Melinda Wallace

Music Education Assessment Specialist

And Then The Gym Teacher Said...

So the gym teacher and I were talking about assessment. Yes, I know a gym teacher and a music teacher talking assessment is a little "Mr. Holland's Opus". He was telling me about the state physical fitness test and some of the items that he’s seen in years past. One part of the test (whether current or in the past, I’m not sure) called for the students to create posters about physical well-being (exercise and healthy eating). And then the gym teacher said, “Who am I to judge art?” Now, this is a teacher that if he was actually asked to judge school art would say yes, but I completely understand what he’s saying. It turns out that this gym teacher alters the assignment a bit, still to encourage students to research and promote physical health and well-being… a good call on his part.

So it brings me to this question: Why would a test include something that wasn’t normally part of an ordinary class? Why would a gym class include an art project? Or written work? Wouldn’t it be a better use of time and resources for a physical fitness test to be over physical fitness? This goes for music as well.

My first year teaching I was very excited. I was in a very small school with high K-5 retention. I was excited about being able to track my students’ progress throughout the years (huge nerd, I know). So I busted out the big guns… written tests to keep over the years, even for my kindergartners. What I saw in the class was completely different from what I saw on their tests no matter the age. Although students were able to demonstrate their abilities during activities and songs, they were unable to transfer their active learning to a written test.

Here’s why…. IT WAS ACTIVE LEARNING. IT WAS NOT MEANT TO BE A PASSIVE, WRITTEN TEST. An active learning objective calls to be assessed in an active learning manner. Goodbye written tests, hello taking notes!

So, I switched tactics. I took notes. I pre-assessed, did several summative, and did a post ALL WHILE STILL HAVING MUSIC CLASS. My students had NO IDEA that they were being assessed, they just thought it was part of the game. 

My "kinders" are working on maintaining a steady beat at different tempos. This is something that I will continue to work on throughout the year. So, I taught them a game. A few students got a chance to take a turn playing a drum to a steady beat. We ran out of time, but the following lesson I got my class list out during the same game. I told them that I was making sure that everyone got a turn. However, I was actually taking notes on how each student demonstrated their steady beat. I made a simple  -  ✓ or + next to their name. Minus if they didn’t keep any steady beat, check if they kept it most of the time, or a plus if they kept it all of the time. 

I think the key here was consistency and familiarity: same song, same game, that was learned during the first lesson and then assessed during the second. It was consistent and familiar. Each time I saw improvement, not only in their ability to play the drum on beat but to sing on pitch while playing.

When assessing in music class, think of how the students will actually use this knowledge in the future. How will they apply it? If the answer is not pen-and-paper, don’t assess it using pen-and-paper. Be aware of the power of your ears and eyes when measuring a student’s true achievement.

If the answer is not pen-and-paper, don’t assess it using pen-and-paper

If the answer is not pen-and-paper, don’t assess it using pen-and-paper