«INDIVIDUALIZING ELEMENTARY GENERAL MUSIC INSTRUCTION: CASE STUDIES OF ASSESSMENT AND DIFFERENTIATION By Karen Salvador A DISSERTATION Submitted to ...»
In this excerpt, Campbell described the need for elementary general music teachers to know individual students’ abilities and interests in order to capitalize on the short time available in music class. Results from the current study support the notion that music teachers have a variety of challenges to knowing their students, including teaching large groups of children, infrequently, for too short an amount of time. However, the results of this study also refute the notion that differentiated instruction is impossible in elementary general music. Campbell noted, “We can grieve and gripe about the minimal music time, but with our best foot forward, we may be better off taking steps to determine how better to use the allotted time we have” (2010, p.
271). In that spirit, this study revealed several implications for the practice of assessment and differentiated instruction in the elementary general music room.
Implications for the practice of assessment. Elementary music teachers have a variety of assessment tools at their disposal, which can be naturally interwoven in the process of teaching and learning. Participants in this study demonstrated that it is possible to assess music learning on an ongoing basis. They agreed that meaningful assessment of music learning must be of individual student responses, although each teacher still used observations and “checking the group” to informally monitor her instruction. Teacher-designed rating scales were the most successful and expedient method to assess individual musicking skills such as singing, chanting, moving, and playing instruments. Each teacher also used aptitude tests, written assessments, and report cards to assess music learning. In addition, creative projects (compositions, improvisation) offered insights into students’ musical cognition. When done well, assessment was embedded as a consistent, organic thread in music teaching and learning. Whole-group singing, chanting, moving, playing instruments, and improvisation were structured to offer opportunities for brief individual responses (often in the guise of a “game”), and teachers quickly rated individual responses using rating scales. In this way, participants in the current study consistently gathered data on the musical progress of individual students while students nevertheless engaged in musicking for nearly all of each music class.
Aptitude testing. Practicing music teachers may consider adopting aptitude testing into their assessment repertoire and applying the results to differentiate instruction. Participants in the current study used music aptitude testing once or twice a year as a diagnostic tool to help students learn. Students with low aptitude who were low achieving could be indentified and given additional scaffolding. Those with low aptitude who were still achieving would be challenged accordingly. Students who were low achieving but identified as high aptitude could be given challenges, leadership opportunities, or a “kick in the pants” to increase their achievement to more accurately reflect that high aptitude. Furthermore, research indicates that music aptitude is developmental (i.e., it can be increased through instruction and/or an enriching environment up until about age 9, Gordon, 2007), so ongoing measurement of students’ music aptitudes can also reveal increases in aptitude as a result of instruction.
Role of performances in assessment. Music teachers may need to evaluate the role of large-scale performances (programs) in their curriculum and the impact of performance preparation on music teaching and learning. Participants in the current study disagreed about the role of large-group performances as a form of assessment. Ms. Wheeler characterized performances as the equivalent of the MEAP, a state-mandated yearly achievement test in math and reading, because the performances occurred once a year. However, tests such as the MEAP result in standardized achievement data for individual students, whereas group performances do not. All of the participants in the current study stressed the importance of individual response for meaningful assessment, and this study also revealed the importance of record-keeping to build a holistic picture of each student’s musicking. A concert with nearly 100 children per grade level performing at the same time does not seem to meet those criteria. In many districts, large-scale performances are expected and/or required, and it was outside the scope of the current study to examine their overall value. However, this study does indicate that group performances should not be viewed as assessment tools for tracking individual music learning. This study supports extant literature indicating that performance preparation as currently practiced interferes with typical music learning in elementary general music. To ameliorate this problem, teachers might incorporate informances as Ms. Stevens suggested or look for other ways that performance preparation (and/or the performances themselves) could be modified to reflect and augment rather than derail learning.
Logistical considerations. Practicing teachers should establish reliable methods to track individual students’ data over time. The participants’ practice of a variety of ongoing embedded assessments resulted in a more comprehensive picture of each student’s performance upon which to base instructional decisions. From a logistical standpoint, this required synthesis of a great deal of information, so teachers used grade books, palm pilots, spreadsheet programs, and other methods to track data. Participant teachers agreed that they could not accurately recall how all children performed on a given task when they did not record some form of data in the moment.
If the data are inaccurate or inaccessible, they are also useless for their primary purpose: to inform instruction. Furthermore, teachers must synthesize data to create a holistic portrait of performance so they are able to recall and apply information about students’ abilities and needs as they teach. Despite the difficulties of rating individual performances on multiple tasks and then recording and tracking all that data, participants demonstrated that it is possible to gather a variety of data on individual students’ abilities and nevertheless spend the bulk of music class time engaged in active musicking.
Summary of implications for the practice of assessment. While acknowledging the challenges elementary general music teachers face, the current study indicated that teachers are able to track individual music learning progress for each of their students. Based on this study, and although the results of this study are not generalizable due to its qualitative nature, practicing teachers are encouraged to explore ways to naturally and consistently weave assessments of individual musicking behaviors including singing, chanting, moving, playing instruments, improvising, and composing into their teaching. Teacher-designed rating scales may be an efficient way to do this, although some written assessments such as rubrics, aptitude testing, quizzes, compositions, and self-assessments could also contribute to a well-rounded picture of achievement. Praxial preparation of existing music and creative projects, such as compositions and improvisation, offer rich, authentic opportunities to assess individual music learning.
Preparing whole-class, grade-level, and whole-school performances did not lead to data regarding individual student progress, and was seen as distracting from normal music learning.
Teachers may wish to evaluate the impact of performances on music teaching and learning and to reconsider their use as an assessment. Thoughtful integration of ongoing assessment activities will lead to a well-rounded picture of each student’s music achievement and aptitude, and allow music teachers to differentiate music instruction to meet individual music learning needs.
Implications for differentiated instruction. In this study, participant teachers used well-documented assessment methods and encountered challenges similar to those reported in the literature, although it seems they assessed more frequently than the literature indicated was typical, and their use of aptitude testing was unusual. Little research has investigated how assessment data is applied to individualize instruction or described differentiated instruction in the elementary general music classroom. The current study resulted in several implications for elementary general music teachers’ practice of differentiated instruction.
Whole-group differentiation. Teachers can differentiate whole-group instruction both by varying activities over time and by providing opportunities for individual musicking within the context of whole-group instruction. Planning activities that provide a variety of ways to interact with music (i.e., singing, moving, playing instruments, listening, improvising, composing) is one way to reach a variety of learners. Teachers can also vary the presentational mode (aural, visual, kinesthetic), perhaps by using technology, and/or integrating different musics (popular, “school,” folk, etc).
Allowing individual response within the context of whole-group instruction can build in differentiation of music instruction based on music aptitude and ability. Modes of individual response included musicking independently alongside other students in chorus as well as solo responses. Furthermore, opportunities for solo response can be varied (1) by the teacher according to an individual’s previously demonstrated achievement, (2) to present a high level of challenge, or (3) to be open-ended, allowing each student to challenge himself. Within wholegroup instruction, these opportunities could be designed specifically to demonstrate certain levels of achievement from different students, or they could allow students to choose their own level of challenge.
Groupings-based differentiation. Teachers can also differentiate instruction by using various forms of group work and a variety of grouping strategies. Teachers could use free or structured centers-based instruction, praxial group work (in which students prepare a performance of an existing piece of music), or creative group work (in which students compose, choreograph, improvise, etc.). Varying grouping practices within each of these group work models could further facilitate differentiation. For example, occasional homogenous groupings by ability in praxial group work would allow teachers to challenge high achieving students with new or advanced material and would also permit teachers to work intensively with lowperforming students. Assigned heterogeneous groupings could facilitate peer instruction during creative group work, such as a composition project, while student-chosen cooperative learning groups might mitigate social anxiety as students choreograph a dance that demonstrates selected musical features of a piece. The potential of various group work models and grouping strategies to increase individual music learning invites a number of models for implementation that teachers could select based on their needs.
Differentiation for students with special needs. Participants in this study implemented a variety of practices to differentiate instruction for students with special needs. When students were mainstreamed, helpful strategies included use of the assessments of other teachers (IEPs), use of peer support, modification/adaptation of written work, and separating musicality from other abilities. Moreover, recognizing that significant modifications of curriculum should be discussed with parents and special educators, the results of this study indicated that students who were mainstreamed in music for primarily social reasons could still progress musically and participate meaningfully in music class with the help of thoughtful adaptations and modifications. Music teachers should consider ways that socially mainstreamed students could musick alongside their peers at their own level. With regard to self-contained classes of students with more severe developmental delays, ASD, and/or CI, results from the current study supported findings in the literature that a Music Learning Theory-based early childhood approach may be appropriate to nurture individual musical development.
All three participants noticed students with LD and ESL who may have struggled academically but were in the normal range of musical ability expected for students their age.
Based on personal experience as well as IEPs, various participants identified use of verbal or written instructions, pencil/paper assignments and assessments, and/or notation as particularly problematic for students with LD or ESL. Because participants reported that the musicality of students with ESL and LD seemed unrelated to their label, it seems logical to assert that limiting the use of notation, pencil/paper tasks, and verbal “talking about music” may ameliorate the need for further modifications based on these particular special needs. Music teachers could implement teaching methods such as modeling/demonstration and design aural/oral assessments for students with these labels.
Gardner (1993) proposed that musicality constitutes its own way of thinking, a separate intelligence from other modes of cognition such as interpersonal, verbal/linguistic, or logical/mathematic. Although the literature indicated that students with moderate to severe special needs might have corresponding deficits in music aptitude, it also indicated that these deficits were not present for all disorders, and that within specific disability populations these deficits could vary. Participants in the current study indicated that giftedness and milder forms of disability did not seem necessarily related to musical abilities and that students with more profound disabilities nevertheless sometimes demonstrated surprising musicking abilities.
Therefore, music teachers should find ways to foster individual musicking for all students so that musical intelligence can be separated from other deficits or gifts and nurtured.