Active Assessment

If you're anything like me, I've always shuddered at the word assessment.

I mean, it's not like it's a warm fuzzy that snuggles against your shoulder and makes you feel happy and excited about teaching. It's latent with expectation, pressure, and stress

I've learned to flip the script, in a way, when it comes with that negative word association. You see, things like assessment and data are not evil boogey men coming to creep up on us in the night. They are tools. Real, productive, insightful tools that help measure student progress, can inform interventions, and overall better our teaching practice.

Stick with me, I'm going to show you exactly what I mean.

You see, assessment isn't something where you have to STOP EVERYTHING AND DO ALL THE TESTING. It's actually more like being an anthropologist. Or, to put it a bit more user-friendly, a people watcher. Isn't that what we do? All day everyday we observe and make mental notes about our students as they participate in the learning sequence we've created for them. Taking down data and being more conscious about assessing is just that: being more purposeful and intentional about recording and record keeping while your kiddos are actively making music.

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I know I know, you have about 600 (million? sure seems like it sometimes!) students. How are you supposed to keep track of #allthethings?

I'm still experimenting and refining this process, but I have a found a few things that seem to work and make my administrator completely buy in. Let me show you what I've been doing with my Kindergarten classes to give you a better idea.

I start out by deciding which behavioral objectives I'm going to assess for the trimester (or 9 weeks or whatever pre-determined time you're working with). For this past trimester, I've been working specifically on assessing (1) steady beat, (2) solo singing, (3) higher/lower comparative, and (4) louder/quieter comparative.

For the actual assessment themselves, I give a number of different opportunities (or more officially, "performance trials") for students to demonstrate their learning. I make sure I give each student the opportunities to demonstrate independently, with peers, and with teacher intervention.

Sounds so formal and research-y, doesn't it?

Welp, let me tell you something. My individual steady beat assessment? A frog passing game to Frog in the Meadow. My "with peers" assessment? Frogs jumping on heart lily pads in small groups. Teacher intervention? I do it on the board with icons along with them.

I guarantee these are the types of activities you're already doing in your classroom. I'm certain you're facilitating fun, creative game-play, actively music making while your kids hone their skills. You're already doing all the things you need to do to gather information, now it's just a matter of putting pretty pens to paper.

No worries. I've got you.

This year, I've adopted a system to keep data on each student, no matter what stage of the process they are in. Check out the video below for more info.

**Psst!!- your copy of the seating chart/assessment template is in the resource library!!

I've found that this process shows a lot of information about any given student with any given skill at any given time. I used to just use checklists, but that never showed whether or not students understood or could demonstrate right from the get go, or if they needed intervention in order to be successful. Recording data this way shows student progress much more efficiently and accurately.

Most importantly, keeping records like this helps inform my teaching process. Isn't that the whole point of assessment?

I can look quickly at these charts and figure out exactly what my next plan of action should be. If I have a whole group of students with a yellow x through a circle, well it's high time I figure out what's going on. If I have a lot of students with red circles, I know that they need MUCH more practice and intervention to be independently successful. And if my circles are mostly blue, I know I'm on the right track and treat myself to cupcakes on the way home from school.

A quick note about formative and summative assessment. This process certainly shows the learning process and is not a recall type of test where I've asked students to memorize facts and spit them out onto paper. Because it's kindergarten. But mostly, because it's music, and we learn and demonstrate knowledge by actively making music.

Have you figured out what my big soap box is yet?! **Hint: it's in the title of this post. And everywhere else.

I will, however, make sure to have a final assessment for students, giving them one final performance trial with teacher intervention and independently before we close up shop for any given unit. For solo singing, I have students working at stations (blog post coming soon, promise!) and anchor myself at a single station designated for solo singing. There I can grab those kids who still haven't quite earned their blue circle and work one on one.

This is a brand new process for me this year. But it works, it aligns with how classroom teachers record data, and makes my administration happy as a clam.

What do you think? Could it work for you? Give it a try. Snag the templates in the resource library, and let me know how it goes!


A couple random notes:

  • Assessments in my classroom are not based on behavior or effort. My students do receive an effort/citizenship grade, but that is completely separate from assessments, which are based on standards and learning targets.
  • I have learning targets for each of these concepts that I post so that my kinders know exactly what the main focus of our lesson is that day. (Important aside: due to the sequential nature of my spiral curriculum, I will NOT have a lesson that is ALL steady beat or any other concept. Rather, I'm continuously preparing new unknown concepts and practicing/assessing learned concepts. However, my learning target always reflects that practice/assess concept--that's a topic for a completely different blog!)
  • If you are looking for a way to have students self-assess that directly relates to the seating chart template: check out these anchor charts in the resource library (samples below). I have one posted in my room, and have trained the kids to give me a quick signal to show where they think they are. This self-assessment piece also makes my admin do a little happy dance!!