Formative Assessment

Formative Assessment
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  Identification of Formative Assessments in the Music ClassroomChristopher DoyonSouthern New Hampshire UniversityAugust 9, 2015  Identification of Formative Assessments in the Music Classroom Introduction The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) defines formative assessment as “a  process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve students’ achievement of intended instructional outcomes” (Wylie, 2008, p. 3). As the definition suggests, formative assessment is not, as a concept is not a thing, specific or otherwise, but rather a process by which learning can be guided. Broken down further, the CCSSO  provides five criteria of what constitutes formative assessment.The five attribute of effective formative assessment as they appear in E. Caroline Wylie’s (2008)  Formative Assessment: Examples of Practice  are as follows: learning progressions, learning goals and criteria for success, descriptive feedback, self and peer assessment, and collaboration (p. 3). Looking at these goals in order, it is possible to see a progression. When teachers embrace effective formative assessment strategies, the content and “sub-goals” (Wylie, 2008, p. 3) should act as stepping stones to reach larger goals. Based on these goals, teachers determine what methods to employ in order to gather data regarding how well the students are meeting these goals and sub-goals in a way that is useful to  both the teacher in tailoring their instruction and to the students as they adjust their learning. These assessments are then used by the teacher to provide constructive feedback that models the improvements that should be made. Good assessments also a clear way for students to assess themselves and each other. Finally, the students and teachers work together to seek flexible change if the need for adaptation exists to accommodate the students’ learning needs.  Formative Assessment: Examples of Practice  compiles a number of vignettes that provide both examples and non-examples of formative assessment. While the scenarios vary in subject matter, complexity, grade-level, and the methods used, the vignettes do highlight many practices that are common in classrooms in one form or another. Many of the styles of assessment described can be found in a music classroom. The assessments that are used in a music classroom vary in their abilities  to utilize the “five attributes based on current literature that render formative assessment most effective,” (Wylie, 2008, p. 3) but looking at a snapshot of assessments used, it can be said that the formative natures of these assessments are clear. Pitch Checks The final vignette Wylie (2008) presents deals with a high school band or orchestra. In the example, the instructor notices that a student or group of students are not hitting a “sour note” (Wylie, 2008, p. 10) on one measure in the music. To find the isolate the incorrect note, the instructor has the group play the measure note-by-note until the sour note is found. This approach is one that is very familiar to music teachers because of how effectively it can draw out a number of different problems including improper finger placement, poor instrument tuning, and mechanical issues, to name a few.This formative assessment meets with several of the criteria for effective formative assessment. The  Massachusetts Arts Curriculum Framework developed by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MDESE), for example, indicates the need for students to be ableto play with “technical accuracy” as “an appropriate part of an ensemble” (MDESE, 1999, p. 45).  Naturally, one of the sub-goals to both of these ends is the need to play pitches accurately and in a way that match the ensemble. In this case, the criteria for success is both implicit and established upon announcement of the mistake. By dissecting the measure, the instructor is able to carefully analyze the  performance of all of the students. As Wylie (2008) mentions in the vignette, “on occasion this approach results in the students discovering for themselves that they are using an incorrect fingering” (p. 10). More often than not, this process happens without the instructor having to tell students to self and peer-assess. The natural curiosity of the students guides them to do this on their own. Finally, once the misplayed notes are discovered, the band or orchestra should replay the section to determine that the issue has been fixed as a form of collaboration.  Student Polling The first vignette in the first set describes a high school biology teacher who utilizes a thumbs-up or thumbs-down system to poll students in true or false type questions. Polling can be similarly successful in music classrooms. For example, students may be provided with a question in response to material that has been taught. The question has a limited number of reasonable responses. All of the responses are announced and then the students are polled. For each response, they suggest their agreement by raising their hands when their preferred response is called. If the responses vary greatly, the instructor may ask some students to justify their answers. The appropriate answer is then revealed, and the instructor checks for understanding before moving on.This method of polling appeals to the sub-goals of the curriculum by focusing on one limited  portion of the larger goal. This is particularly useful for factual knowledge since, in this instance, the student’s response is either correct or incorrect. The show of hands allows the instructor to quickly assess if a concept has been understood, misunderstood, and what the concentration of responses. If responses are concentrated around wrong answers or divided, the teacher can then adjust to fix misunderstandings. Similarly, students have the ability to look around the room and see how their answers compare with other students in the class. In cases of significant difference of opinions, the students are allowed to reason out the right answer, guided by the instructor who eventually will reveal the appropriate answer. Processing Elements of Listening Selections The second vignette of set B describes a mathematics class, an while the instructor builds several examples of formative assessment into the daily instruction, one element that has application to general music classes is allowing students an opportunity to respond to problems and then sharing their unique methods and responses (Wylie, 2008, p. 6). Music students are exposed to a variety of musical listening selections, all of which can be interpreted in different ways by each student. In class, students listen to a selection of music. After the selections, students are allowed the opportunity to share their  insights about the music, what they think inspired the composer, what they hear in the music, and so on. The only requirement is that in sharing their ideas about listening selections, they must try to describe and explain the musical tools that the composer employs. Students are then allowed to respondshared ideas, and the instructor can provide any factual knowledge that may add to the students’ responses. This particular exercise can be used to meet a variety of sub-goals tied to standard 5.8 from the  Massachusetts Arts Curriculum Frameworks  that says that students should “describe specific music occurrences in a given aural example, using appropriate terminology” (MDESE, 1999, p. 48). The students must be aware throughout that the exercise focuses on their ability to use musical terminology.For this reason, often the instructor asks the students to rephrase using musical terminology when a student’s reaction does not satisfy the desired result. The exercise provides students with the opportunity to react to each other’s perspectives, and the instructor gains the opportunity to provide feedback about reactions or provide additional details that make responses and understanding more robust. Conclusion The appearances of formative assessment may vary significantly and may be adapted to meet the needs of a variety of different subject-areas. Nonetheless, formative assessment shares in important attributes that enable formative assessment to be a useful tool for student development. Strong formative assessments make advantages of learning progressions and sub-goals, learning targets, feedback, self and peer assessment, and collaboration (Wylie, 2008, p. 3). These elements hit at the core of strong teaching and learning because they guide instruction and student development continuously across the curriculum and not periodically like some forms of assessments. To paraphrase the words of Kate Garrison in an interview about formative assessment, formative assessment can lead to a culture of lifelong learning.
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