My district has been focusing on formative assessment strategies for years, and for that, I am very grateful. We as teachers have been provided with lots of professional development about the topic of assessment, with strategies to gauge understanding and adapt instruction.

One "a-ha" moment I had on my own is the idea of variety. While I had heard about providing various formative and summative assessments to students, my "a-ha" moment was about the purpose of variety.

The purpose for variety became clear to me one day when I was assessing students on their performance of a piece on Orff instruments. My good friend Andrew Ellingsen had presented a wonderful piece at an OAKE conference that I had decided to use with my own students.

One day, after teaching the piece to students, I listened to my students in centers perform this piece. I was so excited by how well some of them did! Some of these students who were rocking it out on this piece had never really "shined" in music before.

They had done fine previously, but had never stood out. And now, they were very fluidly playing this piece of music. In retrospect, I realized that while I was frequently assessing, I wasn’t always providing variety in my assessments.

As I looked back on my assessments from previous years and previous marking periods, I realized that sometimes I'd have two or three assessments all focused on rhythm, or all focused on melody. I decided that, if at all possible, I should provide my students with a wide variety of ways to show their musical understanding during any given marking period.

I even found support for this idea online, in an article, "Methods of Assessment," by William Badders. He states, "It is clear that different kinds of information must be gathered about students by using different types of assessments. The types of assessments that are used will measure a variety of aspects of student learning, conceptual development, and skill acquisition and application. The use of a diverse set of data-collection formats will yield a deeper and more meaningful understanding of what children know and are able to do, which is, after all, the primary purpose of assessment."

In today’s article, I’m offering a wide variety of ways to assess your students during any given marking period, as a means to not only collect a wide variety of data, but also for your students to show you how well they understand the many aspects of musicianship.

Assessment idea No. 1: Playing instruments

There is such a variety of assessments that can be taken at the barred instruments alone, depending on the grade level. Can students keep a steady beat? Can they alternate between two bars to the beat? Can they play an ostinato? Can they perform a piece like I discussed above?

Think about what your goals are for each grade level and plan accordingly.

Assessment idea No. 2: Rhythmic understanding

Under the umbrella of rhythm there are many different ways to assess students. When I look at any given marking period, I try to make sure I'm not focusing solely on rhythm, as I will not get a "big picture" idea of how a student who is struggling with rhythm is doing in all musical areas.

When thinking about rhythm, you could create assessments to gauge whether students can read rhythm patterns, write rhythm patterns, identify rhythm patterns, and create rhythm patterns…just to name a few!

Assessment idea No. 3: Melodic understanding

Under the umbrella of melody there are also many different ways to assess students. Again, I try to make sure I don't have all assessments focused on melody, as this is not representative for those who struggle specifically with melody.

When thinking about melody, you could create assessments for reading patterns on the staff, writing patterns with solfa and on the staff, identifying patterns by sight and sound, and creating melodic patterns.

Assessment idea No. 4: Solo singing

I like to hear at least a few students every day sing individually. This may seem daunting, but once students are used to singing by themselves, it just becomes part of the routine.

Every day, I use greetings to say hello to students and hear how they are doing, what they will do this weekend, where they went on vacation, etc...but they are using their singing voices the whole time! I also love to use singing games such as "Come back home my little chicks" to have students showcase their pitch-matching.

The wide variety of these assessments allows you as the teacher to truly get a picture of well-rounded musicians within your school, allows your students to "shine" and shows what they truly know and can do!