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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Assessment Data Tracking in General Music

Assessment data. How exciting! ;)

Much of a chore as it can be to even think about, assessment data (done right) is massively important to effective teaching- especially when you're teaching as many students as we are as infrequently as we do! No matter how well we think we know our students, it's humanly impossible for us to have an accurate sense of each student's musical development in every aspect of their musicianship without assessment data. The problem is, with all those students and so little class time, data tracking is hard to manage while doing it effectively. Today I want to share some tips to make assessment data tracking in the music room a little bit easier.


1. Know your grading scale

The first thing you need to determine for streamlined data tracking is your grading scale. Whatever you use, it needs to be the same for every. single. assessment. If you give grades on report cards, you should use the same grading scale for your own assessments- that way you don't have to "translate" your grades come report card time. If you don't, pick something that's easy for you to remember, whether it's the traditional A-F letter grades or a simple check system. When I first started teaching, I used a made-up scale: zero, minus, check, and plus. All of those symbols were easy to write and easy to remember. Whatever you use, use one system for everything.

2. Keep it accessible

Wherever you are going to be recording your assessment data, make it VERY easily accessible. Some people like to use their iPad, through apps like iDoceo, to track all of their seating charts, grades, lesson plans, and more. If you're using it regularly and can navigate around quickly without losing class time, that is a great option. For me, I find a pencil and paper is much faster and more reliable. I have a colleague who has her traditional grade book out on her music stand at all times. She uses it for attendance, grades, and more. If you have a place to keep it sitting out, that's another great option. 

I don't like having to rifle through so many papers and find a large gradebook is too clunky to keep on my stand, let alone carry around the room or building, so I keep all of my data on my seating charts, which are housed on a clipboard on my music stand. As you can see in the picture above, I have a set of small boxes next to each student's name where I can quickly mark down their grade. I write down the date and content of the assessment in a "key" at the top of the seating chart. It's quick and easy, and I never have to worry about running out of batteries or losing wifi!

I have streamlined my seating charts and music stand to be rather efficient workhorses in my classroom. You can read more about my music stand organization in this post, and see all the ways I use my seating charts, including tracking data, in this post

3. Clarify the assessment beforehand

Once you have the organizational systems for grading scale and where to record everything, the rest is easy. The most important thing to do before each individual assessment is to make sure you have a clear idea of what skill you are assessing, and what each "level" or "grade" in your scale will look like (what does a D look like vs an A?). Whether you write it out in a formal rubric or just make one in your head, you will make the process a lot easier and faster if you know in advance exactly what you're looking for. You don't want to be standing in front of a class hemming and hawing over what grade to give a student after they just sang a solo in front of the class!

I wrote in detail about the process of designing and giving performance assessments, including a detailed explanation of how to create your rubric for each assessment (written or mental), in this post

4. Be consistent

With efficient systems in place for getting and recording your assessment data, the last important piece to making your data useful and effective is to be consistent. Don't wait until the day before report card grades are due to suddenly try to get a grade entered for every student (not that I've ever found myself in that situation or anything.....)! Plan ahead for regular assessments on a variety of skills, using a variety of assessment strategies, so that students have the best opportunity to show you what they can actually do. You can read more about how to design assessments in the post I already mentioned on performance assessments.

How do you collect and record assessment data as a general music teacher? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. 

If you want to try out my seating chart system to track data, here is a set with tons of configurations. Plan out your assessments to meet the National Core Arts standards with these planning sheets (or get the TEKS version here, and the Ontario curriculum version here). 

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Monday, September 25, 2017

Family Fall Bucket List

It's officially fall! It still feels like summer most days where I live, but I am definitely in the fall mood. I've been putting together a family bucket list every December and for summer vacation for the last few years, but because it's right in the midst of beginning of the school year business and winter concert prep and holiday craziness, I haven't ever made a bucket list for fall. So today I'm changing that with my first fall bucket list of small things I want to do with my daughters to celebrate fall!


If you've seen my winter or summer bucket lists, you know that these are not your typical #lifegoals kind of bucket lists- think low-key, easy, fun little ways to be more present in the everyday and savor each season. Here's what I've got on my list for this fall:


  • Visit a pumpkin patch
  • Carve a pumpkin
  • Visit an apple orchard
  • Drink apple cider
  • Make some homemade chai tea
  • Make some pumpkin cookies
  • Go to a fall festival (that perhaps includes a pumpkin patch and/or apple orchard... hehe)
  • Watch the sunset together (now that it's earlier)
  • Make a pile of leaves
  • Jump in that pile of leaves

What's on your family fall bucket list? Have you ever thought ahead about some small things you want to do together as a family to savor the season and enjoy those little moments together? I'd love to hear about your plans in the comments below!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Assessment in General Music: Performance Assessments

Assessment is one of those things few teachers want to talk about but every single one of us has to do, one way or another. In general music assessment can get pretty murky. With so many students to teach, so little time with each class, and so much material to cover, it can seem overwhelming to find the time to individually assess each student on everything we're supposed to track! I'm going to be covering a range of areas within assessment in the coming weeks, but today I want to focus on one type of assessment that I use often: performance assessments.


What are performance assessments?

When I say performance assessments, what I'm talking about are times when students perform a skill/ complete a task. This is not a test on vocabulary, facts, or other knowledge, but of a particular skill. Because of the nature of music as a subject, a lot of our standards (whichever ones we may use) fall under skills rather than knowledge, whether it's playing a recorder, singing in canon, showing steady beat through movement, or clapping sixteenth notes. So for many of the areas we want to assess, performance assessments are the most natural fit.

It may seem overwhelming to think about assessing every student on every skill, but here are some key things to keep in mind when you're planning and executing your performance assessments:

Less is more

You don't need to hear every student sing a solo aria to find out if they can sing independently in tune. Look at your standards (if you don't have something you're using already, here are the National Core Arts Standards being used in many states in the US) and determine what skills students need to have. Then narrow the assessment task down to the shortest possible way to demonstrate that skill.

That means if you are assessing their ability to read and perform quarter notes and barred eighth notes, you can put 8 different measures with quarter and eighth note rhythms on the board, and have each student clap one of them. You can have the entire class do that in under 3 minutes! If students are supposed to compose a melody using the pentatonic scale, give them 8 bottle caps and have them place them on a printed staff on the correct lines or spaces (read more tips for composition in this post for upper elementary/ middle school, and this post for lower elementary). Put them in partners and have them take turns- you'll have the whole class done in 5 minutes.

The key is to know exactly what skill you're assessing and, as much as possible, make the task all about that one skill.

Spread it out...

If you have a large class or a task that is a little more tedious for the rest of the class to sit through, break up the assessments over several class periods. You'll want to account for students having more or less time to practice- sometimes if I know a student who went on the first day can do it better on the last day, I'll have them do it again- but there's no reason you have to assess everyone in one period.

Last year we had particularly large classes of 1st graders and they were (and still are) an active, squirrely bunch. When it came time to assess their ability to sing sol and mi, even the short, 5-second singing patterns were too much to sit through for those classes! That was one time I spread out the assessments over 3 class periods to break up the monotony.

You can also break it up by having a few students perform at the beginning of the period and more at the end. When I am having my 2nd graders sing mi, sol, and la independently, I use a fun song with lots of movement. Doing that song over and over is exhausting! I always do a few at the beginning of the lesson, move on to something else, and come back to it at the end to give a few more students a turn.

...or Multitask

Depending on what you're assessing, there are some things you can have multiple students do together and assess whether each individual can do it or not- you don't have to have each student perform individually every time. If you're having students clap or play rhythms, there's no reason you can't have more than one student perform at a time- just make sure you watch closely to notice anyone who may be looking at or following other students instead of reading it for themselves. I definitely wouldn't do every assessment as a group, because you're likely to miss some students who rely on others if you do, but for some of them I think you can still get a good idea of their skills.

Always have a rubric

Don't get scared. I'm not saying you have to have a formal, written rubric that you fill out each time you assess a student on any skill. But it is important to have a clearly spelled-out idea of what constitutes an A, B, or C, or meeting the standard, exceeding the standard, or working towards (depending on your grading scale- if you give grades on the report cards, use the report card scale). It's good practice to sit down and write out for yourself what each level would look like, but at a bare minimum you need to think through each one in your head and make sure you have a clear idea of how you will score each performance. Otherwise when you see 5 kindergarten classes over the course of 2 weeks there is no way you will score your students the same way in the first class as you do the last!

In most cases, you can use this simple formula to spell out what each level will look like:

1. exceeding the standard/ A to A+ : uses the skills to do something amazing/ creative
2. meeting the standard/ B+ to A- : does whatever the standard says they'll do
3. working towards the standard/ C or B : makes some mistakes but gets some stuff right
4. not meeting the standard/ F or D : doesn't do anything that the standard says they'll do

Here's one example for an assessment on students performing quarter and eighth notes with a steady beat:

1. shows the steady beat by tapping his foot and speaks the rhythm syllables while clapping the rhythms accurately
2. accurately claps the rhythm with a steady beat
3. makes 1-2 errors in the rhythm, has to start over once, or claps correctly with an unsteady beat
4. claps the majority of the rhythms incorrectly or does not clap

Multiple birds, one stone

OK yes, you're right, I did tell you before to focus in on one skill for your assessment. But skills are so closely related that they can be assessed in one task. If you want to assess their ability to create a rhythm using sixteenth notes and dotted half notes, why not have them use both in one 8-beat rhythm? If they are supposed to create a rhythm and also perform a rhythm, you can first assess their written work and then have them perform their composition. Don't combine things if it makes it more complicated, but sometimes it's easy and natural to combine and it will save you a lot of time and effort!

Work smarter, not harder

All of the previous points boil down to this: don't make this more complicated than it needs to be! Performance assessments are something that we can usually work into lessons pretty seamlessly- we already have students singing all the time, but now we're going to make sure we check to see if each student can sing it by themselves. Find ways to work your assessment tasks into the lessons you're already teaching, and you'll not only make your job easier but you'll make the assessment more authentic and meaningful for the students as well!

Looking for lessons that sequentially address the standards? Here's my curriculum set.

Want to learn how to design your long-range plans and lessons more effectively? Learn more about my free Lesson Planning Made Awesome email course here.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Visual Calendar for Elementary Age Kids

With so much out of their control, and with schedules changing each day, having a visual calendar is really helpful for young children. Ever since I made my first one for my 2-year-old daughters 3 years ago, we have been using the calendar to track their daily schedule every week. A few months ago I shared how I had updated the other parts of the magnetic board I have for the girls, including a simple to-do list and a monthly calendar. Now that the girls have been in Kindergarten for a few weeks, I have a better idea of what kinds of things are most helpful to track on their calendar. Today I wanted to share what I'm including on their updated visual calendar, along with a free download so you can make your own for your elementary age kids!


Now that the girls are older, their schedule (and how they think about their day) has changed quite a bit. They don't take as many naps, but they need to keep track of field trips, specials, and other school events. They also have more play dates and extra-curricular activities.

For school, I made some magnets that show their "specials" classes: music, art, PE, and library. I also made some computer magnets for when they eventually start having computer lab time and standardized tests (sigh). I also added some magnets with school busses to show field trips,. My daughters' school is on a rotational schedule so I also made magnets with the letters A through E to indicate the rotational day. Since my daughters are in different classes, I wrote their initials on each of the specials and field trip magnets to indicate who has what. 

For home, I added some new magnets too: play dates, dentist, doctor, and haircut appointments, and parties (which I'll use for parties and celebrations at school or outside of school). I'm also still using the ones that show when their meals are, because it's easier for them to keep track of what happens when that way, and the ones with pictures of family members' faces- with going between 2 houses and visiting extended family, it's nice to have those printed so they can see who they'll be with.

Making the magnets is easy! I printed out the icons I wanted with a grid marked off on letter size paper, then stuck it on these adhesive magnet sheets and cut along the lines with regular scissors. Done! If you want to make some for yourself, download the PDF here (I've included a blank one so you can make your own in the same size if you want). I use an auto drip pan for my board, but if you're just making a weekly visual calendar you can use any regular cookie sheet instead!

I hope you can use these to make your own visual calendar for your elementary-age children! If you do, I'd love for you to send me a photo through email or by tagging me on social media :)