Honoring the Rehearsal

As we look at more and more sophisticated assessment ideas and gear up for the National Core Standards in the Arts, my hope is that we do not “throw the baby out with the bathwater”!  We can put so much emphasis on assessing students outside of the classroom that we begin to deemphasize the importance of the ensemble rehearsal – even though we know that is where the majority of learning takes place … and, I would argue, it is also where the majority of assessment takes place.

Through the years I have taught, performed in and observed literally hundreds of rehearsals.  As musicians, rehearsals become a major part of our lives.  A friend of mine, who conducts student ensembles, once declared (after a busy week of multiple rehearsals) that for him, “music is something that needs to be FIXED!”  I completely understood his reference.  When we conduct, we constantly analyze (assess) what we hear, and stop to make adjustments until the music is “fixed” or we run out of time before the performance.

Music educators are truly the best assessors in all of education!  We use our ears and eyes to find the weaknesses in our student’s skills and concept development.  We then adjust our rehearsal lesson plan until we teach the students what they need to know to move ahead and be successful.  In the best of our rehearsals, our students are completely engaged in this process and when they leave the classroom, true learning has taken place.  We do not really need an outside assessment measure to tell us or them that this learning has taken place.   The only issue we might be left with – especially when we get too caught up in preparing for a performance instead of educating individual students – is that we don’t always know what each individual student has learned and is able to demonstrate.  The easy answer for this problem is to work to assure all students are heard regularly within the rehearsal setting, demonstrating growth alone or in small groups of students.

Hurray for the music educator!

There is a down side to all of this, however.  As music educators we tend to be some of the worst in all of education about actually recording the individual student evidence that we have observed.  This is the reason that we often base our grading on attendance at rehearsals/performances, practice sheets, and attitude – instead of on music standards and skill development.  We tend to completely disregard the most important aspects of our teaching and student learning only because it is easier to come up with a clean point system that will create a grade than to take the time to actually record what we know.

My challenge to music teachers and supervisors alike is to put the emphasis back where it belongs – in the music ensemble rehearsal – by discovering simple methods of systematically recording the evidence of growth using our music standards.  Grades will become a pure statement of learning based the student demonstrations of the important musical skills and concepts!

Author David Weatherred serves as Visual & Performing Arts Coordinator and Events Coordinator for the Spokane Public Schools.