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How do you assess your secondary level vocal ensembles?

Hello! My name is Jackie Keller, and I am currently a senior K-12 vocal music major at Wayne State College and getting ready to student teach next semester. I am finishing up my honors project titled Choral Pedagogy in the Secondary Music Education Classroom, and I am wondering if I could get some input from everyone. One of the big things I'm touching on in my project is assessment. I am curious, how do you all assess your ensembles? I would really appreciate any input I can get.
-Jackie Keller
on October 21, 2013 12:16pm
Good honors project, Jackie! Congratulations on the topic and good luck as you finish your undergrad education.
Below, is text lifted from a book that, most likely, you have not heard of. Here's the bibliographical information for the book as well as the information you'd need for a note citation (no bibliographical or footnote form is used--just the info):
Leon Thurman, Human compatible learning (chapter title), in Bodymind and Voice: Foundations of Voice Education, 2000, edited by Leon Thurman & Graham Welch, Collegeville, Minnesota: The VoiceCare Network and the National Center for Voice and Speech. The quoted material below is found on pages 229 and 230.  [If you, your library, or your music library does not have a copy of this book, it can be ordered from the website of The VoiceCare Network.]
The 'story' (in italics) indicates that this approach to assessment was used when providing private voice lessons, but the same approach can be used in almost any educational situation, including choral education, of course. Earlier secions of the cited chapter address goal setting and feedback, so the choral conductor would carefully write down appropriate goals for each ensemble and assess each goal as it progresses. Another 'wrinkle' to the approach would be to write vocal and musical goals for each individual in the choir. Short formative assessment forms that list a few emphasized goals could be handed out periodically. At each grading period, then, summative assessment forms (all the goals) would be distributed to each singer so they could assess their own personal learning and even suggest a grade that they thought was fair for them to receive. That, then, can facilitate communication between the conductor-teacher and the learner-student. That process is sometimes referred to as embedded assessment, learner involved assessment, or collaborative assessment. Practical in the real world? Maybe. Maybe not. Depends. Here's the quote from the book:
"A teacher of singing at a small college kept an ongoing spread-sheet journal of each student's lesson dates, a brief description of the events that occurred in each lesson, of progress made, and a list of voice and musical skill goals that were set in each lesson.  Each student used the same spread-sheet to keep their own journal. 
"At the mid-point and end-point of each semester, the teacher would complete an assessment form for each student, and each student would use the same form to assess themselves.  The teacher had created a fundamental voice skills evaluation form.  The form listed 32 fundamental voice skills that were allocated in five categories: (1) arrangement and flexibility of skeleton, (2) breathflow, (3) voice quality (larynx), (4) voice quality (vocal tract), and (5) vowel and consonant formation.  Under each category, several specific skills were listed.  The progressive mastery of each specific skill was described in four categories: (1) Not Observed (NO), (2) Observed Infrequently (OI), (3) Observed Frequently (OF), and (4) Habitual (H).  Zero points reflected the NO category, one point reflected the OI category, two reflected the OF category, and three reflected the H category.  Students could follow their progress toward mastery of each skill, and, by adding all of the numbers on the form, a numerical index of fundamental voice skill mastery was determined. 
"When all of the skills became habitual, the points would total 96.  The only requirement was that the index number become higher with each assessment.  This practice allowed for illnesses or other human circumstances that could affect the progress of learning.  Because the college required the teacher to submit a letter grade for each student, each student would propose a grade on their assessment form.  At an appropriate time, the teacher and each student would compare their assessments and their journals, discuss any differences, arrive at a consensus on the index number, and mutually decide on a letter grade. 
"At the end of each semester, the college's music department required each student to perform on their major instrument before a jury of the entire faculty.  During the freshman and sophomore years, singing students were not required to sing five memorized songs, because doing so would (1) further consolidate their habitual vocal inefficiencies and slow down their progress toward vocal efficiency, and (2) teach them that singing was something you did for external evaluation, rather than for expressive communication with fellow human beings.  They were asked to prepare a presentation in which they (1) described the skills that they had focused on during the past semester, and (2) demonstrated both their beginning-of-term and end-of-term skill levels by singing the pitch patterns, song phrases, or unmemorized songs that they had experienced during the term.  If they became ready to memorize songs before their junior year, they would do so. 
"Assessment of achievement can be embedded within learning experiences as they are unfolding.  In other words, assessment itself can be a learning experience that is integrated within the context of goal-sets and pinpoint goals.  Collaborative assessment includes both senior learners and learners in human-to-human communication.  Both groups learn in a cooperative, constructive context (S. Kagen, 1991).  In the above account, the journal recording of lesson experiences can help learners focus their attention on voice skill goals and observe their ongoing progress in accomplishing the goals.  Journaling also can deepen elaborative encoding and memory consolidation.  The assessment form can help learners categorize singing skills into a relatively clear conceptual framework with related component concepts and skills.  It also enables formative assessment, that is, observation of progressive accomplishment of each fundamental skill (NO, OI, OF, H), and summative assessment, that is, observation of collective accomplishment of all fundamental skills (the index number). 
"Dialogue during comparison of journals and assessment forms provide an opportunity for development of a collaborative relatedness between senior learner and learner and for assessment of self-perceived feedback and self-evaluation skills.  The assessment process also is contextualized.  The jury presentation is itself a learning experience.  The learners' analytic, sequentially branched, logically interpretative, detail oriented, verbal explanatory capabilities and their integrative, whole pattern, global, cluster-branched, feeling-based, nonverbal, literal observation capabilities are used to elaborate their self-expressive abilities.  [For more ideas about embedded assessment in music and choral education, see Gates, 1995; Keenan-Takagi, 2000; Larkin, 1985; and a report by the New York Classroom Music Committee.]
"The principles that underlie collaborative assessment have been used successfully at the elementary, junior high/middle, high school, and college/university settings by members of The VoiceCare Network.  These and other forms of assessment have become known as authentic assessment.  Products of thematic projects, audio and video records of performance, and portfolios are examples.  These forms of assessment are more compatible with the neuropsychobiological nature of human bodyminds, and are more practical in learning the abilities that are used in the real post-schooling world."
Be well,
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 21, 2013 2:27pm
I teach middle school choir.  My students do vocal tests on a piece we are working on, by singing with the group, while I walk around with a hand held digital recorder.  It gives them the security (and authenticity) of singing with the group, but I can hear how they are doing on an individual level.  They also write reflections after listening to recordings of themselves.  The reflections are usually very specific (i.e. did you hear the change in dynamics from measure 6 to 7).  They also write concert reflections: one before they hear the recording and one after.
I hope this helps.
Naomi Schick
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