Assessing Music Class: Your End-of-the-Year Reflections


The year is just about over. As teachers, we celebrate the end of school most of the time and are ready to breathe a heavy sigh of relief. But for many of us, issues that occurred during the year might have made us feel insecure or question whether our teaching choices were correct. How do we know? If you follow the following steps, you might find out that the year, upon reflection, really wasn't that bad. If you find places for improvement, you can decide how you approach them. Doing it now means you won't be musing over it during the summer. Who wants to do that on their vacation? 

BUT WHY, KAREN? Professionals are consistently evaluating their performances. If you shrug incidents off indifferently, you are not benefitting your students in one of the places where they might be able to be more creative. If you are too hard on yourself, you aren't doing yourself any good. If you aren't interested in improving realistically, I have to ask: why are you teaching in the first place? 

I'm not talking about the crazy extremes teachers have been facing. Don't fret about the parent who tells you their child should have had a solo, the teacher who tries to "overhelp" during programs, or the administrator who compares you to the teacher before. (That's for another blog post!) Turn to your own training to evaluate your teaching strategy successes and places for improvement.

  • Ask the students. I mean, what better place to start? Most students will take this more seriously than you might think. Even the "reluctant" musicians generally provide some excellent insight. Some things you will want to know:
    *Their favorite activities
    *Favorite classroom instruments
    *Favorite songs
    *Their successes
    *What they didn't like in music
    *What they might do differently.
  • Rethink situations you felt were difficult and evaluate whether or not your original feelings were objective. We've had those days when technology wouldn't work, where a student escalated, when the principal walks in to observe a lesson that didn't engage when you thought it would, when a child pees on the floor or throws up, and even when you or a child has had a "wardrobe malfunction." How effective was that lesson once you removed the offending incident from the whole class picture (consider it an outlier)? Did the students become engaged again? How did you handle Plan B? Were you prepared for a Plan B? It's essential to revisit situations when you have stepped away from them, give them a few days for you to recover emotionally, and matter-of-factly view them. 
  • Review any documentation from your observations and use those to determine what suggestions you will incorporate, and which ones will really not work. Observations are a good way to get a snapshot of a teacher's performance, but in no way are they the total story. In particular, if you have a principal who has had little or no musical background, you might find yourself puzzled when you read the notes of the observation. Without having a good understanding of performance-based classes, administrators might try to make a square peg fit into a round hole. Make a note of these (even if you already discussed them), file it away for August, and plan to revisit this at the beginning of the new school year. 
  • Go out for drinks or lunch with other music colleagues and share incidents with them, being as objective as possible, and ask them for their input. Do the same for them. Don't have any music colleagues? Facebook has some wonderful music teacher groups. Granted, there are some teachers in these groups who get a little too blunt or critical. However, there are more who know how to answer these questions, and usually, they will berate the rude person. There is often drama in these groups, so choose carefully. I would recommend the American Orff-Schulwerk Association and/or the Organization for American Kodaly Educators groups because the administrators generally make sure the groups are represented in a professional manner.
  • Don't sit down for hours and hours musing over this. Write notes in your planbook, journal, or observation documentation, find a safe place for these artifacts where you can find them in August, and go enjoy your students!

Jazz Musician Talk Show Activity for Older General Music Students


This is an update to a blog post from 2014

April is Jazz Appreciation Month. When we as music educators hear about using music from our culture, we think of old folk songs, maybe contemporary favorites that our students like. Do we ever consider jazz, seeing as it's the true American art form? If you're like me with very little jazz background (except for "stage" band in high school), you might want to know how to get started. Do we play the music? Do we study the musicians? How in-depth do we get? (Obviously, there are jazz musicians who have had terrible lives.) And the Big Question: How do I keep them engaged?

Try a jazz musician talk show. This activity provides the opportunity to let your students practice their researching skills, discern important information, use critical thinking, and throw in some drama. Additionally, the students will learn to discern pieces of information and hopefully learn about the roots of jazz and the history of the time.

So, you say, how do I put this all together?
  • Make sure you cover yourself by sending a letter home about the project with links, letting parents know that, if students decide to do their own research, you have provided the links. You can also add them to Google Classroom or other similar platforms, or in the parent portal if possible.
  • Determine which musicians should make the list. Consider diversity (race, gender, vocal vs. instrumental, style). Don't shirk anything in a musician's history that might be questionable, based on the ages of your students. For instance, I kept references that mentioned Billie Holiday's drug problem on my list. My activity was geared towards fifth graders, and they were in DARE in fifth grade. However, I would not include any resources that would mention how Billie got raped or that she worked for a while as a prostitute. I would use them in a high school music appreciation class. Plus, consider the personalities of your students and what they are learning in their social studies. I always included Scott Joplin because he had lived in Missouri, as did Charlie Parker. If you have older students who are in social studies classes focusing on racial issues, Benny Goodman would be a good choice, since he integrated his orchestras.
  • Find your websites. (I have a way to get you started at the end. But no fair peeking!) Again, consider your "audience". There are a variety of sites such as that will have most if not all the musicians you want. And again, don't give any websites that might mention Scott Joplin's syphilis if you are doing the project with fifth grade. If you use Google Classroom or Seesaw, you have a perfect spot for all those websites. I will have a list of books at the end of the blog to add to your "Dear M. Librarian, do you have these?" list.
  • Show a slideshow with just a SMIDGEN of the information for whatever musicians you had selected. You want just enough to tease the students so they will have a better idea of which musician they want to select.
  • Talk to the students about group rules. (Check my article on group work on Music ConstructED for some ideas.)
  • Divide the class into groups.
  • The group members need to decide on jobs: who will play the musician, the talk show host, and other jobs, such as sound, props, a director, cue card person, etc. It was their decision how to divide the jobs, how everyone needed to stay on task, and to report to me if there was someone who was not cooperating (backed by my observations).
  1. For the first step, the groups should research their musician. There are various books for students that are about jazz musicians, plus age-appropriate websites (listed at the end of this blog).
  2. The group members should then compile 10 questions AFTER their research. Don't let them get away with: "When did you die? "When were you born?", etc. I had explained to my students that talk show hosts (or at least, good ones) and reporters do a little background work and formulate their questions based on what they already know about their subjects, so the interview would be more interesting.
  3. As students compile their questions, they should write a script and begin to formulate their performance. You can decide if they can use cue cards, but if you do, they need to practice.
  4. If the students were on task and had time, I would let them create a short commercial for fun, but the commercial would not be allowed if the focus was taken away from the talk show.
Performance day was always so much fun! Sometimes, unfortunately, the students were reading from the cue cards and had not made good use of their time. Some of the performances were wonderful! The students learned a new respect for jazz, as well as teamwork. I loved it if students got all into it and brought costumes and props.
It's a busy time of year, so you probably don't have the time to get all this together to do this. However, just start "collecting" websites and make a list of books to give to the librarian. Your students are going to enjoy the "drama" and retain the information.

Possible Books for Research:
Innovators of American Jazz
Here Me Talkin' to Ya
The History of Jazz

For Younger Students:
Birth of the Cool
Duke Ellington: His Life in Jazz
Who Was Louis Armstrong?
Black Heroes
The Story of Ella Fitzgerald
These are all suggestions. There are quite a few biographies of famous people you can search for.
And there you have it! The older your class, the more responsibility you can put on your students. Provide them with the materials they need, get them into groups, and sit back and enjoy the show.