Assessment in the Music Room - Part 2

Walk into an elementary music room and you're likely to see students singing, reading, playing instruments, listening, improvising, and moving. Each of these activities can give us crucial insight into how our students are learning, and how we can help them.

That insight is called assessment. 

Sure, assessments could look like students sitting with a pencil and paper, writing down responses to the teacher's questions. 

It could like students using ipads

Students working in small groups at centers

Students playing percussion instruments

It might look like dancing. . . 

Sound like singing. . . 

In short, assessment in music can - and should - look basically like a typical day in your music room.


Assessment in My Music Room

I try to take down some form of assessment in every single lesson. Many of these assessments will never make it to a grade book, but they make me so happy to look at. 

Why? 

Without these daily assessments I might forget that the student acting out and running all over the room can complete every musical task well above my expectation. 

He doesn't need to try harder to focus. He's bored. But I might forget, or never know at all, unless I've been tracking his performance. 

Daily assessments point out that the child who more or less matches pitch in March but still couldn't find her head voice in January. That's an accomplishment worth celebrating. But with all the students I see in a week I might forget how far this one student has come, or never notice her progress at all.


 

When our assessments are thoughtfully constructed and consistently implemented they give us a direct picture of our effectiveness as educators. 

 

We don't assess our students because the state says we must. We don't do it for our principals. We don't do it because it's trendy to track data.

We do it because we need to know what our students need from us.


5 Assessment Strategies for Your Elementary Music Classroom

Today I'm giving you a peek into what works for me in my classroom. These are simple assessment ideas that are easy to implement. And the best part is, you're probably doing many of them already! 

 
Assessment in Elementary Music
 

 

I know every teaching situation is different, and some schools have more tech tools available than others. However, these ideas are easily modified to fit in a variety of scenarios. 

Nearpod
 

Nearpod is a new (to me) app that allows you to post an interactive presentation across multiple screens. That could come in handy if you're at a one-to-one school where every student has an ipad. You could make a one question multiple choice quiz for an exit ticket (more on that later). 

You also could create a very simple presentation giving your students instructions to follow in centers if your class only has one ipad. Embed a recording of yourself speaking the directions or type them out, include images of what the final project should look like. . . Whatever your needs are!

Audio Recordings
 

Audio recordings could also can be used in centers if you have students practicing sight reading or sight singing. Simply have students press play on the recording device of your choice, then state their name and class, and get going! It lets you be in another part of the room, either assisting or taking grades of your own, while the students collect the data for you.


This can also be done during whole class instruction if you don't want to carry around a clipboard. Record the activity in which students are soloing and then listen back to the 5 - 10 minute clip you recorded to write down your grade. 

With careful planning this idea could actually save you a lot of time!


This idea is tried-and-true by so many music teachers, and there's a reason it works so well. The goal of a singing game is to get students to sing along in a fun, stress-free environment. 

Primary Singing Games:

Kindergarten - Good King, Leopold
What to Assess: Singing voice, speaking voice, yelling voice, whisper voice
** By the way, Anne Mileski just released a great podcast about solo singing in kindergarten with some great assessment tips.

1st Grade - Cuckoo
What to Assess: Singing voice; sol, mi; steady beat; quarter, eighth notes

2nd Grade - 'Round and 'Round
What to Assess: Singing voice, La, quarter, eighth notes

3rd Grade - Dinah
What to Assess: MRD, 16th notes

Upper Level Singing Games:

4th Grade - Big Fat Biscuit
What to Assess: Low la; dotted quarter and eighth note

5th - Liza Jane, John Kanaka, Sail Away Ladies. . . 
What to Assess: high do (Liza Jane, John Kanaka), 16th note patterns (Liza Jane, Sail Away Ladies), syncopation (Liza Jane)
Any song that has an easily dividable form can be given out as solos and made into a call-and-response activity. With your older kiddos the possibilities are endless and you can easily modify the call or response to fit your assessment needs.

 

Modifications:

  1. Most of these songs could be put on instruments - either rhythmic or melodic. Assess playing abilities just as easily as singing abilities.
  2. You could also challenge your students to play a response that they make up (still using the target element) instead of the "real" response.

This is an incredibly simple way to quickly jot down an assessment and it can be used for many operations in many different grades. 

Consider the following scenarios: 

Thumbs up, thumbs down:

  • 4th Grade: Teacher plays a new melodic phrase written on the board and asks students if she made a mistake. On the count of 3 students respond with a thumbs up (yes, you played it correctly) or thumbs down (no, that was incorrect).
  • 2nd Grade: Teacher sings a new song and asks the students if that new song uses their target element they're preparing. Give students a moment to think, sing the song again, then on the count of 3 students respond with a thumbs up (yes, I hear the mystery note) or thumbs down (no, this song doesn't use the mystery note).

Sign Language: 

  • Kindergarten: Teacher claps the rhythm to a known song and asks students if she was clapping the steady beat or how the words go. On the count of 3, students hold up W in sign language for "how the words go" and a B in sign language for the "steady beat". These signs are simple enough that kindergarten students will be able to form them without trouble.
  • 5th Grade: Students are practicing their new element: fa. The class sings known song (with fa in it) on solfege, then helps the teacher notate a phrase of the song on the staff. When the teacher asks where fa should go on the staff, students hold up the correct alphabet letter.
  • 3rd Grade: Students have been practicing a new element re 

Numbers: 

  • 3rd Grade: Students have been preparing 16th notes. The teacher sings a known song containing 16th notes. Then students clap the rhythm to a phrase while the teacher points to 4 beat icons. When the teacher asks what beat the mystery rhythm is on, students hold up a 1, 2, 3, or 4.

 

I like to have students wait to show me their answers until the count of 3 for a few reasons: It gives students time to consider their answers before throwing a hand up. It also discourages students from just looking around at whoever had their hand up first and copying them. Once the hand goes up, it freezes like a popsicle! 

It's likely that you're already doing the visual method of assessment in some form anyway. All that's left is to jot down student responses! 

To save time in this area, sometimes I jot down only the answers of students who got the question wrong. This makes it quick, especially when most students understand the concept except for a few who need more time. (That might sound harsh but I assure you it's purely for time-saving reasons!)

If the responses are more mixed than that, I might take a quick snapshot of the class and record individual responses later.


Sometimes written assessments get a bad rep in music classes because they're not as active as dancing or playing instruments. I tend to use them sparingly, but it would be a shame to not use them at all!

Exit tickets

Exit tickets are one of the easiest ways I know to get a very quick, physical answer from the entire class. These are targeted, easy questions based on the day's lesson.

Here are some examples of exit tickets you might use in your classroom: 

  • Name one instrument in the strings family.
  • How many beats does a half note get? 
  • Listen to your teacher sing this phrase. Does it have our mystery note in it? (circle yes or no)
  • What is the name of this symbol? (picture of a treble clef, quarter rest, repeat sign . . . Anything you want!)

Tracy King has some amazing tickets for sale on her TpT store. You could also have a question on the board and have students respond on post-it notes, index cards, or scratch pieces of paper. 

Worksheets

There are so many fun ways to use worksheets as assessments. If you can't think of any, enjoy the millions of ideas on Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers! 

Here are just a few to get you started:

  • Students can write down short compositions that involve the target element you're practicing.
  • They could dictate new melodic or rhythmic phrase (using staff notation, solfege, or stick notation)
  • Write or draw a response to a piece of classical music - How did this music make you feel? What did it make you think of? (Note: This is would be great to use for learning tempo markings or dynamics. Play a slow, peaceful piece of music. Students can show you that they're responding to the mood of the music and later you can go back and explain that one way to make music sound peaceful is by using a largo tempo.)

Centers are another tried-and-true method of assessing students, and with good reason:

  1. They don't put kids on the spot. This is so so so important. Students who are hesitant to volunteer during whole-class instruction need a place to show what they know. If they flop when all their peers are looking at them, centers provide a lower pressure environment for those students to shine. 
  2. You can differentiate! Some teachers prefer to mix up the centers groups so that lower achieving students are together with higher achieving students. The idea is that the higher achievers can help the struggling students. I actually prefer the opposite. I think that organizing students by ability carefully (so that no one sees your groupings and thinks that some kids are "good at music" or "bad at music") can do wonders for targeting different learning needs.
  3. You're free to be wherever the room needs you. If you feel that the lower achieving students might need your help completing the activity, you can be with them. If you think everyone has it under control, you can have your own center where you hear students sight sing or play instruments individually. It's a great way to work one-on-one with students.

I recommend that you fill your centers with activities you've already done as a class. This saves time giving instructions and cuts down on questions, leaving you free to work with students. From an assessment point of view, you can write down student grades knowing that this isn't the first time they've tried a particular activity. 

Track student responses to the activities by using some of the tactics mentioned above: 

  • Use technology and have students record themselves 
  • Use written assessments by having students notate their own compositions
  • Use written assessments by having students dictate a phrase you've pre-recorded for them

 

But there's no time!

Centers don't need to take up the whole class period - although they certainly can if you'd like. Especially if you have a longer block with your students, you could do a welcome activity, then centers, then a whole-class practice activity with another element before you close. Repeat this structure the next time you see those kiddos so everyone has a chance at each center.



Assessments are. . . 

Assessments are informative, but limited.
They take time to execute, but save time in planning later.
The data takes time to record, but the information we receive is worth it. 

When our assessments are thoughtfully constructed and consistently implemented they give us a direct picture of our effectiveness as educators. 

Enjoy your teaching week, friends.