Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Early Thoughts on Mastery Learning in Music

So, 4-5 weeks into the school year and I have taken a slower pace than I have ever taken previously.  I had always been a teacher who had a concert's worth of music (or more) in folders, ready to go on day one.  I had always believed in getting right to work and setting the tone with a full plate.

This year was different, and it was due to the assessments that were designed for both music theory and music performance.  When you are moving into a standards-based/mastery model, you cannot jump right into rehearsal.
Here is what the first four weeks of school looked like in choir (45 min of choir every other day):
Week 1 - Study the history of the Star-Spangled Banner (200th birthday) and use the National Anthem to work on quality performance skills.  Also worked on two simple patriotic partner song choral pieces. Talked about upcoming assessments.
Weeks 2 & 3 - Assessments - Every students had two assessments:  an online music theory test (a Google Form that is self-graded by Flubaroo) as well as a performance hearing (their choice of patriotic song).  Performance skills were based on three factors for the first assessment:  posture, accurate pitch matching, and vowel shapes.  Click here for my post and screencast about how I set up Google Docs and used Kaizena to record performances.
Week 4 - Make-up assessments for students who missed or that we ran out of time.  Start rehearsal of our first concert piece.  And I didn't worry that some students were out of the room for make-ups with a colleague - I just started rehearsals with students who were present.  It actually was nice to "prime the pump" with a smaller group that could then teach the larger group once we all were together.

And how did the assessments go?  Pretty well.  A few observations:
• Students are used to the idea that everything gets a grade.  One of the most tension-reducing moments for students (and teacher) was when I told students that these assessments would not be part of their grade, except to say they had completed them.  They are just to find out where you are - why should anyone be penalized for that?
• Students wondered how the assessments would be used.  When they found out we would be focusing on growth, I think we had immediate buy-in from 95% of the class.  Telling a person you are focusing on his/her individual growth immediately establishes a relationship of care and concern.
• We also spent a good amount of time talking about other things students are good at, how they got to that point, and growth mindset.
• Assessment takes WAY longer than you imagine it will take.  Students who are poor at theory struggle over every best guess, never finish, or never hit the "submit" button at the end of the survey. And even though each student only sang for 20-30 seconds in a performance hearing, it takes a long time.
• The positive culture in the classroom and the high expectations of musicianship that hopefully continue have already made up for the 3 weeks of time it took to get mastery learning off the ground with these assessments.

In the end, I have two sets of baseline data:
Music Theory Knowledge (from online form graded by Flubaroo, 67 questions)
Musical Skills Performance Assessment (from performance hearing, max score = 9)

One thing that has not happened yet is having the students use the data to set their own goals for the next assessment.  That will be the next step.

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