So I posted last week about my perspective on the use (or disuse) of sectionals in my auditioned ensembles. The next level of accountability for me is check days, also known as quartet (or octet) testing, where singers get up in class and have to sing the selected piece, one on a part. It can be quite a terrifying experience, but most invaluable. Not only are the singers more motivated to learn the music, the process can shed some valuable light on who the strongest and the weakest members of a group are.
One critical piece to help make check days successful is to shift some of the responsibility for evaluating singer performance away from me and onto the students. Thus, as Richard Sparks wrote about, you hopefully create a culture within your ensemble where everyone feels accountable to everyone else, not just the director. So, during check days, I mix up what I do in various ways:
- Grade them myself. Usually pass/fail. If they fail, they need to make it up sometime in the next week, and it must be outside of class, and they need to gather the necessary three (or more often seven) other people to retake the test. After that, course grades get lowered.
- Everyone grades. The singers grade the other singers in their section. I average the grades and that determines whether they need to retake. Sometimes, if I think the kids missed failing someone, I might intervene (my kids are always kinder to their peers. They never fail someone who deserved to pass), but most often, I defer to the kids.
- One student grades the whole section. This one is tricky, as it can create ill will. But with the right kids – they must have impeccable musical chops, have full respect of their peers, and be natural, mature, leader-types – these can be quite successful.
- Crash-and-Burn. A local high school teacher taught me this one. It goes like this: Sing until you get lost or really mess up and have to drop out. If you make it to measure 10, you are guaranteed a D; if you get to measure 20, a C; measure 30 a B, and if you make it through the whole piece without dropping out, you get an A. In a way, this takes the responsibility off you and the other students, and just places it squarely on the singer's shoulders. They effectively grade themselves when they drop out.
- Solo. Come to my office, one-on-one, and sing from point X to Y of my choosing, with no other help. No way around this one…either you know it or you don't. This is actually the most effective in terms of getting them to learn their parts. The results at the next rehearsal after testing speak for themselves.
- No Ramifications. Just do it in class. One to a part. Let them know in advance. People will practice more. A few won't care about the public part of not knowing their music, but most will. This works for college choirs, but it also is a way to do check days with community groups.
Let's hear from the Choralnet community of some other ideas for individual accountability.