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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

If you want to see every single one of the rubrics I use with my students K-6, you can get them in this elementary music assessment kit.

Multiple birds, one stone

OK yes, you're right, I did tell you before to focus in on one skill for your assessment. But some 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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