«INDIVIDUALIZING ELEMENTARY GENERAL MUSIC INSTRUCTION: CASE STUDIES OF ASSESSMENT AND DIFFERENTIATION By Karen Salvador A DISSERTATION Submitted to ...»
In some ways this facilitated assessment—she taught a particular objective to the whole group and then assessed the group. However, at times her approach transformed an assessment that was ostensibly a way to track music learning into an assessment of which students could follow directions (DW Field Notes 3/1, p. 2). For example, she repeatedly drilled material that was going to be on an upcoming test so that every student who was paying attention should ace the test (e.g., a chant “B is on the middle line, A is on the second space…” DW Field Notes 1/22, p.
2). Not only did this render the assessment less meaningful, but it also was not assessment of music learning as much as academic ability. Ms. Wheeler also used less direct instructional methods, such as centers and praxial group work, and more natural, embedded assessments of musicking behaviors, such as singing and movement. However, analysis of her instruction seemed to indicate that the more direct the instructional model, the more unmusical and atomistic the assessment. When the whole group learned the same material in the same way at the same time, this also had the potential to stifle differentiation, which at its core is teaching different things to different students based on their individual needs.
In contrast, Ms. Davis’s used facilitation with her third grade students for most of the observation period. It became clear that assessing the musical progress of individual students was extremely challenging in this context. It was hard for Ms. Davis to predict what students would be working on from day to day and, thus, there were not specific goals for any of the activities. This lack of objectives meant there was little that could be measured in terms of individual student music learning. However, a great deal of differentiation resulted from the inherent sensitivities of this approach to individuals’ prior knowledge, interests, and learning styles. A lack of goals did not mean that students were not learning, but made it difficult to ascertain exactly what they were learning.
Ms. Stevens’ approach to instruction was primarily teacher-directed and whole-class.
However, she did not see herself as “imparting knowledge” but rather as a guide who “provided appropriate experiences” (HS Think Aloud 2, p. 2). Within her whole-class instruction, she provided consistent opportunities for independent musicking, when students responded individually, musicked alongside one another, moved independently, and played instruments.
Like Ms. Wheeler, Hailey’s direct instructional approach had clear goals that facilitated her practice of assessment, although she rarely used acontextual assessments. The amount of openended individual response allowed for considerable differentiation of music learning according to ability and prior knowledge.
In summary, swinging toward the facilitation end of the continuum made it almost impossible to assess, because it was unclear what students were and/or should be learning.
However, the nature of teacher-facilitated rather than teacher-directed instruction allowed for musical and social differentiation and for exploration of student interests and student ownership of learning. Swinging closer to the direct instructional side of the continuum facilitated assessment practice but impeded differentiation and may have resulted in more atomistic assessments. Without the benefit of assessment combined with high challenge activities, both sides of the continuum seemed prone to underestimating the abilities of students, teaching beneath their abilities, and not allowing students to surprise the teacher with their musicking.
Direct instruction, as implemented in Ms. Stevens’ teaching, did seem to allow for differentiation based on music aptitude, prior musical knowledge and musical achievement.
Danielle and Hailey both believed they were teaching measureable music skills as building blocks to provide readiness so that students would be better prepared to succeed as independent musicians both when they were given small group activities to work on in class and also later in life. They each believed that all students were capable of learning these readiness skills, and that they should be required to participate. They presented teacher-selected materials in the teacher-directed sequence they each felt would best facilitate music learning. In contrast, Carrie felt that, since students did not choose to be in her class and some did not care for music, she should not force participation or focus on sequential skill building. Instead, she wanted to help students view themselves as musicians and enjoy interacting with music. Perhaps this disagreement regarding the nature and purpose of elementary general music education was the root of differences in instructional style and thus the practice of assessment and differentiation.
Summary of Cross-Case Analysis.
Participants in the current study demonstrated analogous assessment practices in terms of when, how, and how often they tracked student learning. Each participant used a variety of assessment methods, including aptitude testing, report cards, checklists, rating scales, and observation on an ongoing basis throughout the school year. Participants disagreed about whether observation/checking the group constituted an assessment or was simply an instructional strategy. They also disagreed regarding the value of whole-class (or whole-school) after-school performances as an assessment. The frequency of formal assessment of individual musicking ranged from two to three times per class to two to three times per month.
Analysis of the participants’ instructional practices revealed both areas of similarity and also some divergences with regard to the impact of assessment on differentiation. In order to differentiate whole-group instruction, the participants varied their method of presentation, planned lessons for a variety of receptive learning styles, provided multiple ways to interact with music (singing, chanting, moving, playing, listening), and sought to integrate a variety of musical styles. Ms. Stevens, in particular, varied the levels of difficulty across activities and offered many open-ended opportunities for individual responses, both at self-challenge and also at highchallenge levels.
All three participants taught mainstreamed students with a variety of special needs, and Ms. Davis and Ms. Stevens both taught self-contained classes as well. Participants noted that students with giftedness, ESL, and LD did not seem outside of the normal range of musical ability expected for students their age, although they did differentiate by adapting or modifying written work and/or teaching by modeling or through demonstration rather than with words. The teachers who taught students with more profound special needs in self-contained classes both adapted an approach based on the MLT model of early childhood music instruction.
This cross-case analysis revealed that the relationship of assessments to differentiation was complex, interwoven, and context-dependent. Sometimes, specific assessment data led directly in a linear fashion to differentiation of music instruction. This was particularly true of IEP data that resulted in modification or adaptation of written work. Assessment data was also directly applied to instruction when an aptitude test demonstrated that a low-performing child had high aptitude and needed additional challenges or motivation. Other times, an accumulation of data would result in differentiation. For example, Ms. Stevens chose to give easier prompts to students who had lower levels of singing voice development based on a variety of previous assessments. All three teachers used personal and musical information accumulated over the course of years to determine “success” for individual students in addition to how he or she performed on the particular task. However, sometimes differentiation stemmed from factors that were not assessed, such as interest-based learning when Ms. Wheeler allowed students to freely choose the centers that interested them. Differentiation also occurred without the direct influence of specific assessment data as a result of praxial group work, creative group work, and self-challenge activities.
Emergent themes included a number of shared organizational and personal factors that seemed to facilitate participants’ practice of assessment and differentiation. Each participant was primarily a resident teacher with her own room in a k-4 or k-5 building. This increased the ease with which assessment materials and records could be assembled and stored. It also facilitated differentiation, as teachers could get to know individual students as musicians and people over the course of five or six years. Furthermore, being resident in one building allowed conversations among teachers regarding students’ needs. Participants in this study also had considerable independence to make teaching decisions. On a personal level, the participants shared a teaching automaticity that resulted from comfort with a personal teaching style, excellent musicianship, and mastery of curriculum, content, and routines. Participants motivated themselves to assess and differentiate despite, or perhaps because of, a lack of guidance and support.
The degree of directness of instruction was the primary emergent factor that seemed to directly affect participants’ practice of assessment and differentiated instruction. I proposed a rhetorical continuum from direct instruction to facilitation. Based on analysis of the practices of participants in this study, it seemed that a more teacher-directed approach facilitated assessment but complicated some types of differentiation, whereas teaching on the other end of the continuum was likely to result in highly differentiated instruction that was nearly impossible to assess. A more middle-ground approach seemed to balance both of these strengths.
In this study, I investigated assessment practices and differentiation of instruction in elementary general music settings. I wanted to find out more about how teachers discerned individual students’ musical skills and abilities and how they then used that information to individualize instruction both in terms of planning and also “in the moment.” My initial guiding research questions were: 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? Three elementary general music teachers allowed me to observe their typical teaching practices. I observed Danielle Wheeler each time she taught a kindergarten and a fourth grade for seven weeks. Over the course of four weeks, I watched Carrie Davis each time she taught three classes: a third grade, a fourth grade, and a self-contained class of students with cognitive impairments. Finally, I saw Hailey Stevens each time she taught a first grade and a third grade for seven weeks. Data collection consisted of field notes, videotapes and video review forms, interviews, teacher journals, and think-alouds. Using the constant comparative method of data analysis, I wrote case studies that described each teacher’s practices of assessment and differentiation with regard to my guiding research questions as well as themes that emerged from data analysis (Chapters 4, 5, and 6).
Chapter 7 consisted of a cross-case analysis, in which I sought overarching themes related to my guiding questions. I also looked for themes that emerged from analysis of all three cases. All participants used a variety of assessment methods, including rating scales, checklists, report cards, observation, and aptitude testing. Two participants included self-assessments, and one compiled all written work into a portfolio for each student. Although each teacher occasionally assessed specifically for report card grades, most assessment was consistent and ongoing throughout the school year and its primary purpose was to inform instruction.
Participants reported that the number of students they taught, lack of time and support, and preparation for performances were the major hindrances to assessment. They disagreed about the role of large-group performance as an assessment activity.
Although some assessments were directly applied to differentiate instruction in a linear or spiraling fashion, assessment practices and differentiation of instruction were typically interwoven in a complex relationship that varied among participants. Group work—including praxial group work, creative group work, and centers-based instruction—was one way that teachers differentiated instruction and also assessed the music learning of individual students.
Utilizing of a variety of presentation styles and offering a range of musical activities provided differentiation in whole-group instruction, as did individual responses to open-ended highchallenge and self-challenge activities. Furthermore, each participant was expected to differentiate music instruction for students with a variety of special needs. In this final chapter, I will discuss implications for practice based on the results of this study, make suggestions for future research, and conclude with a proposal of a middle-ground approach to elementary general music education.
Implications for Practice [Music educators] should… challenge our children within their lessons and class sessions, and in their individual practices at home. Do we? Or do we expect too little of them, lowering our standards and reducing the degree of their accomplishments? Even worse, do we sometimes teach them what they already know? For example, it is common knowledge that most first graders understand the concept of soft-loud (and have since the age of three), yet some teachers “teach” it and then teach it again. If we teach children what they already know, or if we expect less from then than what they can do, we may well miss our chance to seize the energy and momentum toward their becoming more fully musically thinking and feeling beings. As we strive to know our students, their strengths, their capabilities, their dreams, and goals, we can be there for them—even those independent, self-motivated children—as references, troubleshooters, and guides. We can also occasionally push the envelope, offering them greater skill development, so as not to lose the best and the brightest from our programs. We can vary the complexity of what we teach: some may be hungry for a quicker pace and a greater challenge (Campbell, 2010; p. 260, bold added).