stevens felt that her constant reassurances that music was something that everyone could learn and her requirement that students participate in music class led to better music learning from her students rather than to students withdrawing from music (HS Think Aloud 2, p. 1).
Perhaps the strength and frequency of Ms. Stevens’ methodological and philosophical discourse was influenced by her recent thesis research regarding the impact of teacher beliefs on instructional practices (HS Final Interview, p. 12). Hailey described her view that some teachers seem to believe that music is NOT for everybody and that to be a musician requires talent. She
even supplied an excerpt from her thesis to supplement one of her journal entries:
…[T]here are cultural influences that might make children think that you have to be “professional” to be good at music or have to be perfect to good at music. A good example of this is American Idol, where performers are criticized and it is “cool” to make fun of the people who are “bad.” Also, I think it is true that our culture defines “musician” as someone who is a professional or is extremely talented, so it would come as no surprise that eight-year-olds don’t think they are musicians or are good at music.
As an example of this, [here] is an excerpt from my thesis. This is a middle school band
teacher answering the question “What is a musician”:
In Scott’s view the term “musician” refers to someone who devotes considerable time and effort to music and practicing. “Being a musician, I think, takes a lot of training and exercise and work.” Scott’s definition of the word musician implies what is thought of as a professional musician. “I think a musician is more of a person that kind of, that’s what they do for their life.... They do it for a living. They’re good at it.” This belief is also evident when Scott describes his own students. “I don’t really consider them musicians..
.. I think that most of them are too young to be considered ‘a musician’.” Scott also considers a “musician” to be someone who has a special talent for music. “I think musician kind of already says you’re good at music. You’re musical.” Scott’s words suggest that he believes that music is a talent which some people have and others don’t.
When discussing his students in terms of being musicians, Scott states, “the students are here to learn how to be a musician, and eventually that will come if they have that innate talent.” Scott believes that the potential to be a musician is not something that everyone possesses. “Some people can’t be quote-unquote ‘a musician’ because they might not
Sad, huh???? (HS Journal 3/16, p. 2-3, underlining added, italics excerpt from her thesis).
Ms. Stevens’ practice of assessment and differentiated instruction stemmed directly from her philosophical beliefs regarding universal musicality, which were in part influenced by her methodological background in Music Learning Theory. Because of my hesitance to discuss philosophy and methodology in this document, I did not introduce these topics. However, as they emerged in interviews and journals, I did ask clarifying questions. Hailey’s fervent belief that all of her students could and should learn music was evident in each of our interviews, in her journals, and in my field notes. Furthermore, the influence of her philosophical and methodological stances could not be separated from her teaching or her participation in this research without compromising the veracity of my report. Discussion of Ms. Stevens’ instructional practices, and specifically of assessment and differentiation in her teaching, would not be complete without at least this brief description of her philosophical and methodological perspectives.
Chapter Summary Hailey Stevens believed that every person is musical, and that it was her job as a public school music teacher to help each student learn music. Each student brought different aptitudes and experiences into the classroom, and Ms. Stevens saw herself as a facilitator who provided appropriate activities to guide the sequential music learning of each student. Because of this, Hailey required students to participate in music and engaged in frequent assessment and differentiated instruction. One possible weakness to Ms. Stevens’ primarily teacher-directed approach to music teaching and learning was that it was predicated on the assumption that Hailey knows what is best for students to learn in music and in what sequence they should proceed. Her use of high challenge and self challenge activities may have mitigated this weakness.
Ms. Stevens used report cards, aptitude tests, Learning Sequence Activities, embedded assessments, and occasional written quizzes to track individual music learning. Of these, LSAs and embedded assessments were the most frequently used, occurring in every lesson. These assessments required individual musicking responses and functioned both as a way to measure progress and as a way to differentiate instruction. They were typically rated either using tally marks (LSAs) or using four-point rating scales (embedded assessments).
It was difficult to describe the impact of assessment practices on differentiation of instruction, because they seemed inextricably intertwined. Any time a student responded individually in class (and opportunities were frequent) it seemed to constitute both an assessment (since Ms. Stevens rated responses in her records) and also differentiated instruction (either because Ms. Stevens varied the difficulty level according to the child’s prior achievement or because the child could select his own level of challenge). The frequency of assessment activities, nature of Ms. Stevens’ instruction, and use of aptitude tests seemed to allow her to separate musical abilities from academic capabilities and behavioral challenges. Ms. Stevens’ teaching artfully balanced nearly omnipresent musicking, assessment, and differentiated instruction in a fun, supportive environment.
The purpose of this dissertation was to explore the relationship between assessment and differentiated instruction in elementary general music. To that end, I have presented case studies detailing the assessment and differentiation practices of three public school elementary general music teachers: Danielle Wheeler (Chapter 4); Carrie Davis (Chapter 5) and Hailey Stevens (Chapter 6). In each case study I first answered each of my guiding research questions: (1) When and how did the participants assess musical skills and behaviors? (2) How did participants score or keep track of what students knew and could do in music? And (3) What was the impact of assessment on differentiation of instruction? Then, I described themes related to assessment and differentiation that emerged from my data analysis. Carrie Davis’s data required a different analytical approach (see Chapter 5).