Assessment in the ensemble room can be a daunting task. The process can lead to a lot of moans and groans (from students and teachers). However, when educators think of approaching an assessment plan like a road trip, the experience can be more pleasurable and productive for everyone involved!
Step 1: Select a Destination
Often, as music educators create a lesson plan, assessment is an afterthought. They think about what piece to rehearse, or what rhythm in the piece the students struggled with the week before. They think about all of the logistics they need to tell the students, such as what time the buses will arrive or what to wear for the next concert.
However, your rehearsal planning can be more productive and time efficient if you think about assessment first.
When you plan a road trip, typically the first item of business is to plan a destination. Whether you’re driving straight through the night to Santa Monica, or plan to randomly explore your way towards the west coast, you typically plan with a destination in mind. Think about taking this same approach to an assessment plan. Do you want your students to learn specific rhythmic concepts? Do you want your students to perform in a variety of key signatures? Begin by figuring out this “final destination.”
Step 2: Look at a Map
The next step in planning a road trip is determining which paths, highways, or interstates you would like to consider for your trip. If you are heading west, you might want to take Route 66 and see all the sites along the way. Or maybe you would prefer to get to your destination a little quicker and stay on major interstates. No matter how you prefer to travel, you must look at a map and see what options are available.
With this concept in mind while planning assessment, the National Standards for Music Education can provide a map with different routes to follow to achieve your assessment goals. Do you want to follow the “Connecting” route? Or the “Responding” route? Or maybe multiple routes? By reading through the standards, they can help inspire the route to take, and ideas for skills you would like to assess in your students.
Step 3: Selecting the Best Route for Your Travels
After examining your different options for travel, it is then necessary to select the best driving path. You might base these decisions on how long you want to be in the car, certain sites you would like to see, or to make sure you are in a specific location for an overnight stay.
On your Assessment Road Trip, this will be when we create the objectives or goals for our lesson. When creating objectives, I find it best to use SMART Goals. SMART Goals are performance-based goals. They were developed to help educators set objectives and goals for students that are meaningful and that focus on improving student learning (O’Neil, 2000). There are five parts to the SMART Goal approach:
S = Strategic
Strategic goals are comprised of a verb + adjective + noun. This gives a more detailed idea of what you would like your students to achieve. For example, instead of stating “students will be able to play a major scale,” you will want to provide more details of what skills you would like to assess. For example, “students will be able to perform a Bb major scale in one octave” provides the verb (perform), the adjective (Bb), and the noun (major scale and one octave).
M = Measurable
By including details that we can measure you ensure that students and teacher alike are clear about the expectations. With the example above, by stating “one octave,” everyone is clear on what will be assessed.
A = Attainable
It is important to plan attainable goals for the students you have in your class. Too often, as educators, we compare the students in front of us with the “students we had last year” or think the “students should be able to play this, because other high school students can.” Take a moment to think about whether the objective you are asking the student to achieve is attainable for their level.
R = Results-Oriented
As a music teacher educator, I often see objectives from my students such as “students will be able to play Holst’s First Suite.” What are these students actually working towards? Playing the correct rhythms? Focusing on the correct notes? Or maybe the students have learned the fundamentals and are working on more expressive qualities of the piece, such as phrasing or intonation?
To avoid this ambiguity, I suggest creating more results-oriented goals, such as “students will be able to demonstrate dynamic contrast throughout the first movement of Holst’s First Suite.” This allows everyone in the room to focus on the task at hand, and provides a more detailed assessment plan for you.
T = Timebound
When planning for a semester or a full school year, it is important to have goals along the way. Is this a goal for today, or for the week? Maybe it is a goal we will work on for the whole semester?
Step 4: Planning Your Stops Along the Way
When planning a road trip out west, a stop at the Grand Canyon is a must! Therefore, it is important to plan ahead to make hotel reservations, purchase enough gas for long stretches of road, and determine how many snacks you are going to need in the car each day.
This is the part of our assessment experience when we plan the specifics of how we want to achieve our objectives and assessment throughout the trip. What everyday procedures will help us assess our students along the way? Maybe a playing test at the end of the week? Or a sectional “check” at the end of the class period? Planning assessment “checkpoints” along the way provides more opportunities to assess student growth.
Step 5: Enjoy the Journey
When we think of assessment as a part of our journey (as opposed to a destination) we expand the number of accessible moments available to the class.
For example, imagine spending time in rehearsal working on a technical passage with the woodwinds. This might present a perfect moment to walk over to the clarinets to better hear each student, opening up an opportunity to assess individual student progress. Perhaps the students are struggling with a rhythmic passage. The next day, you might use that rhythmic passage as part of the warm up so you can assess if students know the rhythm prior to applying it to the piece.
Remember, no matter what kind of road trip you’re on, half the fun is enjoying the detours along the way.