Researched and Written by David Watters
Assessment can be incredibly complex and Assessing the Arts somewhat of a minefield. How does one assess creativity? All learning should be structured and can come from a theoretical base with Music Education no exception. The National Curriculum Assessment Levels offer guidance on what to expect of students at different stages of their development and although helpful should not be seen as entirely prescriptive.
The Assessment Policy of TP1 is set out in detail in their Whole School Policies Document (2004 – 2005):
Assessment lies in the heart of the learning process. It provides the framework, through which students’ progress can be followed, expressed, recorded and future stages in learning planned in response to students’ needs.
This rationale is further expounded upon as the document continues, explaining that the purpose of assessment is ‘to recognise and acknowledge the positive achievements of students and thus further their motivation…to identify and diagnose students’ individual needs with a view to making further appropriate provision for them…and to provide an adequate basis for the production of accurate summaries of students’ achievements at recognised times in the learning continuum….’
Further to this, teachers are offered guidelines on how best to incorporate assessment as an ‘integral part of curriculum planning’ by devising and delivering carefully constructed Schemes of Work which ‘include strategies for a) identifying the intended learning experiences, b) supporting diagnosis of individual needs and c) giving students the maximum opportunity to demonstrate what they can do.’ In short, it would appear that TP1 places great importance upon the careful monitoring and observation of each student, utilising formal and informal assessment, particularly at the end of each Key Stage, as an important evaluation tool.
This ethos pervades the entire school and is evident within the Music Department which ‘fully supports the schools assessment policy and feels that careful and well planned assessment is vital for the development of pupils throughout the school’ (The Music Department Handbook (2004-2005) TP1). This handbook provides teachers with quite specific Learning Objectives and Assessment Criteria for every Scheme of Work with Attainment Levels which are bound tightly to the National Curriculum Guidelines. These attainment targets are that the majority of pupils are expected to work at levels 3 – 7 in key stage 3 and attain level 5/6 at the end of the key stage.
In music, the level descriptions show progression in the aspects of the knowledge, skills and understanding set out in the programme of study. Each level in music begins with an overarching statement, which identifies the key characteristic of attainment at that level. The detail that follows illustrates how this expectation is demonstrated through performing, composing and appraising activities. National Curriculum in Action (Online)
Case Study. TP1 Unit Specific Criteria
At the outset of a Scheme of Work looking at Theme and Variation, using the song Zion Me Wan’ Go Home as a starting point, a Year 9 class were given the following Learning Objectives: To understand what is meant by “Theme and Variation” and to put this knowledge into practise by varying a given theme using a number of musical elements. Attainment targets of Levels 5 and 6 were set with clear notes given on how these may be achieved in Composing, Performing and Appraising. The students were directed as to how these objectives would be met over the course of six lessons where the necessary knowledge, understanding and skills would be developed. See page four, paragraph Monitoring as an Integral Component of Assessment for further clarification.
In many lessons, some, many or even all pupils fail to understand some of the things that the teacher is trying to teach. Since there is no direct correlation between teaching and learning… Haydn, T (2001)
With close reference to the National Curriculum the students were given topic specific criteria necessary to achieve Level 5 in a) Performing: Students perform parts from memory and from notation with awareness of their own contribution, b) Composing: Students improvise melodic and rhythmic material within given structures, use a variety of notations and compose music for different occasions using appropriate musical devices and c) Appraising: Students analyse and compare musical features. They evaluate how venue, occasion and purpose affects the way music is created, performed and heard.
To achieve Level 6 in a) Performing: Students select and make expressive use of tempo, dynamics, phrasing and timbre and make subtle adjustments to fit their own part within a group performance, b) Composing: Students improvise in different genres and styles, using harmonic and non-harmonic devices where relevant, sustaining and developing musical ideas and achieving different intended effects and c) Appraising: Students evaluate and make critical judgements about the use of musical conventions and how different contexts are reflected in their own and others’ work.
The assessment for this Scheme of Work consisted of four parts. Firstly, students were given marks on their Compositional creativity then on their Performance within an ensemble of two or more players. Students were then asked to complete self-appraisal forms where they could write an analysis of both their composing and performing then score themselves against a simplified version of the National Curriculum level descriptions. Lastly an Effort Grade, from A to E, was added to give an indication of the students level of application throughout the task with “A” representing an excellent level of effort throughout the project down to “E” being an unacceptable level.
Monitoring as an Integral Component of Assessment
Students were monitored both formally and informally throughout the process. Greater student autonomy, designed to stimulate creativity, meant that each group were required to visualise goals through creating an Action Plan. Secondly a Composition Journal was maintained by each group where ideas and reflections were logged.
Shared decision-making which broadened creative choices grew out of a given homework activity where students were required to listen to and bring along musical examples and preferences.
All of the above were taken into consideration when considering the overall achievement of each student since here individual ownership of the creative process could be better assessed and progress more accurately evaluated.
Of the 12 Groups to complete the task it was evident that, although the class were producing work of a high standard, most groups fell short of attaining a Level 6 with many achieving a mid to low Level 5 overall. In saying that nearly all students were awarded either an A or B Effort Grade.
One group were awarded a Level 6 with an A for effort since they produced two extremely contrasting variations (one being an extended dance track and the other a laid back Calypso) and had incorporated a wide range of musical elements to alter the given theme (change of tempo, timbre, melody, rhythm, addition of percussion and through these modifications had been able to intentionally alter the style of music). In
addition to this their written and verbal analysis of their own and the work of others showed advanced understanding of the task and it’s outcomes with particular reference to the purpose and context of the variations created.
In contrast to the above group a second ensemble were awarded a Level 5 – with a C Effort Grade, having produced one variation which displayed a minimal number of alterations to the original theme. Although changes had been made to the melody, tempo, rhythm and instrumentation, and percussion added, there was no deviation from the given structure and no clear attempt to intentionally alter the style or genre.
The questioning of pupils at the end of a lesson, or at the start of the next lesson, are important sources of feedback information for assessment purposes. Haydn, T (2001)
This group attained a Level 5 because their performance demonstrated good awareness of each others roles within the ensemble, although this seemed more down to luck than teamwork and planning since, through the process of analysis, it was revealed that a challenging group dynamic had meant no clear ideas had come to fruition in rehearsal and that the performance was largely improvised. In retrospect the level perhaps may have been lowered to include a Level 4 as this would have been a more accurate grade to have awarded this group.
The assessment process itself should not determine what should be taught and learned. It should be the servant, not the master of the curriculum. Yet it should not simply be a bolt-on addition at the end. Rather, it should be an integral part of the education process, continually providing both “feedback” and “feedforward”. It therefore needs to be incorporated systematically into teaching strategies and practices at all levels. DES (1988 para. 4 )
Monitoring and Assessment should be as diverse as the students themselves. Feedback opportunities allow for positive reinforcement of student effort and as Geoffrey Petty states in Teaching Today – A Practical Guide (2004, page 72) ‘Research shows that reinforcement (e.g. medals, praise and other rewards) is one of the teacher’s most powerful tools.’
He continues by stating that, ‘Reinforcement substantially improves the following: Learning and attainment, motivation, behaviour, concentration in class, self-belief or self-efficacy – that is, students’ belief in their own ability to improve, to develop, and to overcome their own difficulties, self-esteem, attitudes to learning and to your subject and attitudes to the teacher.’
As such, the importance of accurate assessment and the related feedback must not be underestimated. Students are most likely to achieve when progress, however small, is acknowledged and rewarded.
God himself does not presume to judge a man till the end of his days. Why then should you or I? Ben Jonson
Just as we have a variety of Learning Styles we must also employ a diverse number of Assessing Styles with written, verbal, practical and self-appraisal, being just a selection, not to forget the indispensable tools such as video and audio recording which we can utilise to aid with our accuracy in marking. Ultimately Lesson Planning should be informed by a clear vision of what is to be taught, learned and to what level. Above all it is paramount that there exists a clear relationship between Assessment and Learning Outcomes so that students have an awareness of the relevance of tasks and validity of grading achieved.
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TP1. Whole School Policies Document 2004 – 2005
TP1, Music Department Handbook 2004 – 2005
NATIONAL CURRICULUM IN ACTION -
DfES - http://www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/keystage3/ downloads/QCA –
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