2.1 How do we best assess musical learning and understanding?
If developing young people’s knowledge of music is to be at the centre of your teaching, it should also be at the centre of both the way in which you assess and what you assess. In this section we set out seven principles that we believe should underpin all so that it supports the development of knowledge of music.
First, and foremost, assessment should be musical. It should, over a period of time, encompass the full range of what it is to be musical and reflect the many ways in which people engage with music across a range of styles, traditions and cultures. For example, teaching and assessment that focuses exclusively or primarily upon performing and composing using notation provides a narrow musical experience and an inadequate basis upon which to assess musical understanding and achievement. These assessments should provide opportunities for all young people in a class or group to demonstrate their musical understanding and achievement.
Second, assessment should be integrated into teaching and take place through and within music-making and responding to music. Young people should be assessed as they engage in activities that would be recognisable as musical ones outside the context of formal music education.
Third, assessment should focus on developing the quality of young people’s musical work. This then moves the emphasis of assessment away from the musical object – the composition, the performance, the listening test – to the learning student; how they demonstrate engagement with music across a range of musical activities and experiences. Assessments that depend on a single musical event or example of work will by definition be inadequate as they will not give a true picture of the young person’s attainment and consequently fail to provide the formative support they need to move forward.
Fourth, assessment criteria should be specific to the project or topic being studied and the context of the musical activity and assessment should grow from this context. For example, it would be inappropriate to assess the performance of a song from Wicked by the same criteria as a folk song or an aria from a Mozart opera. Equally, one would not assess a minimalist composition by the same criteria as a reggae song. The starting point for assessment criteria is the music: what is important and of value within the particular musical tradition or culture within which the young person is working.
Fifth, assessment processes and criteria should be open to ‘unexpected’ learning that has not been planned for as well as to learning that is brought into the classroom from musical learning beyond the school. Teachers should try to avoid assessment ‘myopia’ by only recognising learning they had planned for and expected!
Sixth, assessment should involve young people in assessing their own work and that of others through discussion and self and peer assessment. Discussion between the teacher and young person is particularly important so that the teacher can gain an understanding what the young person is trying to achieve and also what they think they have achieved. This points up the importance of agreed and shared criteria and, as the young people develop into agentive musicians, criteria that is negotiated between them and the teacher.
Seventh, assessment done well will help teachers to evaluate the effectiveness of their teaching and support them in future planning for young people’s musical learning. We cannot say that teaching has occurred if there is no evidence of musical learning. As Jo Glover (2008, p. 1) says, ‘The connection between teaching and learning is not hard wired – we cannot say “I teach therefore you will learn”.’
If these principles are followed, then assessment has a good chance of providing feedback and information that supports young people in reflecting upon their learning and developing understanding of what they need to do to improve.
Develop a strategy of assessment that shows how you could address the seven principles across a series of lessons.
Think specifically of how you will plan for these assessment occasions, the learning you will seek to assess and the assessment strategies that you will use.