a smattering of thoughts on assessment

J – BEWARE: Read at your own risk. This is a purging of thoughts.

Although I am hesitant to follow Rob’s fantastic post- I simply can’t resist! Lately, I can’t stop thinking about assessment…WEIRD, I know (hence the title goober music teachers).

Anyways…The entire state is working on this marvelous arts assessment initiative; teachers are collaborating and questioning  one other and themselves- sooo much inspiration!! My big question of the year is what happens when you teach in an environment where assessment isn’t required?

This lead me to another question… why do we assess? Is it to make the administration happy? Is it to prove that we are in fact part of the academic core? I challenge that it can be this and more!

In my position this year -most of my classes do not require grades or assessments. This actually bummed me out a little. I was looking forward to tackling standards, objectives and assessments for each grade and really diving into the process.

Who cares.. I did it anyway!

Here is what I discovered through assessment…

1. I know my ensembles better… including each individual and what they are capable of. This helps me to get an idea of who needs extra help in mastering a skill or meeting a standard. Sometimes I found out the whole group needed to review. These included standards on key signatures, reading examples, notation, as well as vocal techniques (posture, low breathing.. etc)

2. The students are more aware of what they are trying to master and what certain set of skills they may be trying to develop. What does it take to be a good singer, member of an ensemble/team, or musician?

3. They get an idea of where they are at, and what they can improve upon.

4. The focus isn’t about nailing them on a test… it is about mastering a skill no matter how long that takes.

5. I would say that most of the kids 4-12 could tell you the basic standards in Chorus. These include.. using head dominant voice, good alignment, demonstration of numbers and speaking rhythms, low, free breathing…I am not sure if they would be able to otherwise.

On another note ( I told you it would be a smattering!)-  a conversation about assessment came up at school last week where a teacher stated “School seems to work better without assessment.”  She communicated that as the students get older and start getting grades, they tend to start focusing on “what do I need to do to get an A?” instead of mastering the material at hand.

Now this really got me thinking! Why do they do it?? I had to agree that I see students do it all the time, but could it be an attitude that we as teachers are passing on to them

I started asking myself…

Are you putting emphasis on mastering skills or are you putting the emphasis on a certain project? Why do teachers give out projects? Do students know why they are working on the task?

If your answer to the first question is that you are grading projects, term papers, test and quizzes, then this could be the issue.

Quizzes and tests are merely ways for them to demonstrate their mastery. Therefore, if they focus on mastering the skills and subject-specific standards they will then in turn do well on tests, quizzes, projects etc…

So to summarize –

Assessment can…

1) Support the arts as  part of the academic core

2) Provide objective feedback

3)  Bring purpose to the classroom

4)  Support your philosophy

5)   Let your students in on your philosophy and purpose

6)   Encourage students to focus on the skills

7)  Work hand in hand with curriculum and learning objectives

8)  Teach students about how important the PROCESS is

9)  Ensure that you know where every student is in their abilities and techniques

10) Help you to bring your entire class to the next level of learning

Isn’t it obvious 🙂

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