Using Technology Tools for Assessment in the Ensemble Setting
By NAfME Member Melissa Clark
Increasingly, technology is becoming integral in the performance classroom. Here, NAfME member Melissa Clark offers ideas on using technology in assessment.
Video chat experiences in ensembles are becoming more and more popular. In my middle school orchestra, we have a handful of video chats during the school year to have the students get more connected with the piece of music we are working on. If the composer is available, then we work out a mutual time to have a video chat. Following a video chat, I have my students complete a few questions about the experience. What is something that you have learned from being part of the video chat? How are you playing the piece differently because of what the composer suggested?
I also have the students write a heartfelt thank you note to the composer. Then, I collect the thank you notes and send it to the composer. My class has a Google Classroom, so I post the questions onto the stream. More information about Google Classroom is at the end of the article. As the teacher, I give the students a few points, usually 50, for completing the questions and the thank you note. If not turned in, then a zero goes into the gradebook.
National Core Arts Standards: Connecting Anchor Standard #10
With SmartMusic, gone are the days when students had to be assessed individually or in small groups during lesson times without any support. Within the SmartMusic program, students are assigned a song or a skill they need to work on by their teacher. Not all ensemble pieces are in SmartMusic, but if they are in SmartMusic then the student can be assigned that piece to practice and submit for a grade/feedback. When I first received SmartMusic, I only had one extra laptop that had SmartMusic downloaded on it in my program.
Each of my middle school students, made an account that they were able to login to receive assignments. During class, each student would go into the practice room to record the piece which they submitted for a grade/feedback. It would take weeks to get all the students to complete their recordings. Once I received the student’s assignment, I would listen to the recording and provide feedback. The students would get an mp3 of their playing test and feedback that would be sent to their email.
In September, SmartMusic went web-based. I switched to the web-based platform and all of my middle school students were able to get SmartMusic on their school issued Chromebooks. They can use the program all the time. For this past concert, I had two pieces out of the four that were in SmartMusic. The new web-based version allows me the opportunity to jump around in the piece to listen to any specific measures and type in comments while listening. I have heard and seen an improvement with my students playing with SmartMusic, especially since they have the program on their computers.
I have been pushing my students to use the program at home with their weekly practice so they can get a feel for the tempo or how their part goes along with the rest of the orchestra. During a marking period, the students usually get between 1-2 playing tests for a grade out of 100 points. If students are really struggling with a piece they still receive feedback and a grade. I don’t give the students the grade that SmartMusic gives them, but a more fair grade that really reflects the skills they are trying to improve on. A lot of times, depending on where the student is standing while playing, it doesn’t always pick up every note they are play hence receiving a lower grade. SmartMusic is a great assessment tool to help the students improve their playing.
Below is a picture of the teacher’s side of SmartMusic.
National Core Arts Standards: Performing standards #4-6
Google has a lot of wonderful free tools that educators can use with lesson planning, creating assignments and tallying of students assignments. Below I will address some of the different tools that have been successful for my program.
If your students have Chromebooks, laptops or any type of notebook device, create a Google Classroom for your ensemble. You can have different sections or one classroom for the entire ensemble. I have all my students in one classroom because it is easier since everyone is getting the same assignments. With Google Classroom, you can create assignments, make announcements, reuse posts, and create a question. I use my Google Classroom for all of these purposes. For assessment, I have the students complete different assignments on Google Classroom. The students join the class with a specific code.
Every week, I have the students complete their weekly practice chart and post it to Google Classroom. They receive 100 points each week for completing the log and practicing at least 80 minutes a week. After two weeks, if not turned in a zero gets placed in the grade book. On Google Classroom, I am able to write private comments to each of the students, so if they don’t turn in a practice chart I am able to write them a comment to turn it in.
Another nice feature is that you can email all the students that haven’t turned in an assignment. With the practice logs, I allow the students to create the chart anyway they want to. They have to leave a column for comments from me, the assignment, total minutes and what they focused on that week. During a marking period, they have between 7-10 practice charts to complete. Here is an example of one of the practice charts that a student turned in.
Other assignments that I have posted on Google Classroom are google forms about pieces that we are learning. Videos of other groups performing the same piece to allow the students to analyze other works. Recently, I had my students create a creative story about one of the pieces we were playing titled “Apocalypse”. They were required to listen to the recording on SmartMusic and write a one-paragraph story about the piece. Once complete, it was turned in on Google Classroom.
Using Google Classroom, allows the teacher to have all the work in one place, making grading assignments a little less time consuming. It is also digital which takes away carrying around papers to be graded and turned back into the students.
National Arts Standards: Responding Anchor #8 and creating anchor #1 .
Recap is a new web-based video assessment tool. Similar to Google Classroom, students join your class by signing up with a code. Recently, students are able to join more than one class on Recap. It is free for both the teacher and the students. The teacher posts a question that the students need to answer. I started using Recap in September for playing test purposes. Two of the pieces that we were playing for the Winter Concert were not in SmartMusic. The students recorded themselves playing through the “Star Spangled Banner” using Recap. They also had to respond to the question.
The only downside with using Recap is that it only allows questions to stay up for a week, so students have to record the video within a week time frame. The other issue is that the video can only be a maximum of two minutes. For your longer pieces, I would suggest breaking it up in measures. That is what I did with the other piece that was not in SmartMusic which happened to be a medley. After the Winter Concert, I had my students complete a reflection on Recap on what was their favorite piece, what skill have they improved, and their plans for Winter Break.
National Arts Standards: Performing Anchor Standard #5
The following websites are great ways to give students easy and fun assessments. If they have laptops or devices, have the students attach a screenshot of the assignment upon completion on Google Classroom or to an email address.
For note reading assignments, musictheory.net is a great place to have the students that are struggling with note reading to practice that skill. Once they have completed so many questions, have them screenshot the assignment for a grade. I usually have them complete 50 questions to receive 50 points.
On Music Tech Teacher, have the students complete a few games to improve their skills. This is a great website to leave for sub plans so the students are still working on music skills while you are out. With Google Classroom, students are able to attach screenshots of the games that they completed. I give them a grade for completing the games not how well they do on the games since every game has different scores. Of course, if they don’t complete the assignment they don’t receive credit for it.
National Arts Standards: Creating Anchor standard: #2
With Noteflight, allowing students the opportunity to create music is a wonderful way to have them be more connected to music. Using the free version or setting up a classroom site with student subscriptions allows students the opportunity to create music. For assessment purposes, having students composing pieces of music allows them to think about the music skills. Give the students specific directions on what they need to have in their composition such as tempo, key, rhythms, and articulations.
Allow the students a few classes to write and compose the piece. Once finished, if you have the free version, allow them to take a screenshot of their composition to share with you for a grade. If the students don’t complete all the requirements on the assignment then take points off the assignment. Provide feedback to the students on what you liked about their piece and if they didn’t get all the points for that composition so they can learn from their mistakes.
Past Articles by Melissa Clark
About the author:
NAfME member Melissa Clark graduated from The College of NJ with a Bachelors of Music Education degree viola concentration. Currently, she is work on her Master’s degree in Music Education from Kent State University through their online program. She has been teaching in Lawrence Township Public Schools since 2005. Prior to Lawrence Township she taught music in other school districts in NJ. In 2016-2016 school year, Melissa was named Teacher of the Year at Lawrence Middle School which is part of the Governor’s Educator program for the state of NJ. She is an active member of New Jersey Music Educators Association (NJMEA) and Central Jersey Music Educators Association (CJMEA). She presented at the NAfME National In-Service in Grapevine, TX, on suggestions in incorporating technology in the orchestra classroom. During her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband Chris and their two children Hayden and Aimee.
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