Implementing Creative Assessment Models in the Choral Classroom

50 Shades of Grading:
Implementing Creative Assessment Models in the Choral Classroom


By Derrick Fox


Whether novice or veteran, today’s music educators are increasingly faced with implementing effective accountability strategies in their classrooms. Using a variety of assessment models will allow for individual student evaluations that benefit the entire choral program. Implementation of these methods is easy; they work well for any music curriculum, and the results will clearly communicate your students’ achievements to your administrators, colleagues, and parents. These assessments will also aid students in learning repertoire, elevate students’ musical aptitude, and encourage life-long music making.

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Questions to ponder:

  • What is the current educational atmosphere in your state/district/school/department?
  • How do we stay relevant and avoid being the Choir Director Left Behind?

“Assessment is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go, and how best to get there.” (Assessment Reform Group)


5 Principles of Assessment for Learning

  1. The provision of applicable feedback to students.
  2. The active involvement of students in their own learning.
  3. Adjusting teaching to take account of the results of assessment.
  4. Recognition of the profound influence assessment has on the motivation and self-esteem of pupils, both of which are critical influences on learning.
  5. The need for students to be able to assess themselves and understand how to improve.


Academic Learning Time (Where the Magic Happens)


Academic learning time represents one concept in the multilayered idea of instructional time. More specifically, academic learning time is an amalgamation of engaged time (a subset of allocated time), time on task and success rate. Maximizing academic learning time is critical in improving student learning.


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Teachers spend 35-50 percent of instructional time asking questions. Of that time, 60-70 percent of the questions asked are in the lower cognitive domain with 20-30 percent in the higher cognitive domain.

When creating higher-level cognitive questions:

  • Think of questions ahead of time (score study)
  • Look for questions that might promote deeper investigation (text painting)
  • Balance factual (rote/memory) with inferential/synthesis questions


Exploring Assessment in Choral Rehearsal

Closed tasks, open tasks/constructed responses, performance tasks, informal assessments, and self-assessments represent the most effective models for implementing assessment in the choral classroom.


Closed Tasks


  • Useful for assessing content-based standards, not useful for process-based standards
  • Assess students’ knowledge of facts, skills or concepts
  • Takes less time


Open Tasks and Constructed Responses

  • Ability to interpret
  • Ability to summarize information
  • Ability to communicate thinking


Performance tasks

  • Ability to synthesize and apply information and skills


Informal Assessments


  • Depth of understanding of a topic or concept
  • Ability to communicate or collaborate




  • Develop awareness of strengths and weaknesses
  • Helps teachers and students evaluate learning


Getting Started

  1. Choose only one or two types of assessments to implement, to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  2. Be consistent in your usage.
  3. Avoid negative usage of assessments (i.e. punishment).
  4. Join professional choral music organizations.
  5. Establish a circle of trusted colleagues with whom to share ideas.
  6. Consult choral textbooks/method books.


These methods of assessment develop the students’ awareness of strengths and weaknesses, reveal students’ disposition towards topics or learning, and help teachers and students identify learning goals. If implemented effectively, the aforementioned assessment methods can also build your program by fostering a sense of ownership in your students, build student confidence, and allow for the inclusion of a variety of choral literature.

The choral classroom is a special place in our schools. Not only do we have opportunities to deliver curriculum in innovative ways, we also work to develop the personal skills necessary for our students’ success, well beyond our classrooms.


About the Author:

 choir director

Dr. Derrick Fox is an assistant professor of choral music education and choral conducting at Ithaca College. He conducts the IC Chorus, IC Madrigal Singers, and teaches choral conducting and rehearsal techniques. He is an active adjudicator and clinician for regional, state and national organizations from the middle/junior high school to the collegiate level. He has worked with ensembles and presented at state conventions in Arkansas, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Missouri, West Virginia, Texas, New York, Florida, and Michigan. As a soloist, Dr. Fox’s performed with the Arkansas Symphony, Lansing Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, University of Missouri, Michigan State University, and the Espaço Cultural (Brasilia, Brazil). Dr. Fox’s upcoming conducting engagements include the regional honor choirs in New York, Missouri, and Pennsylvania, all state honor choirs in Arkansas, Connecticut, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kansas, and the International School: Middle School Choral Festival in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.. His presentation engagements include the 2015 American Choral Directors Association National Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, the 2015 NAfME National In-Service Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, and the 2015 Midwest Clinic: International Band, Orchestra and Music Conference in Chicago. He is a contributing author in the Hal Leonard/McGraw Hill choral textbook Voices in Concert, and his arrangement Lord, Give Me Just a Little More Time is available in the Hal Leonard Sacred Music Series.


Derrick will be presented on this topic at the 2015 NAfME National In-Service Conference.

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