One of the biggest challenges of being an elementary music teacher today is the lack of contact time with students. Schools vary anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes on average per week in music instruction. Since most of our American students come to Kindergarten with very little if any exposure to making music, we are playing catchup from day one.
We must also deal with the reality that teaching 20-30 students at a time to be proficient musicians is not the ideal model for skill development. This is why families that can afford it pay for private lessons.
Veteran and well-trained teachers (say, those trained in Orff Schulwerk or Kodaly) know how to accomplish amazing things with their students despite these challenges. They have developed sophisticated play-based lessons that engage all students, and gradually introduce new skills in a nurturing, mistake-tolerant environment.
The best teachers understand that their focus must be on student-centered lessons, where the children are actively engaged at all times in music-making and learning. Yet keeping track of perhaps 500-1000 students' individual skill progress and needs can be daunting. It is very easy for quieter students to "skate by," hiding in the back of the group. Individual student assessment is necessary to make sure that every child comprehends and can perform.
Assessing every child in a class can be very time-consuming, often taking an entire class period to accomplish, while most students are not engaged. On top of this, many teachers would prefer to give direct feedback than record scores, which is helpful for immediate growth, but makes it hard to reflect later on students' performance.
What if there was a quick, easy, accurate, and non-disruptive way to assess your students? Unison.School will be offering such assessments starting this fall. To get a sense of how one of these assessments might work, check out our Rhythm page. You can tap the rhythms on any touchscreen device, use a mouse/touchpad to click the drum, or even tap the space bar on a computer. You can tap at any speed you want, and the program will calculate what tempo you are using, then check the rhythm against what is written. If you tap the wrong number of notes, it will record that mistake. If you tap some notes in the wrong rhythm, it will record this as well.
In the school subscription version, student scores will be saved, and sent to the teacher. Teachers will be able to pull up class lists and see which students are struggling with the concepts/performance.
Rhythms will be geared toward different grade levels and concepts (the demo is for First or Second Grade students).
How does this help the time-crunched teacher? Imagine borrowing an iPad/laptop cart from your Media Center, and assessing an entire class in less than five minutes. Or, if you have 2-3 devices available in your class, set up a testing space in the back of the room, and send a few students at a time to take the assessment, while you continue to teach an engaging lesson.
Not only will this type of assessment serve you and your students, but it can be tailored to any district, state, or federal requirements. Student Learning Objectives (SLOs), for example, often require a pre-test and post-test. In this case, the app can be programmed to have students re-take the same assessment after you introduce/practice the concepts in class, and the data will show the student growth. Teachers will be able to export data to their principals, use it for report cards, or share with colleagues for professional development.
So that's what I'm working on this summer. How about you? What would you like to see as a tool to support your teaching? Please share comments and suggestions via Facebook.
Unison.School is the center for elementary music teachers to find digital tools to simplify, expand, and enhance their music classrooms.
Designed by Tim Purdum, a veteran music teacher, Orff Schulwerk Teacher Trainer, and curriculum-focused clinician and author, Unison.School is geared to making your job easier and your students more successful and creative.
The Studio is a free tool to start with, where students can practice xylophone, piano, and recorder songs from any device, at home or in school.
Also check out Rhythm, which will soon be available as a complete assessment tool for schools by early this school year.