Quick & Easy Assessment of Instrumental Progress

“Having formal assessments on a regular schedule gives students concrete goals to work on. Using a variety of assessment techniques provides a more in-depth learning experience and contributes to student engagement,” says MENC member Steve Eckels.

Eckels, who teaches class guitar, shares his philosophy: “Including some form of informal assessment on a daily basis keeps students on their toes. One of the goals of assessment is to insure that you don’t allow students to fall behind. This is critically important, because you must identify, assist, and make adaptations for students before they become hopelessly lost.”

With students of different levels, assessments must match the needs of all the students. Montessori identifies three levels: observers, active participants, and mentors. Eckels says, “Students at each level need to be appreciated, respected, and integrated into a learning community where everyone is a learner, and everyone is a teacher in some way. Always encourage students to take what you’ve taught them and immediately go find a friend to teach!”

Eckels uses “proficiency slips” (sample below). The slips give him a tangible record of student achievement when entering grades. He has students fill in their name and the performance skill(s) for examination. As they perform, he circles the appropriate number. Dedicated to encouraging and inspiring his students, Eckels gives feedback on a scale of four to one, Expert, Proficient, Moving Ahead, and Not Yet.

Proficiency Slip

Name: ______________________________
Date: ____________Period: ______

Skill/Song Title: ______________________

Left Hand Form:        4       3       2       1
Right Hand Form:      4       3       2       1
Flow:                        4       3       2       1
Evidence of Extra Practice:       Yes

A virtuoso guitarist, Steve Eckels teaches at Flathead High School in Kalispell, Montana. He and his wife Barbara are the directors of the Teaching Guitar Summer Workshop for teachers. His latest book, Teaching Classroom Guitar: A Handbook for Classroom Teachers, is due out this summer. He thanks his colleague, band director Allen Slater, for introducing him to the proficiency slip concept, and Julie Blakeslee for the grading scale terminology.

Linda Brown, January 14, 2009, © National Association for Music Education (nafme.org)