Assessing complexity: Group composing and New Zealand's National Certificates of Educational Achievement
This socio-cultural study investigated the assessment of group composing for a secondary school qualification, and the implications such assessment might have for teacher practice. It examines the validity of the contributions of group-composing students and classroom music teachers to the common purposes of learning, teaching, and assessment. The research was carried out in two cycles of practitioner inquiry where the researcher worked in collaboration with two teachers in their respective secondary schools to teach and assess group composing for New Zealand’s secondary school qualification, the National Certificates of Educational Achievement (NCEA). A wide range of data were gathered during the collaboration, including teacher and student interviews, recorded discussions, classroom materials and assessment documents, resulting in a rich data set. In the classroom, conceptual models of composing and creativity were used to bridge the discourses of formal and informal music learning, with the aim of engaging the students as thoughtful, independent artists, able to communicate their creative intentions clearly to each other, and to their teacher. During data analysis, cultural historical activity theory (CHAT) was used to analyse and interpret the complexities and contradictions associated with group composing and its assessment. A significant finding is that the incorporation of group composing into established senior secondary music programmes required teachers to make changes to their practice. The teachers’ experiences as learners, musicians and teachers, and their perceptions of professional identity, were found to be key factors in the extent to which they were able to make those changes. If the assessment of group composing was to be valid, then all participants, teachers and group composers alike, needed to engage with each other in the closely interrelated practices of composing, teaching and assessment. Multiple forms of musical authorship, particularly those of rhythm-section or novice players, proved to be problematic for the assessment system. What were regarded as valid contributions by some members of a group-composing ensemble were not necessarily regarded as valid by the teacher. Arriving at a final grade for each group-composing student not only required grading the music but also entailed the evaluation of portfolios of student achievement data, derived from collaborative interactions within the group. The teacher needed to interpret a complex mix of interpersonal, musical and social relationships among students. Therefore, a broad, socio-cultural assessment perspective was required, necessitating holistic, rather than atomised, judgments to be made across the entire compositional process. This thesis offers possible insights into how music teachers might reconcile the validity demands of a national assessment system with the considerable challenges posed by the ethical requirement to meet the diverse needs of their students. It adds to on-going debates in the literature about the nature of disciplinary knowledge in music education, what constitutes music curriculum in the 21st century, and how such curriculum knowledge might be assessed. It also throws new light upon the complexities and challenges of conducting collaborative action research in schools.