«INDIVIDUALIZING ELEMENTARY GENERAL MUSIC INSTRUCTION: CASE STUDIES OF ASSESSMENT AND DIFFERENTIATION By Karen Salvador A DISSERTATION Submitted to ...»
Formative assessments entail “the diagnostic use of assessments to provide feedback to students and teachers over the course of instruction” (Boston, 2003, p. 1). Formative assessment tracks individual progress toward instructional goals as a natural part of the instructional process, whereas summative assessment represents more of an endpoint to a unit of study. Many teachers seem to equate “formative” with informal assessments that do not result in recorded data, such as observation of the class or “checking the group,” and “summative” with tests that result in record-keeping of individual data (Peppers, 2010; Talley, 2005). However, formative is not necessarily only informal, as formative assessment may also include keeping records of individual student performance. While informal assessments of group performance can help a teacher to target whole-group instruction to the needs of the majority of the class, the current study is focused on assessment practices that result in data about individual students. Data from individual formative assessments help teachers choose pedagogical techniques to suit the needs of individual learners, determine if individual students need challenge or remediation, and decide when to move on to new material. “Formative assessment does not occur unless some learning action follows the testing [or data collection]...
Assessment and individualization of instruction. In “Meeting the Musical Needs of all Students in Elementary General Music,” Taggart (2005) related music teaching to math instruction. She described a first grade classroom in which one student worked on number identification while another completed two-digit multiplication problems. In the context of a math lesson, assigning students to work at different levels would be seen as differentiation of instruction to meet the needs of individual students—as excellent teaching. However, elementary music teachers have often taught the same material in the same manner to entire classes of students. Taggart asserted: “If music educators do not know the musical aptitude and achievement of each child, they will never be able to facilitate optimal achievement from their students” (2005, p. 128). It stands to reason that discovering this detailed information about each student would require frequent, ongoing opportunities for each child to demonstrate what he knows or can do individually in music.
In other subject areas, when students are excelling, they are given additional challenges, including, but not limited to, assisting their peers (Tomlinson, 2000). There is evidence that lower-performing students learn tasks (e.g., singing) more efficiently from their peers than they do from teachers (Gordon, 1986). When students struggle with reading or with math, teachers quickly intervene to determine what is causing the problem. This intervention often includes testing to determine aptitude for the subject so that teachers can be as certain as possible that expectations are appropriate. Jordan (1989) discussed how aptitude assessment could be used in
addition to measuring singing voice development when teaching singing:
Most who are classified as “non-singers” are high- or average-aptitude students who have severe vocal technique problems. These students, unaided by a knowledgeable teacher of vocal technique, continually compound their problems because they have the aptitude to know that they are not matching pitch. They often resort to improper vocal technique in an attempt to administer music “first aid” to themselves. If the teacher were armed with aptitude scores, he could tailor vocal instruction to focus upon a balance between the technical needs and the musical needs of the student, rather than confounding problems of technique with problems of hearing (audiation) (p. 171).
By combining aptitude and achievement measures, teachers can intervene with the appropriate assistance so that children who have average (or even high) aptitude for the subject but are low performing are identified and helped to rise toward their potential, while students who have low aptitude for the subject are offered additional assistance, strategies, and support.
An aptitude test score should never be used to label a child as musical or unmusical, and should never limit a child in any way (Gordon, 2010). When used appropriately, aptitude tests merely provide one lens through which to view achievement and one way to assist teachers who wish to individualize instruction. This differentiated model of instruction, in which individual students are taught according to their aptitude and achievement in each subject, is common in elementary classroom teaching (e.g., Adams & Pierce, 2006; Roberts & Inman, 2007; Tiseo, 2005; Tomlinson, 2000). Frequent and varied opportunities for individual students to demonstrate what they know and can do are an integral component of differentiated instruction.
Individual response in music instruction. Although few research studies have explored the importance of individual response in successful music instruction, several researchers have found that individual or small group instruction and response opportunities resulted in increased achievement (Rutkowski & Snell Miller, 2003; Levinowitz & Scheetz, 1998, Rutkowski, 1996;
Rutkowski, 1994). Further, Rutkowski’s research indicated that individual and small group instruction were particularly beneficial to those with low or high (as opposed to average) music aptitudes. Although she did not suggest this, it is possible that students who needed remediation and children who needed challenges achieved more in small group and individual settings because the teacher could engage more easily in formative assessment of their individual performances and adjust instruction to meet each child’s specific needs. It is also possible that students in small group settings were able to learn from one another in addition to the teacher.
Although Shih (1996) reported that most teachers “checked group performance” when assessing singing voice, Hoffer (2008) found that the assessment of individual students is required for meaningful assessment. Informal group assessment is not sufficient. Assessing singing by having students sing in a group is the equivalent of a classroom teacher having groups of students read a passage in unison and using that information to decide that all students in the class read on grade level. Assessment of the group at best gives a vague idea of what some students can do and at worst allows others to fall behind without intervention.
Differentiation of instruction. Differentiating instruction is an approach to instruction that music teachers could implement in order to meet the individual needs of each learner. As classrooms grow increasingly diverse and inclusive, teachers must adapt their teaching to meet the needs of the students in their classrooms, despite the added diversity (Adams & Pierce, 2006, p. 1). Teachers who engage in differentiated instruction believe that a one-size-fits-all method of teaching is not the best way for most students to learn. The goal of differentiation is to tailor instruction to meet the needs of individual learners, not only in terms of achievement, but also by providing a variety of different venues for learning or practicing a skill. Eisner’s “personalized teaching,” which “increase[s] that variance [in student performance] and raise[s] the mean” (Eisner, 2005; p. 191) is one way to conceptualize differentiation.
Tomlinson (2000) observed multiple classrooms to examine the ways that teachers differentiated instruction. She found that differentiated instruction varied in different settings and with different teachers. However, her research indicated that three main threads were consistently present in well-functioning differentiated classrooms: (1) Assessment was ongoing and tightly linked to instruction, (2) Teachers designed “respectful,” diverse activities for all students, and (3) Groupings were flexible (p. 2). The concept of ongoing assessment that reflects the objectives of instruction is self-explanatory. I will elaborate on the other two threads.
Tomlinson defined “respectful” activities as follows:
Each student’s work should be equally interesting, equally appealing, and equally focused on essential understandings and skills. There should not be a group of students that frequently does ‘dull drill’ and another that generally does ‘fluff.’ Rather, everyone is continually working with tasks that students and teachers perceive to be worthwhile
In this model, high-performing students would not simply teach lower performers. In addition to peer tutoring and group leadership, high achieving students would be challenged with tasks individualized to their aptitude and level of preparation.
Tomlinson’s final “thread” of differentiated instruction, flexible grouping, refers to the variety of different ways that students could be grouped as they interacted with one another and with concepts in the classroom. 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. “Flexible grouping allows students to see themselves in a variety of contexts and aids the teacher in ‘auditioning’ students in different settings and with different kinds of work” (Tomlinson, 2000, p. 2).
Although the books I cite regarding differentiated instruction focused on general classroom instruction (i.e., Adams and Pierce, 2006; Roberts and Inman, 2007; Tomlinson, 2000), many of the strategies they suggested could be implemented in elementary music.
Roberts and Inman (2007) suggested using Bloom’s taxonomy to offer a variety of learning experiences based on the same concept by varying the process (learning action undertaken by children), content (basic or complex), and/or product choices (p. 49). In a music classroom, this could be achieved by using centers. One center could allow children to practice terminology or notation by creating a word wall on a dry erase board or playing music bingo (Knowledge/ Comprehension). At another center, students could play material related to the topic at hand on instruments (Application). At another center, children could arrange preselected phrases of music into songs, improvise, or compose songs for one another in a way that demonstrated the concept being taught (Synthesis). Finally, students at a listening (or viewing) center could evaluate (in writing or in discussion) audio or video-recorded examples of music in terms of the topic being studied. Any of these response modes could be at more basic or complex levels depending on the needs of the student. Use of centers and these particular sample activities are some of many possible applications of Bloom’s Taxonomy in elementary general music, based on the suggestions in Roberts and Inman (2007).
Roberts and Inman (2007) also proposed using Venn diagrams to illustrate that certain activities must be undertaken by all students, but that others can be selected or assigned to various students. In general music, a central area in a Venn diagram could indicate that all students would be expected to sing independently for the teacher. Alone or within cooperative work groups, students would design performance details. Overlapping circles on the Venn diagram might suggest various performance possibilities (see Figure 1). A variety of ways to work with desired topical material could also be presented to students in a “Think-Tac-Toe,” which "provides multiple options in a tic-tac-toe format for student projects, products, or lessons" (p. 89), (see Figure 2).
references to color in this and all other figures, the reader is referred to the electronic version of this dissertation.
Table 1.1 Think-tac-toe, adapted from Roberts and Inman (2007)
Adams and Pierce (2006) developed a model of differentiation (Creating an Integrated Response for Challenging Learners Equitably: A Model by Adams and Pierce: CIRCLE MAP), which was intended as appropriate for all grade levels and content areas. By incorporating a system of tiered lessons that provided a variety of avenues toward understanding a particular concept, Adams and Pierce asserted that this model moved away from simply using high-ability students as "teachers" and lower-ability students as "learners." Instead, they proposed that their model would engage all students "in meaningful work at a level that provides a moderate challenge for them" (p. 5). In this model, flexible grouping that varied from day to day allowed lessons to be tiered by readiness, interest, and/or learning style.
While the above literature indicated a variety of teaching strategies and student groupings could be implemented to differentiate instruction, assessment was a key component in each of the proposed models. Assessment allowed teachers to know each child’s current achievement level, each child’s aptitude or potential for performance, each child’s interests, and even each child’s preferred modes of expression (Roberts & Inman, 2007). According to Roberts and Inman (2007), assessment is "the only real communication that lets children know if they are making progress" (p. 131). More important, assessment allows teachers to ask the key questions that lead to differentiation: What does this child already know? What can this child already do?
How can I facilitate progress for this individual child?