Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Assessment and Instructional Design: Music and Technology

Technology can be a great tool to use in assessment in the classroom, as well as being an important component of instructional design. As Bauer describes, "(w)ith technology, music educators can become more efficient and effective in musical assessment." (Bauer, p. 134.) New ways of assessing students are being invented and shared on an increasing basis, and many of these options are low or no cost--great for the public school educator with a budget that is already stretched to the limit!

     As requirements on teachers grow each year, we need to find ways to not only teach our students effectively, but also to prove their growth in a measurable way that can be written down on paper, or on a screen, and presented. As music teachers, we know that advocacy is perpetually a part of our career, whether we like it or not. Being able to indicate progress in a measurable way that is reviewable is not just a "cool trick"--it is vital to maintain and grow our programs.

     In addition, the students we teach appreciate a concrete way to prove their learning. While we can talk about the improvement in tone quality or understanding of the fine points of dynamics, being able to click a video in a student's portfolio from their first lesson and compare it with a more recent performance, and being able to share that with parents, is evidence that is very difficult to dispute or discredit, and is easier to evaluate on an individual basis than a 60 minute concert tape. And while a 30+ year old music teacher may understand musical performance with depth and a critical ear, a 12-year old child thinks more concretely, and proof is not only there as a summative assessment, it can often be an incredible motivator. Hearing how much better they sound often makes kids want to work harder!

     As I was reading the chapters on assessment (ch. 6) and instructional design (ch. 7) in the Bauer text, it was reinforcing some ideas I have been mulling over for a while now, and changes I'd like to make in my own program. Music teaching has changed considerably from the time I first came out of college in 1996, and the requirements, while still in some ways optional for music teachers, are things we should be doing and soon will not be optional. I think that our classes are given a certain amount of freedom due to the inherent nature of our medium, but that will not remain forever. It has been rare for an administrator I've worked with to be a music teacher. In fact, I've had none who were, and only one who had been a music major at one point. Though they can comment on our teaching, understanding the long game we play, the learning experiences that are reliant on the abilities of the kids in the chairs that day, all the things that come together to form the curriculum, and the ways we make sure we are meeting our own benchmarks are often a mystery for them. As my assisstant principal said to me, "I don't know how you do everything you do!" After more than fifteen years of teaching, I am just discovering this myself, but am yearning to find a way to codify what I do in a more concrete manner for my students. I am hoping some of the technology described in these chapters will help me to do this, especially the portfolios mentioned. As I have discussed before, I plan to begin using Google Classroom this year, and am hoping to make assignments each 6-day cycle the kids will video tape themselves playing at home using their district provided Chromebooks, upload to Google Classroom, and use as a part of their grade, as well as creating a portfolio to track their own progress. As a Band Director, I always meet the kids where they are individually, but there are certain skills I want every kid to know by the end of the year, and hopefully this will allow me to get them there more effectively and more efficiently. Finding time to do this in lessons is always an issue, especially with a school district that is so full of opportunities, it is not always guaranteed I will see them every week. Hopefully, the cyber method will make this not only easier but more guaranteed. I am eager (and a little nervous) to start this new method!


Bauer, W.I. (2014) Music learning today: Digital pedagogy for creating, performing, and responding to music. New York: Oxford University Press.


  1. Hi Ronica,
    I agree with what you said about how many of the technology standards have seemed optional for music teacher. In my blog for this week, I share an experience I had my first year of teaching. A mandate came down from admin that we were supposed to develop a unit that specifically addressed the technology standards. The media specialist at our school was also my mentor my first year and I went to her to learn more about these technology standards, as I had never heard of them before. She shared them with me, but then informed me that I was not really expected to follow the technology mandate because I taught music. I was shocked. I said, "But... I'm already doing most of these in my classroom... Shouldn't I share that with the administrators?" She seemed surprised that I was incorporating so much technology in a music classroom, but she encouraged me to submit my unit. I thought the entire exchange was strange. I find technology so helpful. Why wouldn't I include it in my classes? I can't be the only music teacher who feels this way about technology! How do you feel about it? Have you found technology helpful in your experience or a hinderance? Thanks!


  2. Hi Harmony,

    I agree, it is odd but what we do is so rich, admins without musical experience are really befuddled by it. It's not something you can learn from a book, so it is tough for non-musicians to grasp and I think they are sometimes a little intimidated by music teachers! My Assistant principal has admitted this to me, but our head principal is actually a former concert pianist/music major and jazz pianist, so she understands more deeply and has been very helpful.

    I have found some technology to be very helpful in my class, but since I teach Band, sometimes it can be a hindrance, especially since half the year I rehearse on a stage without access to some things (unless I take a considerable amount of time to set them up--but since we have to reset the band for each day, including chairs, stands, and instruments, I usually don't!) I have borrowed a small set of portable speakers, which helps me to use my computer to share things with kids, but again, this requires set up. I do use some things in small group lessons, like my laptop (which is easier to crowd around when there are 4 vs. 60) and my smart phone, which has become indispensable. But during rehearsals themselves, I am mostly rehearsing. Occasional use of recordings happens, but it's not a daily occurrence. Our school is kind of reaching the end of its life--it was built in 1970, and we have nearly outgrown it, especially with all the opportunities our kids have now, so I am hopeful that in the next ten years we will have a new building. Our maintenance staff has done amazing things to keep it in great condition, but we really do need more space for all the cool things that happen here. Our town passed a referendum a year or so ago to build a new high school, which was sorely needed, so when that project is over, perhaps we will be able to look forward to a new space for the middle school!