Sooner or later it happens to all of us. We give a test or listen to an etude performed by a student and mark down what we believe is an appropriate and fair grade for that assessment. A week later we receive a call or an email from an irate parent asking why Johnny got a C when obviously he is the greatest musician ever to step into your classroom. If the assessment was a paper and pencil test then you could easily refer back to that paper to prove that the grade you gave was valid, but in the music classroom we do a lot of stuff that can’t be assessed that way. Much of what we do is subjective and in the case of a live performance also fleeting. Once it is done, it’s done. There is no way to go back and reproduce that evaluation unless you have taken steps to archive the performance in some way.
This being the SmartMusic blog it should obvious that SmartMusic could be used for this purpose, especially on performance-based assessments where a student plays something on their instrument. However, there are many other facets of instruction in our classrooms that require us to think outside of the box in order to adequately assess and record the data we need to save. We’re going to look at some of those options later in the article, but first let’s look at something that is every bit as important to consider, your gradebook.
The Right Gradebook
Most school districts have settled on a single online method for recording student grades. These methods typically stink at recording the kinds of data that music teachers need. For this reason I have been on a hunt for the perfect gradebook program for music teachers and I may have found what I am looking for in an iPad app called iDoceo.
iDoceo offers the things you would expect from a gradebook but adds much more that music teachers can use to record classroom experiences for later evaluation or validation. When entering a student’s assessment scores you can also choose to record a video, take a photo, or scan a document with your iPad’s camera. That audio/visual record is then saved along with that specific score and can be recalled at any time should the need arise. This alone makes iDoceo almost indispensable in my classroom. It allows me to keep all of the assessments and their associated grades in one convenient place.
I also love it for its flexibility in how I can record different parts of the class day. I can set up and view multiple tabs; one for lessons, full band, assessments, assignments, etc. I can also link my gradebook to my student’s Google Classroom accounts. Taking attendance is a breeze: I can mark a student present and give them a score for the lesson with just two clicks. It can save photos as well which helps me immensely when I’m trying to learn 160 new faces at the beginning of the year. Backing up all of that data is also easy by using a Dropbox account.
iDoceo isn’t without its drawbacks though. All of the data is stored on the iPad, so over time it will fill up with all of the recordings, photos, etc. If you have an iPad with very little storage you may not be able to use iDoceo to its fullest extent. There is no easy way to work around this, as the previously mentioned Dropbox integration is for backups only. You can’t offload the images, videos, etc. to cloud storage and still leave them available to the app. They have to stay on the iPad if you want to have easy access to them through the gradebook interface.
Other Assessment Apps
Of course your gradebook can’t do everything. Fortunately, there are many specialized offerings available to help you assess almost every part of your curriculum. For a list of dozens of different ideas visit musicedmagic.com/assessment. Below are some of my personal favorites that I use on a regular basis.
Assessing Basic Concept Knowledge
If you want to assess basic concept knowledge but loathe the idea of paper and pencil tests, there are lots of options available. In classrooms that have one-to-one computers or other online devices, Kahoots and Quizziz are great options to consider. While both provide multiple choice testing options, they are presented in different ways. You first add your questions to the system and then give your students a code to use to log into the quiz. Assessments can be set up to be like an interactive game show (Kahoot) or can be done as low key, “move at your own pace” activities with time limits of up to 15 minutes per question as in the case of Quizziz.
Note Names and Fingerings
For teaching and assessing beginners on things like reading note names and remembering fingerings, iPad apps such as NinGenius and Staff Wars Live are great. They not only encourage skill practice, they can also assess a student’s competence. With NinGenius students play a game to identify notes on a staff or fingerings that pop up on the screen by touching the correct answer. With Staff Wars Live they actually play the note shown and the difficulty and speed ramps up with every ten correct answers.
One aspect of teaching that has always been difficult to assess is when you have a student analyze and critique their own performances (or the performances of others). For this purpose you might want to try Playposit.com or EdPuzzle.com. Both of these websites will take online videos and allow you to ask the students questions as they watch. At a specific point in the video playback it pauses and a question pops up on the screen. Multiple choice or long answer options are available, and the results are saved for the teacher to review at a later time.
As I said before these are just a few that I use on a regular basis but there are dozens more, all of which are outlined and explained in detail on MusicEdMagic.com. With the growing amount of technology-based assessment options out there, your classroom can be a whole lot easier to manage and maintain if you only know where to look. Give some of them a try and share your experiences with other
Chad Criswell teaches beginning band for Southeast Polk Community Schools in Altoona, IA. He has been the technology columnist for NAfME’s Teaching Music Magazine for the last ten years and maintains his own personal music education site at musicedmagic.com.