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Grading Choirs

I have been teaching choir for several years now, and I have never been happy with the way I have graded my students.  Can any of you give me some ideas on ways that I can put some objective grades in my book?  What kinds of things do you test your students on?  Participation?  Behavior?  Singing ability?  Do any of you give singing tests?  How do you administer them? Are they given to individuals or groups?  How do you grade them?  Do you give your classes any type of written work?  Any projects?
Also, I only see my MS choir for 25 minutes each day.  This limits me on what I can accomplish in a rehearsal.  If I do 5 minutes of warm-up with them and then 5 minutes of solfege with them, I am down to 15 minutes (if even that) to work music.  I've tried to get it changed to no avail.  If any of you have ideas on how I can work my 15 minutes most effectively, I would really appreciate hearing them.  I generally divide the MS choir into two sections -- SA and TB.  That makes it easier than if I had to work all three or four parts in one class.  The choirs have a website, and I have put the parts on the website for them to rehearse with, but I don't think very many of the students take advantage of it.  The MS students all have iPads, so they do have access to the website.  How can I (or Can I) require that they rehearse the parts and come prepared to class?
I know that there are a lot of questions here, but I would really like to hear some of your ideas and practices.  I truly appreciate any help that you can give me.
Thank you.
Chris Lamb
Muncie, IN
on August 7, 2014 4:07am
Hello Chris,
Here are some ideas:
Number one:  Because you see your middle school students for such a limited amount of time, you must have your daily rituals well-established in order to make the most of every minute. I would make sure that the traffic patterns in my room lend themselves toward picking up your folder and going straight to your seat.  I would find ways to reward those students who do exactly that. For example, I use a sticker recognition program in my class. When I see a student come in and sit down immediately to begin their short written warm-up assignment, I go straight to that student and put a sticker on the page on which he is writing.  Once they get three stickers, they are allowed to go to the starburst bucket and pick out a starburst.
Number two: Of course, you should always do a visual attendance check on your own… However,you should consider having a reliable and well-trained student take attendance on paper… He could use a sticky note and place it on your desk. You can record attendance on your computer at the end of class.  I find that in the circumstances where time is limited, the teacher needs to hit the ground running as soon as there are middle school students entering your room.
Number three: Try to avoid putting 10 pounds of stuff into a 5 pound bag.  You will not be able to put together a concert with 10 songs while making your students fully fluent in solfege in 9 weeks or less!  :)  Make decisions carefully. If I only had 25 minutes with my students each day, I would make sure that I teach what I decide to teach really well and give them a great time while they are learning it.  For example… with only 25 minutes you may only be able to make one song sounds fantastic in a four week period.  It doesn't mean that you cannot also sing rounds and cannons that are short, and simple.… however, you might perhaps just seeing one in that four-week that you can use this part of a warm-up ritual. Make sure the round that you choose is fun and make sure that the performance song that you choose is one that they love and that they can perform really well.  I would definitely touch on sight singing daily, but I would do it fewer minutes per day.  A little bit every day goes along way.  It is just like working out… a little bit is better than none.  Here is the most important point:  When you are successful and your students areEngaged and excited… Even if it is with or about a very small amount of material… Your administrators will take notice, and they are more likely to give you more time with your middle school children in the future.
Regarding grading:  I am going to leave a couple of blog posts that I created a while back that may be helpful. If you e-mail me I can also send you my syllabus.
I also have placed a few classroom management tips for new school teachers on my YouTube channel. Here is one of those videos:
If you go to that YouTube channel and type in "Classroom Management" into the search area, you will find more.
Hope this helps!
Dale Duncan
Click here to learn about S-Cubed:  Successful sight singing for middle school teachers and their students
Applauded by an audience of 1
on August 7, 2014 11:44am
     Here's an idea for grading that I use with my 5th graders and I have been very satisfied by the results. The class period after the concert, I have the students choose the song from the concert that they are most confident on. Sometimes, I limit their choices if there was asong that did not go well in the concert. Then, they get into groups with two students per part. Then, I have them sing that song with their group and grade them on their performance. The results are informative. Since you have such a time constraint in class, I would suggest that you have the groups find their own little corner of the world and use their iPads to make recordings of themselves singing the music using garage band. Then, they email the recordings to you. Each individual student gets a grade. This is important because sometimes well prepared students get stuck with someone who is clueless about their part. I always feel pleased when students get a good grade on this sort of test, and if they bomb it, unless it is the whole class that bombs it, I feel fully justified in assigning a low grade. If students know you're going to do this from the get-go, they usually put decent effort into rehearsal.
     As much as it is viewed as a "no-no" in education, I don't have a problem grading on participation in music. However, the definition we use in our school district is "participates with self control and respect." The fact is, this is a musical skill. Almost all music is collaborative. If students cannot be respectful and restrain their impulses, the music will suffer. The same is true, frankly, with musicians of any calibur. I don't have a magic way to grade objectively without a lot of paperwork, but I would suggest that you assume everyone has an "A" until they lose it. That way, you only have to keep track of those few students who are not meeting expectations for self control and respect. 
     It sounds like you have tried a flipped classroom approach on some of your repertoire  using your website (see this website for an explanation of flipped classroom if you've never heard of it before. To me, it seems like you have less of an issue with requirement than enforcement and planning. For example, you could ask students to listen to a specific section of a part (measures 1-20/the first 45 seconds of the music, etc) and come knowing it. Any student who doesn't know their part will have to take their iPad, leave the room, and review the music until they're good at it. How are you going to know? Well, initially, you might be holding rehearsals with three kids while the other go out into the hall and learn their parts. However, if you don't give in and do the work for them in class, they might be able to see that this is the expectation. The peer pressure of being the person who leaves class to learn their part may also help remind them to get the work done. Personally, I wouldn't do this with every song, but you could do one song per concert this way. I'm going to try it out this year and see how it goes. Hopefully, my untested suggestion is helpful.
     I'm curious, are all middle school class periods 25 minutes, or is there some reason that choir is special? For example, it used to be my choir had a day where we had 25 minutes and then flip flopped with the media specialist. The media specialist and I got together and asked the principal if we could have 50 minutes every other day. Same amount of instruction time, but you don't lose as much to transition and you have time to get into things. Perhaps something like that might be acceptable to your administrator?
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