Re-Thinking the Choir Concert Rubric

Whenever it gets to be concert season, I see a LOT of posts from directors talking about two things that can easily be thorns in our sides.  And those things would be: 1) grading students based on attendance and/or behavior, and 2) make-up assignments.

 

I’ve got a lot of thoughts on these two things, but let’s take them one at a time.  First, grading students on attendance and/or behavior is something I’ve gone away from doing, for a few reasons:

 

1-Grading based on attendance and/or behavior doesn’t give us any real information about the knowledge or skills of our students.

So a student shows up for the concert, and gets full credit.  What does that really tell us about what they know, and what they can do?  Very little. Your most skilled singer and your least skilled singer could essentially get the same grade when graded based on attendance.  To me, that’s not a very accurate representation of what they know and what they can do, which is what a grade is supposed to show. There are other things that we could assess that give us a better representation of the knowledge and skills of our singers.

 

2-Many districts will no longer allow you to grade based on “behavior”.

Which, really, this is probably a good thing.  The behavior of the student doesn’t really say much about what they know or what they can do.

 

BUT, (and that’s a giant-sized “but” right there) much of what would be considered “behavior” can also be assessed as “concert performance skills and etiquette”.  Meaning, there are many skills that look like “behavior” that are actually important skills that singers need to have when it comes to being involved in a performance (as well as rehearsals).  These skills include:

-Being on time

-Being in the proper place at the proper time

-Wearing appropriate concert attire

-Conducting yourself in a professional manner at all times

-Avoiding excess fidgeting while onstage

(You could certainly divide up “conducting yourself in a professional manner at all times” into separate standards if you have more specific issues, but this is a good way to communicate the importance of acting appropriately before, during and after the performance.)

 

These items may look like descriptions of behavior, but they are also describing skills that our singers will need when they move on to the next step of their singing journey.  If I’m teaching middle school, these are all things that are going to be expected of them at the high school level, etc.

 

And if your administration says “You can’t grade based on behavior”, your response should be, “I’m not.  I’m assessing important standards of concert performance skills and etiquette, which are skills that my singers will be expected to demonstrate as a part of any ensemble that they are a part of in the future.”  This goes for rehearsals, too!!!

 

3–Especially when working with younger singers, it’s quite possible that it’s not the fault of the student if they are absent.

I’ve seen a lot of stories about how parents just refuse to take their child to a concert.  Can we really punish the student by giving them a “zero” because a parent decided they were “too busy” to bring their child? Or because they live in a single-parent home, and the parent had to work?  There are endless reasons why it might not be the fault of the student that they were unable to attend a concert.  

 

So, what SHOULD we be assessing for at our concerts?  

 

Well, as I mentioned above, there are certain aspects of concert performance skills and etiquette that we have the opportunity to assess.  There are certain aspects of performance that we can assess as well, like:

-Singing with proper posture

-Singing with appropriate facial expression

-Making appropriate eye contact with the director while singing

-Student demonstrates through singing an understanding of appropriate blend with other singers

Now, the last one on this list is a bit of a “gray area”.  My perspective is that we cannot truly assess individual singing in a concert setting.  I truly cannot tell if Mary or Michael are singing with appropriate tone and vowels, or even if they are singing the correct pitches and rhythms.  These are things I will assess outside of the concert setting (and preferably before the concert).

 

That being said, I can to a certain extent hear when certain voices are sticking out, which is a part of vocal blend.  I then have to decide if that is because the singer is oversinging, or is singing in a way that they stick out from the others in their section.  However, as far as balance goes, I cannot tell the opposite–that is, is the student singing with enough volume to contribute positively to the ensemble sound.  Usually, my concern is the singer that is sticking out from the singers around them, and I believe I can assess this well enough to include it on my rubric. All other concepts related to individual singing standards I will assess outside of the concert setting, because I believe I can get a more individual and accurate depiction of the singer’s knowledge and skill level.

 

So if these are the standards that I’m assessing in the concert:

-Being on time, and in the proper place at the proper time

-Wearing appropriate concert attire

-Conducting yourself in a professional manner at all times

-Avoiding excess fidgeting while onstage

-Singing with proper posture

-Singing with appropriate facial expression

-Making appropriate eye contact with the director while singing

-Student demonstrates through singing an understanding of appropriate blend with other singers

 

then what many choir directors say is really true: there is no make-up assignment that truly can take the place of a performance.  There are many of these things that I cannot really assess outside of the concert setting.

 

So what would my advice be for when your students miss a performance?

 

Get over it and move on.

 

And I get it–many of us teach in situations where we feel like we need to make the concert a major portion of our students’ grade, otherwise a significant portion of our students won’t be motivated to show up.  But for those that don’t show up–is it possible that the rest of your ensemble is better off? If a singer is going to have a negative attitude about the performance, I really don’t want them there polluting the attitudes of the other singers.  To me, it’s often addition by subtraction when it concerns singers that don’t want to be there.

 

For those that would find it helpful, here’s a link to the PDF of my concert rubric:

 

http://bit.ly/CDCConcerRubric

 

All of that being said, those students that are absent should still have a make-up assignment. It’s only fair to the other students involved that are spending the time and energy required of a concert.  In my next post, I’ll talk about what I use as a concert make-up assignment. Stay tuned!

 

Matt

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