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The wonderful thing about using composition is that I am able to assess what they know so much better than I could before. It was easy to fool myself into thinking that the entire class understood a musical concept when, actually, only a few students were doing all the answering. Now, each child is not only personally engaged in the music, but is personally accountable for showing what he knows (p. 64).

Miller’s findings reinforce the importance of both individual response and ongoing assessment to differentiation of instruction for students with a variety of needs.

Christensen (1992) undertook an action research project involving small-group composition projects. Her dissertation proposed an “artistry-based” model, in which the music classroom became more of a studio or workshop. In this model, composing, notating (using invented notation), performing, and continuously reflecting on a project would increase students’ learning and provide a window into students’ musical metacognition. Each class began with a brief, whole-class discussion of the progress of each group and introduction of the next task in the compositional process. For the remainder of class time, students worked independently in

their small groups. Christensen circulated within the classroom and functioned as a facilitator:

…guiding students rather than directing them; suggesting they explore their own ideas rather than supplying them with solutions worked out by others; making teaching more of a process of asking questions rather than answering them; giving students the opportunity to take responsibility for their own learning rather than being told what and how to learn;

and providing time and place for students to reflect on their learning while it was going on rather than wait until it was completed (Christensen, 1992, pp. 236-237).

Christensen kept daily logs and analyzed videotapes of each meeting (twice a week for 40 minutes) of one class of fourth grade students for the course of a single compositional process (seven weeks). All students described compositional and notational activities by responding to open-ended questions both in writing and in class discussions. Students’ written reflections and notation were collected in portfolios that provided the researcher further means of assessing musical metacognition. In addition, 12 students were each interviewed three times. Data on these 12 students included brief descriptions of appearance, personality, and family; a summary of musical experiences outside of school (such as piano lessons); IQ scores; scores on the CTBT (a school achievement test that resulted in a percentile ranking); and scores on the tonal and rhythm subtests of the Primary Measures of Music Audiation (Gordon, 1986).

Christensen proposed an assessment protocol that consisted of a number of formal and informal assessment tasks. Students completed two written reflection worksheets, one at the beginning of the project, and one at the end. Students presented their works-in-progress, both during the compositional and notational processes, for class review and discussion, including answering questions from the teacher and students as well as listening to suggestions for improvement. As a capstone, not only did the students perform their composition, but they also presented their notation to the class and explained what they did and how they did it. Finally, the students were required to explain this project to their parent(s) and reflect together in writing about the value of the project for the student’s music learning. These formal assessments were

supplemented by the teacher’s informal interactions with students as they worked in their groups:

“Questions as simple as: “What did you do?” “How did you do it?” and “What did you find out?” elicited diverse and revealing responses about student understanding of music and their own artistic processes. They were essential to the assessment of student learning” (Christensesn 1992, p. 238).

Unfortunately, this project did not address how the information Christensen gained about her students’ musical cognition was then used to differentiate instruction. “The composition project in this study was a first-time experience for the fourth-graders. It is not known what would happen during the second, third, or fourth time students were asked to participate in similar composition projects. A longitudinal study… could be expected to show increased sophistication in student learning” (p. 245). According to Christensen, the conceptual framework of this study (Vygotsky’s zones of proximal development) assumes that such individualization will occur naturally as a result of students’ interactions with music, with the teacher, and with each other (p. 250). While I am intrigued by this notion, Christensen’s project did not include information on any further experiences of the participants, and I cannot find evidence in the literature that she continued this promising thread of research.

Summary of implicit applications. Studies in the above section have demonstrated that assessments can be used to individualize instruction for elementary students. However, these studies were not designed for this purpose and, therefore, these demonstrations were extrapolated. Furthermore, Guerrini (2006) used tape-recorded examples of individual singers rated by judges, an assessment practice that does not typically occur in elementary general music classrooms. Strand (2005) had a class of only eight students, which raised similar problems with relevance to the current study, in that most classes in elementary schools have many more than eight students. Christensen (1992) differentiated instruction during her study by basing her minilessons on the emergent needs of her students. Furthermore, the notion that interacting with other students and the teacher, combined with rigorous reflection on group progress, performance and presentation, could result naturally in differentiation is tantalizing. However, she did not elaborate on how her numerous assessment components resulted in individualized instruction or how her use of student-directed mini-lessons increased musical achievement.

Examination of parts of these studies, including their method and discussion sections, illustrates that assessments can be embedded in instruction in a variety of ways and that these assessments can be applied to the learning of individual students.

Assessment Applied to Differentiation of Instruction in the Music Classroom Few studies have examined the role and function of assessment specifically as it contributes to teachers’ abilities to adapt instruction to increase individual student learning in the elementary general music classroom. Froseth (1971) administered the Music Aptitude Profile (MAP, Gordon, 1965) to 190 fifth- and sixth-grade beginning band students. Subjects were grouped by their aptitude scores into four music ability groups: high, above average, below average, and low. Students from each group were assigned randomly to either a treatment or control group, while attempting to keep a balance of instrument, gender, and age, to control as much as possible for the known effects of maturation, gender, and instrument choice on achievement. All students received curricular instrumental music instruction from one of seven public school music teachers for 30 minutes once a week for one school year with others who played the same or similar instruments. Class size, materials taught, teaching methods, supplementary materials, and other factors were comparable for all the classes. The only difference between treatment and control groups was that teachers were aware of experimental students’ MAP scores and subscores and were blind to those scores for the control subjects.

“…[T]eaching suggestions, supplementary exercises, flash cards, and work sheets that were provided were used by teachers in both their experimental and control group classes in addition to the traditional published materials” (p. 99). At the end of the year, each student was audiorecorded playing (1) an etude learned with teacher help, (2) an etude learned without teacher help, and (3) a sight-read etude. Each student recorded his or her performance a second time a week later (as a measure of stability of response). Two trained judges rated each performance, blind to both subject identity and treatment condition.

Froseth’s results indicated that mean scores for students in each of the four aptitude levels consistently favored the experimental group. The largest mean differences were found in the highest and lowest aptitude levels. Test-retest reliabilities of the same student from week to week ranged from.82 to.89, and interjudge reliabilities ranged from.90 to.97. Treatments-bylevels ANOVA revealed no significant interactions, so Froseth concluded that his study did not indicate that teacher awareness of MAP results was more beneficial to students depending upon aptitude level (p. 104). However, there was a significant main effect for teacher awareness of student aptitudes. That is, students whose teachers were aware of their aptitude scores performed significantly better than those whose teachers did not know their scores, regardless of aptitude level.

Froseth’s findings that instruction should be adapted to meet the needs of students with differing aptitude levels were supported by more recent research. For example, Henry (2002) studied the effects of pattern instruction and music aptitude on the compositional processes and products of fourth grade children. He suggested “…that aptitude, in conjunction with instruction, does affect what children compose. Therefore, teachers should consider the aptitude levels of students when planning compositional instruction for children” (p. 26). However, he did not propose any method or approach regarding how a teacher should modify instruction based on differing levels of aptitude. Similarly, Gromko and Walters (1998) found that, despite a likeness in overt musical behaviors, children with differences in music aptitude developed differently in terms of music pattern perception. These studies provided evidence that children with different levels of music aptitude may learn music differently from one another, and that students with all levels of aptitude may benefit from differentiated instruction.

Freed-Garrod (1999) took a qualitative, action-research approach to investigating thirdgrade students’ abilities to assess themselves and each other. She was interested in how composition projects would allow students to operate in four “fields of understanding: making, presenting, responding, and evaluating” (p. 51). In this context, she proposed that evaluation was a necessary part of the learning process, because it required students to communicate their perceptions and assign meaning to their musicking (p. 51). In Freed-Garrod’s study, small groups of students worked together to create a song, with parameters of their choosing. The timeframe for the study was determined by the 23 students in the class—each of the six groups had as much time to plan and rehearse as they wished, with a final “sharing” for comments by peers before they recorded their final version. Groups’ times to completion ranged from eight to twelve 40-minute music classes. The elements of teacher guidance and embedded assessment combined with a final summative assessment are of most interest to the current study.

Freed-Garrod stressed that evaluation was “ongoing, integral and concurrent to the rest of the compositional process” (p. 53). Each class session started with a period of whole group instruction, during which Freed-Garrod taught based on themes that had emerged in the previous day’s formative assessment. In this project “… assessment was ongoing—formative evaluation occurred between [Freed-Garrod] as a teacher and student composers and between peers as listeners and composer/performers, and summative assessment occurred at the end of the unit, focusing on the composition in its final form” (p. 54). So, Freed-Garrod was able to structure her teaching to meet the needs of students based on a compositional process that allowed her to see the students’ music cognition in action. Summative data for this study included a written selfevaluation and a rating sheet for the videotaped performances.

Freed-Garrod concluded that, through this project, students developed both aesthetic awareness and artistic judgment, along with considerable conceptual knowledge and vocabulary.

Among her questions for future research, Freed-Garrod saw the need for studies that investigate students’ level of improvement and mastery of skills as it relates to the amount of time and effort required, and she also proposed the need for studies that focus on individual musical growth (p.


Brummett (1992) explored how two teachers applied a holistic, process-oriented student evaluation framework in intact music classrooms. Brummett created an interactive evaluation framework, purposefully selected two teachers to study, trained them in the use of the framework, and provided a detailed teacher handbook. During this training phase, Brummett also observed the sixth grade classes in which the framework was to be implemented, conducted interviews, and collected demographic information regarding the community. The study concluded after 4 months of data collection, except for the final questionnaires from the teachers.

The results of Brummett’s study were written as a narrative that wove together data from all these sources. She told the story of the teachers, their schools, their classrooms, and how they were able to integrate more authentic and individualized assessment in their day-to-day teaching.

She then analyzed the story she had told in light of literature on learning and assessment.

Brummett concluded that her evaluation framework allowed students to have musical independence in a cooperative environment and reflect on their learning, and she concluded that the framework was flexible enough for use in the real world of elementary music instruction.

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