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Sight Singing Assessment

In your opinion, what is the least labor-intensive way to assess many singer's independent sight singing abilitites throughout the year in a middle school choir setting?  Thanks for the advice!
Replies (20): Threaded | Chronological
on July 25, 2013 4:51am
Hi Kim,
With the large numbers in our program, we realized that individual sight-singing assessments would be difficult to manage.  We have opted to do pencil and paper quizes which involve identification of rhythm and pitch patterns from a group of such patterns.  Although this is not ideal, it has worked for us.  I am really interested is reading other ideas here!
Lon Beery
on July 25, 2013 6:39pm
I try to do two or three recorded sight singing tests per semester - some years I'm more successful at that than others. I have a hand held Roland digital recorder and I teach the kids to use it before the test. I also have a "specially trained" choir officer to trouble shoot problems with the recorder the first time we test so I can continue to teach class.  One student leaves the risers at a time and goes into my uniform room (connected to the choir room) where I have the sight singing exercise on a music stand. Spoiler alert - I usually give them a page of several excerpts several days before the test and then I pick one from that group to test. I KNOW that for those that practice diligently it is not exactly a "sight reading" test, but it is an individual assessment and gets me information on how well each student is processing reading music in a formal manner. At the beginning of the year, the first test is a rhythm only exercise because some kids are still working on pitch matching and chanting rhythm is less intimidating. Since kids are by themselves while testing, they are usually less scared and intimidated than they woulod be in front of the class. In differnt school I have used practice rooms, my choir office and even a janitor's closet to give individual tests.
For informal assessments, I play different sight reading games on Fridays and don't grade but hear lots of kids individually during each game. I don't give grades on these days, but gane LOTS of info about how kids are doing with their reading skills.  I also do 1-2 worksheets per six weeks on notes and rests, lines and spaces, time signatures, key signatures and music markings. I'm a very strong beliver in hearing kids individually - you don't really lnow what they know if you don't assess them individually. Happy sight reading!
on July 26, 2013 6:57am
Is anyone using technology to achieve the goal of hearing your individual singers sight sing?  If so- How? 
Has anyone tried a 'karate-style' system?  Students move through their 'belts' at their own pace (a sticker on a chart as they pass each level) - each level gets progressivly more challenging.  I'm thinking of trying something like this- but I don't want to get in over my head with the management of it all.  Any advice?
Thanks to Lon and Mary Jane for your posts!
on July 26, 2013 8:09am
I'm like Mary Jane, except I use my laptop with the free Audacity recording software, and I have a trustworthy choir council member go in to help make the recording.  They are told what page I will use for testing and are allowed to write in the solfege ahead of time if they think that nerves might get in the way.  I try to do this at the end of every quarter.
on July 26, 2013 8:28am
I am looking to try smart music to assess sight singing. The program claims to dump results right into my grade book.....I would appreciate any insights anyone may have about this program.  Also, Mary Jane Phillips, would you please post your sight singing games?  I am always interested in learning games to play with my students.
Lori Maves
on July 26, 2013 7:14pm
Too many games to post here - send me your email address and I'll email them.
on July 27, 2013 6:48am
I tried using Smart Music last year to test sight singing.  I found that many students were graded much harder and received much lower grades on Smart Music than I would have given them. I did have some students acheive high scores, so I can't say it was totally off. I ended up giving them the chance to either record it on Smart Music or come in and sing for me live (and telling them they would probably get a much higher score if they came in live.) I found that for the students who were advanced - Smart Music worked for them (especially the ones who were already using it for band assessments), but the students who were having problems needed my help to be able to have any degree of success.
You can listen to the Smart Music recording and 'regrade' it yourself, so you do have that option. I found that in the end, it was easier just to go back to listening to the students live - it does require a couple of class periods to do the assessment, but I do find there are times throughout the year when I can afford to take that time. I'm not totally opposed to the Smart Music option, I just haven't found the best way to make it work for my situation.
on July 28, 2013 6:33am
I tried using Smart Music with just my most advanced 8th graders and also had the problem of it grading them much harder than I would. The built in exercises have a lot of issues with the range being extreme a lot of the time for middle schoolers, so they try singing it in their own key which gives them a 0. I found I was having to go back and listen to 95% of them again to regrade, which took me way more time than just doing the assessments individually myself. The kids also seemed to get really confused with using the program, so I would only get through maybe 6 kids in a 45 minute class as opposed to other ways where I could hear 20 or more.
on July 28, 2013 7:41pm
I know what you mean about Smart Music, Mark, but on the other hand, Smart Music is impartial and completely objective.  Protection for YOU in the event there is a challenge to your "choice" for grading or chair placement or choir placement. I realize that depends on whether or not those challenges exist in your educational community, but just a thought.  It also gives the students a very measureble goal . . . EXACTLY.  And it is already recorded for you.  Good luck!
on July 29, 2013 6:58am
One thing I tried last year that I will add improvements to this year - most students have a smart phone.  So I pick an exercise, have everyone turn on the recording piece of it, say their name and then start.  Each student holds the device up to their mouth and records themself.  For those students that don't have one, I give them mine or a digital recorder or other students share and we do a 2nd exercise.  Then the students text or email their recording to me and I can grade them outside of the rehearsal.  I also use AP Music Theory students as "TAs" and let them help with that task and they are exempt from sight singing grading in choir. 
This seemed to work especially with students that don't want to sing by themselves and it doesn't take any more time in rehearsal than normal sight singing.  What improvements would you make to this??
Randi Carp
Phoenixvile Area HS
Phoenixville, PA
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 12, 2013 5:32pm
I assess them daily during a period of time I call "Chaos".  It is a one minute period of time they work on their own.  I've set the rules clearly about what "chaos" is, and they understand they are assessed during that time.  Basically...during "Chaos", they have to count themselves in and sing independently.  Here is a link to me actually teaching "Chaos" to my beginning 6th graders:
Also, I use very simple written assessments to see if they are able to read the notes using solfege, for example.  Something quick and easy.  5 questions.  That's all I need to know.  For the students who do poorly, I tutor them one on one, or I use older students to tutor them during the homeroom period time that our school has.  
Hope that helpsS!
Dale Duncan
Music in the Middle with Mr D
Applauded by an audience of 3
on November 13, 2013 5:45am
I love this idea!  I plan to adopt it - Thank you for sharing!  Would you be willing to share your chaos rules? 
In response to the original post, I use the John Armstrong method, and I highly recommend.  It is a one-binder purchase and fully reproducible.  The exercises are well terraced and have been successful with all my middle level groups.
Jean Enyeart
Menomonie Middle School
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 14, 2013 9:11am
Here is the description I use in my Sight Singing program called S-Cubed:  Successful Sight Singing for Middle School Teachers and their Students.  I copied right from the Power Point:
What is Chaos?
•Well, if you teach middle school, you already know about Chaos!  J
•Seriously…”Chaos” is highly structured (believe it or not) independent practice time that occurs once a Sight Singing example has been introduced and discussed. 
•Once the “Chaos” period is over, you can discuss the example in more detail if necessary in order to help guide them before they actually sing the example as a class for you. You could also give them a second period of “Chaos” before they sing the example as a group after the discussion.   However, if the piece is quite simple, you can simply count them in after one round of “Chaos” and allow them to sing the example.  Right now, the examples are simple.  Later in the method, we will take time to discuss specific survival strategies for the students to use.
Here is how I introduce it to the students:
At the beginning of class:
1)  I display these questions/statements on the board for discussion:
What is Chaos?
Describe a time when you have seen or experienced Chaos.
I allow a few students to tell their stories so we set the tone.
•On the next slide, I will include the “Chaos” rules.  I usually post the rules and allow them to silently read them before we actually use “Chaos” for the first time.
1)Sing independently.
2)Everyone must sing, and you should sing at a normal volume at your own speed or pace.
3)Use Hand Signs
4)Ignore everyone around you.  Create your own Bubble World.
5)Keep singing until I tell you to stop (usually about one minute). You must sing the entire time even if you sing it perfectly the first time.  If you finish early, then go back and sing it again.
6)You aren’t allowed to sing with others or work together in any way.
7)If you encounter a difficult spot, go back and practice that spot until time is called.
8)The teacher will simply watch you work.  This is one of the ways you will receive your daily grade. 
Then, I give them the Sight Singing example of that day.  I launch them into "Chaos".  As with any new activity, I make sure they are doing it correctly the first few days because we use Chaos all year as I teach my students to sight sing.  I encourage them to work at their own speed.  In the video clip I used in the previous entry about this topic, you will see me teaching this concept to my sixth graders this school year.  I taught it back in September.  
This past August, I began uploading all of my sight singing program that includes a full lesson called "Chaos" and many other techniques that I use at this website:
Please "Follow Me" on the site if you'd like to keep up with the lessons as I upload them.  I am new to this whole process.    I will finish uploading the first set by March. By then, my beginning Sixth Grade group has to be able to Sight Sing 2-part examples that include difficult skips and complex rhythms when they go to Georgia Music Educator's Large Group Performance Evaluation.
The lessons include games, exercises, sight singing examples, rhythm examples, teaching tips and much more.  S-Cubed is the methodical, step by step "real-life", 21st century example of what I use in the classroom to get my inexperienced students to sight sing.  My experience with book methods was that they skipped too many steps in the teaching process for my level of student, so I decided to create my own...and with video, PDF's and other modern technology, it makes it easier to deliver ideas and content that people can use in the way that suits them.
Also, I have uploaded tons of free videos with teaching tips and actual teaching examples onto my YouTube Channel.  I am uploading things almost daily.  Subscribe to it if you would like to get some more ideas.
The videos are intended to supplement the actual Power Point lessons in the other link above.
Lastly, I also do sight singing tips and give out free lessons occasionally to folks who follow my blog:
I struggled with sight singing enormously when I began teaching years ago.  It was awful.  I was tired of the moans when I'd say "Take out the Sight Singing books".  
So, I tried to spice up the daily experience a little bit and figured a few things out that I've decided to share.  I think a lot of teachers avoid teaching Sight Singing because it's just hard to deliver to young, inexperienced children in a way that is fun, and carefully methodical to ensure success, so I hope these resources will help folks.  
Have a great Thursday!
Dale Duncan
on November 14, 2013 6:08pm
I am appreciating all of your thoughful responses-- feel free to keep them coming!  I am not finding the "teaching" to be teaching to be as challenging as the "assessment"- how to listen to individuals in large group context.  Thanks for the ideas!
on March 13, 2014 11:35am
I know this is old, but I'm so glad to see a middle school teacher who does this! My first year teaching as an assistant choir director in a high school, I learned from an experienced director to teach my high school students to do this. Once they are confident with it, it's the best way to practice sight singing in class. So cool, and I loved the video. So great to hear young kids be confident in their ability to do this ON THEIR OWN! :)
Leigh Anderson
on March 14, 2014 9:59am
Smart Music.  You program what you wish to assess.  It does most of the work.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on March 15, 2014 6:09am
Glad you liked it!  
Yes!  I always tell the kids that ulimately, I want them NOT to need me!  The "Chaos" technique in S-Cubed is one of the many important skills we teach in S-Cubed.
Yesterday, I uploaded the final lesson in the Sight Singing lesson series!  I am thrilled to be finished with it.  I am hoping lots of teachers find it and benefit from it.  I've documented every single step on video, shared every lesson plan, rhythm exercise, sight singing example and teaching tip as I took my beginners from step 1 (no ability to sight sing) to total independent work as they sight sing in two parts.  They went to LGPE this week.  Here they are as they worked through the examples:
My Sixth Graders-  (All just completed the 27 lesson S-Cubed Sight Singing program.  They started in August 2013.  Worked 10-15 minutes per day)
My 7th Grade Girls- (About 30% of these students are new to S-Cubed)
My 7th Grade Boys-  (About 30% of these students are new to S-Cubed also)
My 8th Grade Mixed Choir  (All have been learning S-Cubed for at least 2 years.  Some have been doing it for 3 years)
All of the lessons are available at:
I have tried to break down each important sight singing skill and technique clearly in the S-Cubed system so that teachers can thoroughly and successfully teach and reinforce the skills that help total beginners go from no ability to sight sing to what you see above.  
I struggled enormously as I tried to learn how to teach sight singing from a book (and there are so many books out there already), so I decided to use video, power points with direct links to all teaching tips and teaching examples so that teachers could learn the techniques as quickly as possible and translate it to their own style and use it in their classroom.
I am just glad it's over!  It's taken lots of time!  Now, I get to enjoy my weekends....Oh wait....Not yet...Time to turn the page to weekend musical rehearsals!  Yippee!  :)   Oh well, summer will be here before we know it!
Dale Duncan
on March 15, 2014 9:38pm
During clean up time at the end of each class, ask 5 kids who wants to go. You can rotate through a class in two weeks and start again, all while continuing to do class Sightreading at each rehearsal. Have a rubric handy and keep scores in a spreadsheet for evidence. 
on March 16, 2014 10:10am
I've made it into a game in my classes, where I'll have a sheet projected on the screen (or laminate sheets you hold and flip through, if you don't have a projector) with melodic fragments and rhythmic fragments.  I accompany them with a steady boom-chick on the keyboard (or, in the case of 3/4 and 6/8, boom, chick-chick), while calling on individuals to sing, or in the case of rhythmic exercises, clap or stomp, the various fragments.  After we get cooking, we'll start combining them (the melodies and rhythms projected are written in a way to be able to easily connect to one another).  Then I'll put the room in teams and make them do different things simultaneously (and in my mind, I know which melodies work with others).  It's a load of fun, and usually everyone is willing to try without being too bashful.  I don't write any evaluative notes down, and I don't typically fix students in front of the rest, I just rely on my memory as to which students need help in which areas.  Then, I set up appointments to help those students out. 
on March 17, 2014 6:26am
The best method I've seen which minimizes use of class time and keeps the assessment as authentic to a choral setting as possible I learned from Tom Hassig in Minnesota, an amazing teacher.   It utilizes handheld recorders that the students use to record themselves during group singing in class.  There are several handheld recorders for students to use, so that each class we can get through a good portion of the class.  
After practicing each exercise once, and working out of any interval or rhythm issues, I ask those with recorders to record themselves singing it once through with the whole class.  They say their name and which exercise they are singing just before beginning.  Therefore, the whole class is singing, as well as those students.  When they are finished they pass the recorders to another student, or place them back on the shelf, depending on if we are doing more exercises or not.  Students tend to be much less nervous in the group setting than singing solo or in small groups, and much more likely to do their best.  
Then after school, I spend about 20 minutes listening to all the recordings from the day.  They go by quickly, as each one is only 10 seconds long.  Using a simple rubric, I record each student's grade and move on to the next.  The whole process starts again the next day.  By the end of the semester, I will have heard each student several times.  You can do it so that students can have multiple tries, and their is no embarrassment issue among students.  
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