seifriedAssessment Ideas for Beginning Level Guitar Class

It seems that assessment is THE hot topic for everyone involved in education. As an ever-increasing number of states apply for ‘No Child Left Behind’ waivers under the Obama administration’s ‘Race to the Top’ initiative, many school districts throughout the country have or are in the process of adopting teacher evaluation models that place a premium on tracking and measuring student progress. It seems that assessment, which has always been an important topic in education circles, is now front and center in most discussions about education. Guitar is no different from any other subject in this regard- developing meaningful assessment tools and techniques can be time consuming and challenging, but investing the time and effort necessary to develop such tools has benefits for both students and teachers.

Assessing guitar students’ acquisition of technical knowledge – such as the ability to identify notes on a staff or the parts of the guitar- is fairly straight-forward; simple ‘paper-and-pencil’ quizzes or worksheets usually do the trick. Assessing the acquisition and development of technique and performance skills is a little more difficult. From my perspective, a successful tool for assessing the development of technique and performance skills accomplishes the following: 1) clearly communicates expectations and priorities to the students; 2) makes the students aware of how they ‘stack up’ against those expectations; 3) gives students concrete, specific ‘next steps’ they will need to take in order to progress; and 4) helps me understand, as the instructor, which techniques and concepts I need to emphasize going forward.

I use rubric-based performance assessments in my beginning level classes. Some of the elements in the rubric change depending on the focus of the assessment – e.g., pick-style melody, finger-style melody, chord strumming; the example below is the rubric I use to assess performance of single-note melodies played using a pick:

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Generally, students are assigned a short piece or exercise that emphasizes a new concept or technique that we have covered in class. I ask students to work in pairs; their assignment is to play for each other, and then assess each other’s performance by completing the ‘Student’ column on the printed rubric. When they complete this task, each student comes to the testing station I have set up in the room and performs the piece for me ‘one-on-one.’ After taking a few minutes to listen to the performance and complete the assessment sheet, I spend time offering advice and encouragement, and addressing any concerns the student may have. This process takes time, but it generates written and verbal feed-back for the student, provides numerical data that is useful for tracking student progress, as well as the opportunity for me to get to know the students a little better.

It is important to remember that scores generated through rubric-based assessments do not translate to letter grades based on percentages. Over the years, I have developed a graduated grading scale based on a 24 point rubric assessment; students only need to score a 16 or better the first quarter in order to receive an ‘A,’ but that number increases to 22 or better by fourth quarter:

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I have found this approach useful because it allows for a very honest assessment the first two quarters without ‘torpedoing’ a student’s grade, while at the same time sending a clear signal that progress is expected.

Every teacher’s situation is a little different – and this approach may not work for everyone in every classroom – but I am hopeful there may be some insights gained from my approach that will prove helpful as you develop assessment tools and techniques that work for you.

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