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This body percussion is quite challenging for some children, others are already fluent in their performances. The teacher has students take over singing the song while she sings chord roots and they play the body percussion game with a few different partners. The tempo creeps up as the students laugh, move and sing.

As the students return to their spots sitting in a circle on the floor, the teacher establishes tonality in Aeolian using solfege, and one of the students hears that saying sol instead of si is different, and asks about it. The teacher says she will call it minor tonality for now, but that soon they will learn more about it. She praises the student’s discriminating ears, and the student glows. Based on a song the children know well, the teacher demonstrates several options for melodic improvisations over chord roots, and then asks if any students feel ready to give it a try.

Ellen volunteers to go first, and as the rest of the class hums chord roots, she improvises a melody that fits the chord changes and is different from the prompt song.

Several other students take turns to improvise, and the teacher rates their performances

in her PDA using a four-point rating scale:

4=stayed within tonality/meter and fit over the chord roots, 3=stayed within tonality/meter and fit over chord roots most of the time, 2=in singing voice but not in the context of tonality/meter, 1=able to create something but not in singing voice.

She also made a note of students who simply sing the familiar song.

For her turn, Rachel sang the chord roots with a rhythmic pattern. Another girl said, “Hers sounds like [sings] ‘one bottle of pop, two bottle of pop, three bottle of pop, four bottle of pop!’” This was a pattern that the students had previously learned to accompany the song Don’t chuck your muck in my dustbin. Without missing a beat, the teacher has half the class sing that song in minor and while the other half sang the chord roots they had been using for the improvisation. When I asked her later, she confirmed that the class had learned that song in Major, so I found it interesting that they could sing

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the door. The teacher is late to pick up her class. Some kids in line practice the body percussion to A Ram Sam Sam, another student asks about tonal patterns that are notated on the board, and someone else asks about a new instrument on the shelf (a gankogui). The teacher picks it up and plays a rhythm on it so the students can hear what it sounds like. Without “missing a beat” one of the students chants the pattern back on rhythmic solfege. This leads to a game in which the teacher plays rhythms and the students associate solfege--ending with a rhythm that was difficult enough that I am not sure I associated the correct syllables. As usual when the teacher “tricked” them, students laughed and created a jumbled mash of made-up solfege to attempt the

–  –  –

During this class period, the teacher’s third grade students sang, moved, and played instruments.

Students musicked individually alongside one another in the warm-up, whole class responses for LSAs, and recorder warm-up, and they responded individually during LSAs, playing B sections on their recorders, and while improvising over chord roots. The teacher gathered data on all three of those performances. Students were musicking for nearly every moment of class time,

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high-challenge and self-challenge.

Group work strategies for differentiation in music class. Although each participant in this study primarily employed a whole-group approach to teaching, they also each utilized some group work during the observation period or spoke at length about an upcoming group project.

Ms. Wheeler used centers with her kindergarten students, and her fourth-grade recorder students practiced and performed music in duets and trios. Ms. Davis’s third grades primarily worked in cooperative groups during the observation period, and she described centers she had used in the past with fourth grade students. Ms. Stevens did not use group work in the classes I observed, but she mentioned ongoing group work in other grades, and I saw her preparing her third grade students for an upcoming composition project they would undertake in groups of two or three students. Across cases, participants’ group work consisted of use of centers, praxial group work, and creative group work, and they used various grouping practices.

Use of centers. Ms. Wheeler and Ms. Davis both used centers both as a way to facilitate assessment of music learning and also to differentiate instruction. Ms. Stevens did not use centers in the classes I observed and also did not mention using centers, but I did not specifically ask whether she incorporated them into her instruction. Ms. Wheeler used centers in her kindergarten class as a way to assess individual students, and differentiation of instruction was a 18 In this fictionalized vignette, I assumed students had previous experience with these types of activities. Each participant built routines and expectations to facilitate use of activities like these.

Elliot’s praxial philosophy of music education advocates that “music making--of all kinds-should be at the center of the music curriculum” (Elliot, 1995) and that the praxis of making music (“combined with the rich kind of music listening required to make music well”) is the best way to learn music. Therefore, I am using the term “praxial group work” to describe group work in which students work together to prepare (and improve through listening, discussion, and practice) an existing piece of music.

secondary benefit to this classroom structure. She called small groups of students to the required assessment centers, but other centers were free choice. Students visited some or all of the centers, for varying lengths of time, alone or in groups. Some children stayed with their friends for all of centers time, moving together from station to station, and others freely joined in ad hoc partnerships and groupings with other students who happened to be at the same center. Children interacted with one another in ways that seemed to foster music learning, including acting as teachers and students, singing and reading together, and having rhythmic conversations on instruments. A few children chose to interact with the materials at the centers by themselves.

Ms. Davis reported using centers as a way to facilitate assessment of music learning with her fourth grade students. Student-chosen groups of three or four students rotated to each of the centers in order, including the center where Carrie assessed recorder playing. These examples indicate that use of centers may be an efficient way to assess music learning and differentiate instruction for students in both upper and lower elementary grades. The choice of free-form groupings at optional centers or more formal rotations through centers with student- (or teacher-) selected groups could depend on the age level of the students, the students’ familiarity with centers-based instruction, and the goals of the music teacher (e.g., exploration of musical materials, student choice based on personal interests, specific learning goals at each center).

A search of the literature revealed several studies and articles related to centers-based music instruction. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences provided the theoretical framework for Bernard’s (2005) implementation of centers in her elementary general music room. Walsh (1995) utilized centers-based instrumental music instruction for elementary music students. Both of these studies were action research master’s degree theses, and they described the centers themselves, implementation procedures, and student reactions. They did not discuss assessment of student learning or the effects of centers on individual music learning.

Differentiation of instruction was inherent in the design of each study, but was not measured or analyzed. These studies focused on practical application/implementation rather than critical evaluation. In an editorial article, Pontiff (2004) advocated changing the format of the classroom by using centers as a way to successfully integrate students with special needs in elementary general music classrooms. Several other research studies have included use of centers, but not as the object of study. For example, Nelson (2007) used centers-based instruction in her investigation of the use of technology and composition to develop musicianship.

Praxial group work. Ms. Wheeler’s fourth-grade students engaged in what I defined above as “praxial group work.” In groups of two or three, students selected pieces of music to prepare on their recorders (in unison or parts) and then performed them for an adult. The music that groups could choose was listed on the board, ranked in order of difficulty, and encompassed a wide swath of difficulty levels. Danielle allowed students to select their own partners or trios, with the exception of ensuring that the student with ASD worked with his “LINKS” partners.

Praxial group work involved: group selection of a piece to work on; negotiation of playing in unison or parts (and if they were playing in parts, who would play which part and what kind of harmony they would use); rehearsal of the music, including discussion of how to improve performance and peer coaching; and then presentation of a completed performance product to an audience (teacher) with constructive feedback.

Although the students were constrained by a list of songs and required to play recorders (rather than other instruments or combinations of instruments), this style of music learning is similar to the informal music-learning model that Lucy Greene has described in her research on non-school music groups such as garage bands (e.g., Greene, 2008). It is also similar to the ways that children teach one another music on the playground (Campbell, 2010). This kind of praxial group work has been studied in secondary instrumental settings, where it usually takes the form of chamber music ensembles (e.g., Allsup, 2003; Larson, 2010). In addition to working on instrumental material, perhaps praxial group work would also be effective if students worked on sung material or could use a combination of instruments and voices.

Creative group work. Ms. Davis and Ms. Stevens utilized creative group work projects, in which small groups of 2 to 4 students worked collaboratively to create music and other material such as dances and dramatic scripts. In Ms. Davis’s case, groups were student-chosen and varied for different tasks. That is, students had a scriptwriting group that met several times, but when they created melodic material for jingles it was in a different group, which was different from their performance group, and so on. The only assigned groupings were performance groups, which were chosen by lottery. Students ranked their first, second and third choices for parts, and then Ms. Davis randomly drew names. When a child’s name was drawn, he was assigned to his first choice if it was still available, and, if it was not, he was assigned to his second choice if it was available, etc.

Ms. Stevens assigned groups of two or three students for their composition project, and students worked in these groups for parts of several music classes. When assigning the groups, Hailey considered both behavior and musicality. She wanted to ensure that each pair or trio had a stronger musician who could provide leadership, and she paired particularly strong students with students who really struggled to encourage peer coaching. Ms. Stevens also tried to ensure that the partnerships and trios consisted of children who would work well together without excessive socializing or other off-task behavior.

Composition tasks undertaken in small groups varied. Ms. Davis’s students wrote scripts, choreographed, created sound banks, wrote raps, and composed jingles. The compositional products varied from exploratory improvisation to fairly polished, replicable pieces. Within this spectrum, levels of sophistication also varied, from some groups who produced clever, catchy materials to others who barely completed the task. Based on the variety of processes and products, it seems clear that these group projects necessarily included some differentiation and resulted in the opportunity for assessment.

Ms. Stevens’ group composition project was more constrained, as the third grade class composed their own “Carnival of the Animals” (after Saint-Saens). She provided each group a stimulus poem, which students set to music using q-chords as accompaniment. The final product songs were performed as movements of the class’s “Carnival of the Animals” and recorded on CDs for the students to take home. Use of teacher-assigned heterogeneous groupings ensured differentiation through peer tutelage, and the resultant songs were an assessable product.

Researchers (e.g., Phelps, 2008; Strand, 2006) have undertaken surveys that indicate small-group composition projects are used in elementary school settings. Phelps (2008) found that some teachers used small-group composition projects to meet the national standard regarding composition, but that such activities happened infrequently. Other researchers have investigated small-group composition activities in elementary classroom contexts, but most of these studies focused on the compositional process (see Beegle, 2010), notated product (e.g., invented notation: Ilari, 2002), or on social processes and outcomes (e.g., Cornacchio, 2008) rather than how learning was assessed or how group work resulted in differentiated instruction.

Christensen (1992) concluded not only that group composition projects provided an excellent framework for assessment of musical thinking, but also that the nature of group work provided differentiation of instruction, an opinion shared by Freed-Garrod (1999).

Analysis of grouping strategies. Flexible grouping strategies were described as one of the hallmarks of successful differentiation in elementary classroom instruction (e.g., Roberts & Inman, 2007; Tomlinson, 2000). According to Tomlinson, groups could be homogeneous by ability, mixed-ability, grouped homogeneously or heterogeneously by learning styles or expressive styles, cooperative learning groups, teacher-assigned, student-chosen, or random.

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