Philosophy on Assessment in the Musical Ensemble
Assessment is a crucial part of the educational process as it adds a sense of accountability on the students’ parts and gives students and teachers valuable feedback on their progress and teaching. I have done extensive research on the assessment process since grading and assessment has been a major focus of my current school district for the past several years. I served on a team of educators that guided our district from the traditional approach towards proficiency and standards-based grading. I have come to realize that students are motivated to succeed when they understand exactly what is expected of them and understand the relevance of the standards in a subject area. Also, when students understand that their grades are something they earn – rather than something given or done to them arbitrarily by a teacher – they work harder to succeed.
For me, the first step in the assessment process is to create an organized and pedagogically sound curriculum. I have created a curriculum based off of the National Standards for Music Education. This curriculum includes a step-by-step approach to sight-reading and vocal technique as well as rotating units for musical analysis. Repertoire selected for my students ideally coincides with the elements of the curriculum.
The next step is to create rubrics that can give specific feedback on a student’s progress along the grading continuum from “beginner” to “master.” I find it helpful to share the rubrics with the students at the beginning of a unit so the students can have clear expectations of what they need to do to master a standard.
The final step is creating, employing, and revising assessments. This final step occurs throughout the teaching process via a cycle of formative and summative activities. Formative assessments are a continuous part of teaching and learning in a musical ensemble. The results of formative assessments inform not only the student in how he or she is grasping a concept, but the teacher in what aspects of a standard need to be addressed more closely. I typically do not formally grade a formative assessment as I feel that these should be risk-free opportunities for students to try out their skills/knowledge of a standard. Without the pressure of a grade, they can feel more confident to keep trying to earn a higher level of mastery. I will then give summative assessments when I know that the majority of students are ready to demonstrate proficiency in a standard. Because student-teacher communication regarding assessment is always open, few students feel anxious about failing and do poorly. Generally, students pass my classes with a feeling of accomplishment and a clear picture of what they have learned.