The 7 Do’s and 3 Don’ts for Using Individual Assessments with Your Singers

I was talking with another choir director over coffee during Christmas break, and the topic of assessment came up.  Individual assessment in the choral program is a bit of a passion of mine, and we talked about a lot of the ways that I do assessment, and why many directors do not utilize assessment as much as they could.

 

Certainly, there are obstacles to assessing our singers–no doubt about it.  But in my mind, the benefits to individual assessment FAR outweigh the challenges involved.  

 

So, if you’re struggling with the HOW, the WHEN, or even the WHY of doing individual assessment with your singers, today’s post is for you!  Here are “The 7 Do’s and 3 Don’ts for Using Individual Assessments with Your Singers”:

 

The DO’s

1-DO use individual assessment to get specific data about what your singers know and what they can do.

Individual assessment is really about finding out two things: 1-what your singers know, and 2-what they can do.  Just like when you were doing that Chemistry experiment in high school, the more specific the data, the better. Not only for you, because it helps you understand what your singers need moving forward, but specific data is also much more effective when you are using it to meet different teaching standards, or when you want to make the case for financial support for your program.  And no longer do you have to base grades on attendance and participation, because you have data about what your singers actually know, and what they can do!

 

2-DO use a wide variety of assessments, for both during and outside of rehearsal.

The greater the variety of assessments that you use, the easier it will be to keep your singers engaged.  Just like anything else, if you are doing the same thing over and over, your singers are going to get bored.  A wide variety will also give you the opportunity to cover more of those teaching standards that I mentioned above.

 

Also, don’t be afraid to make your singers responsible for their own learning!  Have them do an assessment outside of rehearsal. This helps save you time, and helps cultivate an atmosphere of independent musicianship.

And if your singers complain about homework over the weekend, well….

 

3-DO use individual assessment as a motivator!

Assessment is a great motivator–even informal assessment, if it’s connected to a formal assessment.  For instance–we use Sight Reading Factory to sight read as an ensemble at the beginning of rehearsal.  My singers are invested in that process for many reasons, one of which is that they know that their sight reading skills will be assessed individually outside of rehearsal.  If they know that they are going to be graded on a skill, that ups the motivation!

 

Something else that ups the motivation for singers is if the assessment is with/in front of their peers.  We do small group performances during rehearsal on excerpts of our current repertoire. Not only are the singers being graded individually (it’s small enough groups, so I can hear individual voices), but no one wants to look silly in front of their peers.  That’s DOUBLE the motivation to make sure they come in prepared! Having trouble with students practicing OUTSIDE of rehearsal? Have them do small group performances INSIDE rehearsal 🙂

 

4-DO use individual assessment as an opportunity to touch on standards that you normally don’t get to in a regular rehearsal.

Whether you are using the National Standards or something else for your curriculum, you’ve got a lot of learning objectives to cover.  And many of those probably don’t get touched on as much as you’d like, because you have a performance to get ready for!  

 

Use assessment as an opportunity to touch on some of those learning objectives.  Get creative! There’s lots of things that you can do, many of which can be done by your singers outside of rehearsal.

 

5-DO utilize the technology that you have at your disposal.

Think about the technology that you have at your disposal.  How could you use it to implement different types of assessment?  This is another opportunity to get creative!  


For example, you may not have the budget to purchase Sight Reading Factory for all of your students.  However, you can afford to purchase a teacher account for yourself, and then use SRF outside of rehearsal to have students come in and perform sight reading exercises for you.

 

And how about turning in assignments?  Even if your school doesn’t use Google Classroom, you can still have your students set up a Google Drive folder where they can drop and share assignments with you.  Let’s face it, Google seems to be taking over the world, so our students should get used to using it!

 

6-DO make individual assessments short and to the point: QUALITY over QUANTITY.

It’s not about how much data, it’s the quality of the data that you are getting back from your singers.  For instance, you can have your singers record themselves singing a piece of your repertoire. But it would take forever for you to listen to every singer singing the whole piece.  Instead, just find one of the challenging excerpts from the piece, 8 to 16 measures, and just do that. That saves you a lot of time, but also gives you specific information on how singers are doing on that excerpt, which then helps you on how to move forward in future rehearsals.  

 

In addition to asking “Is this a quality assessment?”, you also want to ask, “Is this an AUTHENTIC assessment?”  You want the data you receive to be authentic, meaning, it’s giving you valuable information on the knowledge and skills of your singers, and it’s not just a means of “checking off a box” or filling in a grade in the grade book.

 

7-DO use individual assessments to promote a growth mindset.

Many singers will get anxious about having to do assessments, but they will be less anxious if you emphasize to them that you are doing these assessments to demonstrate how they are developing and growing as a singer, and that it’s not about getting a certain grade.  

 

It’s totally up to you how you want to grade, but you might consider doing some assessments for “completion” rather than “accuracy”, or allow singers to re-assess a certain singing assessment if they are unhappy with how they did the first time around.  This may lessen the pressure and anxiety around completing the assessment.

And now…..

The DON’TS

1-DON’T assume that since your choir sang through the piece well, that every singer can sing their part proficiently.

This is sort of the old school attitude, right?  Oh, we sang through the piece, and it went really well, so I don’t need to assess my singers.  Right?

 

WRONG.

 

In a large ensemble, it’s very easy for singers to hang back, hide, and latch on to the singers that really know the music.  The ONLY way to know if each and every singer can perform your music proficiently is to have them sing it on their own (or, at least, in a small group).  Singing your vocal part with 7 other singers is one thing. Singing it by yourself is a whole other level of knowledge and skill. If we want to get our singers on the path to being an independent musician, we must assess them independently as well.

 

2-DON’T go overboard–you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, and assessments do not need to require rocket science to complete-or to grade!

It doesn’t matter the subject–assessments do not need to be over-complicated in order to be effective.  When you are putting together an assessment, ask yourself: “What would be the EASY way of creating this assessment, and still have it be effective?”  And whatever that looks like, that’s what you do. You don’t need to spend hours or reinvent the wheel in order to get useful feedback on what your singers can do!

 

3-DON’T tell yourself you cannot afford to take the time to individually assess your singers.  In reality, you cannot afford to NOT assess them.

This is the biggest obstacle that I hear when choir directors say they cannot do assessment with their singers–”I cannot afford to take the time to do assessment.”  And my response is–”You cannot afford NOT to!” There are so many positive benefits to doing individual assessments. You will help grow more literate and independent musicians, which will in turn then improve the skills of the ensemble as a whole.  That can lead to the ability to do more challenging and interesting literature, which gets your singers excited, which motivates them to work harder, which creates better practice habits, which leads to the ability to do more challenging music….you get the idea!  

 

I hope these Do’s and Don’ts have given you some ideas as to how you might incorporate more assessment with your choir.  What are your biggest challenges related to assessing your singers? Post in the comments below, or send me an email at: Matt@ChoirDirectorCorner.com and let me know.  I’d love to hear from you!

If you’d like more in-depth information on the “how-to” of assessing singers, my most recent online masterclass, “How to Assess Your Choir Members Individually, Authentically and Efficiently” is available through our membership group, the Choir Director Corner TRIBE!  This masterclass includes 13 different rubrics/handouts that you can use to incorporate assessment into your rehearsals.  No need to reinvent the wheel! To find out more about the TRIBE, just click HERE.

 

Have a great afternoon everyone!

Matt

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