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However, perhaps due to the heuristic nature of this study, its results imply that the relationship of assessment data to differentiation of instruction is not as direct and simple as I had first imagined. My guiding question assumed I would find examples of differentiated instruction resulting directly from specific assessment practices in a linear fashion. While I did see some examples of such practices, the results of this study were much more complicated.

Assessment and differentiation were interwoven richly, informing one another in a reciprocal as well as linear and spiral relationship.

Emergent Themes.

This cross-case analysis has revealed a number of similar and a few divergent practices among the participants with regard to my guiding questions about assessment and differentiated instruction. One emergent theme across cases indicated that participants also shared a number of personal and institutional factors that facilitated assessment and differentiation. Finding additional emergent themes across cases was challenging, mostly due to the nature of the differences among participants. While striving to remain tightly within the scope of this research topic, I have nevertheless concluded that philosophical differences among the participants had a direct influence on their practice of assessment and differentiation, specifically with regard to the amount of structure in their classrooms. Although discussion of the underlying philosophical beliefs that lead to these differences is outside the scope of this paper, I will briefly discuss the impact of instructional style on assessment and differentiation.

Factors facilitating assessment and differentiation. Participants in the current study came from different generations, attended different undergraduate and graduate degree programs (representing a total of five colleges/universities), and taught in similar settings but in dissimilar parts of Michigan. Despite the differences among their school districts in terms of political, religious, socioeconomic, and other factors, several organizational factors that facilitated assessment and differentiation emerged during data analysis. The participants also exhibited diverse personalities and communication styles. However, they shared personal characteristics that facilitated assessment and differentiation.

Organizational factors that facilitated assessment and differentiation. The schools in which participant teachers worked shared several organizational factors that facilitated their practice of assessment and differentiated instruction. Each school served students from kindergarten to fourth or fifth grade, which allowed an accumulation of data over time. The participants were resident music teachers with their own rooms who were nearly always in one building. The nature of special education provision affected assessment and differentiation of instruction. Finally, each participant had considerable independence to make teaching decisions.

Ms. Wheeler felt strongly that a music curriculum should be cumulative from kindergarten through fifth grade. One of the ways she overcame the challenges to assessing and differentiating for nearly 500 students was by coming to know students as individuals over the course of six years. Furthermore, Danielle intentionally used this time to spiral content from introductory to more sophisticated levels. In this model, fifth grade constituted a sort of capstone year, in which larger-form activities including improvisations and compositions and a full-length musical production allowed her to assess summative progress from the kindergarten baseline.

Although neither Ms. Davis nor Ms. Stevens specifically mentioned a belief in a k-5 cumulative curriculum until I asked about it, they also benefited from seeing students for five or six years. Music teachers who see 400 or 500 students a week cannot track music learning as closely as a classroom teacher with 25 students. However, participants in this study could track individual progress across five or six years of development. Furthermore, they could get to know this large number of students quite well over the years, which facilitated differentiation.

Frequently, when I asked about particular students (because of behavior, musicality, etc.), our discussions would reveal an amazing depth of knowledge about the child, from what age he found his singing voice, to his struggles through his parents’ divorce, to how protective he is of his first-grade cousin, to how he competes in motorbike races outside of school. Such treasure troves of rich information, readily accessible in the teachers’ minds, must certainly contribute to these teachers’ ability to differentiate instruction for their students.

All three participants had their own music rooms and were in the same building nearly all the time, although Ms. Stevens traveled to another building for two half-days each week. Having their own rooms facilitated assessment, because it allowed them to keep materials and information organized and accessible. Staying mostly in one building contributed to assessment and differentiation, because teachers were better able to participate as a member of the staff— from more formal activities, such as participating in IEP planning, to talking with other teachers about students and their needs, to more informal but still important tasks for building community, such as participation in school festivals and events or leadership of extracurricular activities.

The manner of music education provision for students with special needs affected teachers’ practice of assessment and differentiation. Students with special needs, such as ESL and LD, who were mainstreamed sometimes needed a different assessment format and required differentiation, such as modified or adapted written work or a peer buddy. Seeing self-contained classes of students with more acute needs, such as moderate to severe ASD or CI, changed the method of delivery of music instruction. Ms. Davis was able to see students with acute special needs in their self-contained classes and mainstreamed with their age peers. Each of these different classroom dynamics as well as each child’s specific needs affected both assessment practices and instructional decisions.

Each of the participants in this study had considerable freedom in how she taught music.

Although each district provided a curriculum, it was typically a flexible set of benchmarks to be taught and assessed in the manner chosen by the individual teacher. Furthermore, there was little oversight at the building or district levels regarding teaching practices or any sort of accountability measures to ensure curriculum delivery. Participants in this study capitalized on this freedom by teaching and assessing in ways that complimented their teaching styles and personalities. Their independence also allowed them to experiment with new ideas (such as Ms.

Davis’s use of small-group compositions) and to integrate emergent student interests into their teaching (like Ms. Stevens’ use of a Justin Bieber song).

Personal characteristics that facilitated assessment and differentiation. Although the participants embodied a range of personalities, attitudes, and behaviors, they shared a number of personal characteristics that seemed to facilitate their practice of assessment and differentiation.

Each teacher was a fabulous musician. I saw them accompany on piano and other instruments, make up songs on the spot, and improvise rhythms, chants, melodies, and movement.

Furthermore, each participant utilized her own specific teaching style and set of routines, and knew what she wanted to accomplish on any given day and where that fit in her curriculum as a whole. Mastery of curricular content, comfort with teaching style, use of routines, and secure musicianship resulted in a sort of teaching automaticity, which in turn allowed participants to observe learning progress and differentiate instruction in the moment as well as while planning.

I noticed that participants were organized, driven, and intelligent. Also, each was modest and self-critical to the degree that I am certain that they would each cite multiple examples to refute my assertions that they exhibited those qualities. Their modesty and self-criticism seemed to foster a sense that they were always learning more and striving to be better teachers.

Furthermore, they exhibited clarity about what they thought it was important for students to know. This was not necessarily based on district curricula and was sometimes in direct conflict with other music teachers in the participants’ districts. Participants in this study self-imposed assessment of criteria they viewed as important to their students’ learning. They each seemed to view curriculum, planning, assessment, and differentiation as interrelated facets of teaching.

These elements were not implemented only in a linear fashion (use the curriculum, write a plan, assess the learning), but each piece informed the others—embedded, spiraling, reciprocal, interweaving.

The most striking personal characteristic participants shared was self-motivation. Each teacher in this study noticed a lack of accountability measures and oversight of her teaching, and nevertheless felt a need to design assessments and differentiated instruction to meet the needs of her students. Assessment and differentiated instruction were time-consuming and difficult, yet participants in this study were motivated to implement them. This motivation seemed to stem in part from the participants’ reflective teaching practices. They seemed to consistently ask themselves how they could improve their teaching and increase students’ learning. However, the motivation primarily seemed to stem from how much each participant cared about individual children as people and as musicians. Furthermore, I wonder if the lack of specific accountability measures and oversight may actually have facilitated implementation of more meaningful and personalized responsibility and pride in teaching.

Impact of instructional style on assessment and differentiation. When I chose participants in this study, I did not expect their philosophies and instructional styles to be so different. Although the variety of beliefs and practices described in this study made cross-case analysis more difficult, I also think it strengthened the study. I was able to see three positions on the continuum from primarily teacher-led instruction to a more student-led/teacher-facilitated learning. I will not compare or evaluate participants’ positions on that continuum. However, I will briefly describe a continuum between direct instruction and teacher facilitation/student autonomy. Then, I will discuss how the participants’ positions on this continuum seemed to affect assessment practices and differentiation of instruction in the data from this study.

Continuum between direct instruction and teacher facilitation. For the following discussion, it will be helpful to imagine teaching style as falling on a continuum from direct instruction to teacher facilitation/student autonomy. At one rhetorical extreme of this continuum, every student is taught the same material in the same way at the same time, in a sequence determined by the instructor and using instructor-chosen materials [direct instruction]. At the opposite rhetorical extreme, children are invited to a free-for-all exploration of musicking based on their interests (including lack of interest as an option). The teacher is available as a guide or to assist individuals or groups, but does not design lessons; she does not have particular goals for any learning experience. No participant in this study represented either of these radical positions, and it is unlikely that any practicing teacher would embody such rhetorical extremes.

However, this rhetoric serves to illustrate the difficulties with differentiation and assessment at each end of the spectrum. Limiting instruction to whole-class activities using teacher-dictated materials might actually facilitate assessment, because the teacher set out to teach something specific to the whole group and can then find a way to test the whole group on what she meant for them to learn. However, the direct instruction extreme could suffer from an inherent lack of differentiation, which might reduce students’ investment in the learning process because it ignores their opinions, interests, backgrounds, learning styles and ways of interacting with each other and the world. Conversely, at the facilitation extreme of the continuum, tracking student progress is rendered nearly impossible by a lack of structure: no goals for the class or individual students, no interest in assessing what students know and can do, no opportunities for skill building or attention to readiness, and so many competing learning styles and musical interests and levels of participation.

Participants in the current study did not occupy extreme positions on this continuum. Ms.

Wheeler was the closest to a direct instruction model, using primarily whole-class instruction with whole-class responses and materials that she selected. Nevertheless, she also occasionally used centers, praxial group work, and some popular music. Ms. Davis was the closest to the facilitation end of the spectrum, particularly in her third grade classes, which engaged in collaborative group work for the entire observation period. She refrained from giving ideas or directly solving problems, but instead posed questions and let students wrestle with the issues and discover their own solutions. Even in this context, Ms. Davis sometimes took a more direct instructional role, such as when she helped students select music from their sound bank to put with specific mini-musicals. Ms. Stevens’ teaching was closer to the middle of the spectrum than Ms. Wheeler’s, but like Ms. Wheeler, she was also closer to the direct instructional pole than the facilitation pole on the continuum.

The influence of directness of instruction on assessment and differentiation. Each participant’s position on the continuum from direct instruction to facilitation directly affected her practice of assessment and differentiation. Therefore, I will present a brief analysis of the effects of directness of instruction on assessment and differentiation, but I will focus tightly on observed effects rather than the surrounding philosophical issues, which are not within the scope of this paper.

Ms. Wheeler was the closest participant to the direct instructional pole on the continuum.

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