Documenting Student Growth with SmartMusic

Music educator Don Long is our guest blogger today

 

“Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. Smith, it is great to see you again.  Let’s listen to how your son is doing in Band!”  The pattern repeated itself for hours on end during a couple of long days and nights at my school.  You know that time of year….parent-teacher or student-led conferences.  With SmartMusic as our resource, nearly 100 Band families and I reviewed each student’s musical progress and collaborated to establish a plan for growth.  Each conference, regardless of the student’s current level of performance, was a positive one.  Why?  Because SmartMusic provided the kind of data that teachers in other subjects only dream of having.

 

During each conference, I accessed the Band member’s most recent playing assessment through SmartMusic’s grade book.  I began by reviewing my written comments and helping parents to interpret the familiar screen shot of red and green notes from that assessment.  We then listened to the audio recording, which seems to be the highlight of my conferences.  Parents enjoy hearing their child play and I often have some of the highest number of conferences in my building.  This is far different from the years before SmartMusic when I could only discuss (without evidence) how a child was performing on their instrument.

 

At Fire Prairie Middle School, where I am the Director of Bands, the instructional staff uses only summative assessments to determine grades.  In short, that means that there are no points awarded for pre-tests, formative assessments, and certainly none for just showing up and doing the daily work.  From a Band Director’s standpoint, there are no points given for showing up to rehearsal with instrument and music in hand and behaving.  What students can actually do at the time of the summative assessment is how student grades are determined. 

 

In practice, students play one or two summative assessments during each grading period.  The trade off for this limited number of assessments is that students have as many opportunities as needed to retake them after re-teaching has occurred, even past the end of the grading period.  Our building’s goal is to make sure that all students achieve proficiency no matter how long it takes. This fits perfectly in not only what ensemble directors do naturally, but also with their use of SmartMusic as the assessment tool.

 

SmartMusic allows continual reassignment of assessments as students become ready to improve their performance.  In addition, SmartMusic saves my written comments from each submitted assessment.  I can then add to those comments for each subsequent submission.  This provides the important aspect of student improvement.  So even though Mrs. Smith’s son is only at 70% accuracy, the perspective is vastly different when she sees that this is up from 30%.

 

I love using SmartMusic in my daily teaching and in how I assess student performance.  There is no doubt that this incredible interactive music software has revolutionized the way I teach and the way my students learn.  Utilizing the SmartMusic grade book to track student data and share this information with students and parents truly makes SmartMusic the music director’s best tool for providing music education for today’s student musicians.

 

Don E. Long is in his twenty-fifth year as a Music Educator having taught Band at the High School, Junior High and Middle School levels in Missouri in Kansas.  Mr. Long is active as a SmartMusic presenter and trainer and has enjoyed sharing his SmartMusic story with educators in Missouri, Kansas, and Pennsylvania.  Currently serving as Coordinator of Music for the Fort Osage School District in Independence, Missouri, he continues to direct the 5th and 6th grade Concert Bands and the Timber Winds Honor Band at Fire Prairie Middle School.  Mr. Long is married to Lisa Long, Choral and Handbell Director at Fire Prairie, who jointly teach over 730 young musicians each week.

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