My resource for Music Teacher magazine on assessing without levels has recently been published (July 2014), and it describes in detail an assessment system my colleagues at Hayes School and I have been developing over the last seven or eight months. This system is based very much on Martin Fautley’s writing, in his book Assessment in Music Education and his blog drfautley.wordpress.com. I have also had extensive and fruitful conversations with John Kelleher from Wimbledon College, and been very interested in the blogs of John Finney and Anna Gower.
The resource for MT outlines the way in which we have been using radar diagrams to assess KS3 students. Here is an example:
The different colours used here show what was done on different dates, and so over time a really detailed picture builds up that enables me to plan future lessons and give great feedback to the student. The crucial thing with these diagrams is to get right what is being assessed. So, to mix my metaphors in a completely gung-ho fashion, the content of the spokes of the radar is really important.
Using these radar diagrams over the last few months has provoked further thoughts about spoke content. Last Friday we had a department-based PD day at school, so my colleagues and I were able to discuss our thoughts at length. We also looked at John Kelleher’s approach to using radar diagrams, as he had condensed his spokes down to five, and I had worried that our approach was over-atomising. Is 12 spokes too many?
We had other questions and observations that had come out of our use of the radars. ‘Performance matches intentions’ was something that we had had different interpretations of: my colleagues had linked this to what students had written down, whereas I had taken it to be about whether they had rehearsed effectively enough for their performance to be what they wanted it to be. We also found that we mostly gave the same marks for ‘use of time’ and ‘group work’, and wondered whether we should amalgamate these spokes.
Revised spoke content
Having had a look at John’s slimmed-down, 5-point radars, we decided to stick with our 12-spoke model. These are the reasons:
- Our projects are quite long (a whole term) and over the course of the project we expect students to work on every aspect (i.e. someone will not just be playing the bass line – they may end up doing that, but before that they will have played chords and melody, done some singing or whatever)
- We enjoyed the lifelong learning skills aspect of our spokes: it fits with our school’s ethos and priorities, and the important thing here is to find a system that suits your school and your students. For us, we really wanted these things to be part of what was assessed. We wanted to tweak the content, but keep this aspect of our system.
- Although we fear over-atomisation, we felt that having the 12 points gives us a really valuable framework for giving feedback to our students, and tons of great information about their progress over time in all the different areas.
The result of all of this is that we have come up with revised ‘spoke headings’ which are now as follows:
- Following instructions
- Responding to feedback
After that, there will be spokes specific to the project, but after extensive discussion we have gone down the lines of elements, such as melody, rhythm, harmony, texture, and structure, choosing whichever ones are relevant to the project and adding specifics such as singing, instrumentation, improvisation and so on as appropriate.
Tweaking the way we use the radars
The effectiveness of working procedures for any system of assessment is of paramount importance – it just has to work, in practice, in a busy and/or chaotic classroom. We had also been puzzling over the ways in which we could put the radars into the students’ domain: i.e. make them work for students as much as they were working for us.
We are making five changes here:
- Students working in a group will have their radars on the same sheet. This has meant we have had to formulate sheets for pairs/trios/fours/fives but having them all in the same view, with a space in the middle or at the side for comments that apply to everyone in the group, has proved a real boon to using them in lessons
- Following on from (1), group sheets will be given to groups while they are working. Instead of us providing written feedback on a slip that gets glued into student workbooks, the onus will be on the students to look at the sheet, make decisions as to how our feedback affects their planning (and objectives for that lesson, if you want to look at it in that way), and make notes on a designated page in their workbooks. Our school is the sort of school that expects to see stuff written down. I have no wish to pursue the idiocy of a ‘verbal feedback given’ stamp, but wanted to put the onus on students and away from us, and give students ownership (even though that term makes me feel a bit queasy) of their feedback
- Next year’s workbooks will have a blank radar for each project. Students will duplicate teachers’ radar marks in their workbooks, preferably using a new colour each time as we do, so that progress over time is super-visible to them, us, and anybody else who cares to look. Giving them the sheets while they are working makes this easy
- There will be a space on the ‘radar page’ of the workbook for students to keep a running total of their points so far in the project. This makes progress over time really visible, and gives students something to aspire to.
- Having such a thorough record of formative assessment during a project makes a big old summative assessment at the end redundant. Hooray! We have spent hours creating summative sheets that look like this:
However, the value of these has been mostly in keeping SLT happy, and their impact on students does not match the time taken by the teacher in producing them. So, by making the formative system so thorough, and in the students’ domain, we no longer need to do this, as all this information will be known to students already. All they have to do at the end of the project is record their final mark, and complete a reflective questionnaire online for homework. This will be done as a Google form and will end up being printed out and stuck into the workbook – this replaces a system where we took up valuable lesson time doing evaluations which were not of much use to them or to us (many thanks to Anna Gower for the Google forms idea!).
The upshot of all of this is that we very much hope that less teacher time out of lessons will be spent producing written feedback, and that students will be 1oo% more aware of the content of their radar on a lesson-to-lesson basis. More responsibility will be passed to the student, which can only be a good thing.
Undoubtedly we will make more changes along the way… future blogs will outline exactly the shape these will take.