Thursday, August 14, 2014

4 Questions to Ask When Designing Music Assessments

In my initial post in this series (here), I wrote that contest ballots are not helpful rubrics for students. They are written for adjudicators and teachers.  In designing standards-based performance assessments rubrics for music students, the most important consideration is to make it usable for the students!  With this in mind, I have developed an assessment based on four questions, based on my learnings from the resources I blogged about (here and here):

1.  What does it look like?
Pretend you have a student in front of you that was ready to sing, but as he/she was singing, the sound coming out is completely muted.  Would you be able to assess that student's tone?  For the most part, yes!  You can see the student's posture, you can observe his/her breathing, the relaxation of the neck muscles and jaw, the position of the soft palate and tongue in the mouth, the space between the teeth, and the shape of the lips. These are all deliberate choices that a singer makes when performing. Students, especially beginning students, need to be able to assess based on the visual.  For topics such as intonation, the visual would be the notation itself.

2.  What does it sound like when a soloist performs this learning target with quality?
Now unmute our student and let the sound out.  What is the aural result?  This is where individuals take responsibility for their own personal sound.  This is where we focus on the individual growth of each student within the ensemble.  And in today's media, students hear all sorts of poor and even unhealthy styles of singing.  This question differentiates for students what kind of singing is expected in class as compared to what they may see on TV or youtube.

3.  What will an ensemble of musicians sound like when they all exhibit this quality?
Once again, most music teachers could listen to 50 students individually and then correctly hypothesize what the ensemble will sound like.  But a student cannot.  And young students often do not realize what their contribution is to the larger group.  This question places the responsibility for the sound of the group squarely on each member.  For example, how does your personal performance of phrasing contribute to the overall group's phrasing?

4.  How can you improve your individual performance in this area so the group can improve?
Don't leave students hanging.  Using the data collected, here's where you scored in each area, and now here are some suggestions that will help you move to the next level of personal performance.  Again, the responsibility for group growth is placed on each individual.  This is where the teacher and student together set goals for growth.  The teacher can also group students based on needs.

To recap, the progression is:
Quality Individual (visual & aural)  --> Quality Group  --> Strategies for Improvement

Next up ... the answers to these four questions

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