Monday, November 3, 2014

The Transition Continues

Welcome to the second quarter!  (That's actually not a football joke...)  The second nine-week grading period officially begins today, and with it comes a little more emphasis on individual grades - playing tests, etc. - that sometimes affect a student's overall grade.  I thought I would use this time to explain some philosophies and reasons for grading things the way we do here in the band room.

First of all, you should probably know the grading policies, classroom procedures, etc. that are outlined in the syllabus in the unlikely event that you haven't seen it yet.  You can find it here.  

We have many discussions throughout the year as a faculty regarding the importance of homework, testing, and other elements that make up a student's grade in a particular class.  In band there is frequently the "show up and get an A" syndrome, especially due to the performance demands during the first quarter of the year.  In an effort to make sure that students do indeed improve their playing skills as individuals, playing tests are usually administered beginning in the second nine weeks.  An effort is made for them to be relevant to the curriculum, so frequently the test material is pulled from the concert program we are currently preparing.

Occasionally, though, we test using scales, etudes, or other unison exercises that are designed to make everyone a better player in general, though the material may not relate to the current curricular cycle of music.  This enables the tuba players, for instance, to improve their technical aspect of playing instead of playing what is quite often "easy" musical lines in the band.

I try to strike a balance among the various items that make up a student's final grade.  Since we are a performance-based class, performances do make up the heaviest weight in the grade book at 40% of the total.  Attendance at outside of school rehearsals is another 10%, bringing the "show up and get an A" possibility to 50% of the grade.  I don't necessarily mind this; it is very difficult for anyone to "evaluate" an individual student's performance at a concert.  The goal is for everyone to perform equally well, and it is obviously possible for performers to "hide" during some difficult parts that they may not know very well.  That is where playing tests would come in.

The playing tests make up 25% of the grade (the final 25% is their daily work in class, materials, preparedness, etc.).  This can become a problem in the event that only one or two tests are given and a child doesn't do well on them.  In general, though, a poor showing on a playing test doesn't affect a final grade in a significant way.  And students are always allowed to play a test over as many times as needed to get to an A (because that means they're practicing, and I'm certainly not going to discourage that).

What about "chairs"?  For some folks coming in from middle school, chairs will be a new-ish concept.  It has been customary for many decades for band members to be placed in "chairs" in order of their playing ability.  While I am not a firm believer in the success of this idea for everyone, it can help as we look at more difficult literature at the high school level.

I honestly don't like chairs.  The concept has a tendency to make some students work less, because they figure they're last chair anyway, so why bother.  A student assigned a part that will make him/her practice more will potentially work up to the expectations that are set for him/her.  BUT...  Not always.  It's hard to strike that balance in this instance, so I usually default to having "chairs."  There are many more paragraphs possible here, and perhaps in the future I will write some more on the topic.  I understand the ideas of "this kid worked the hardest and deserves it" to "why reward someone who hasn't worked as hard" to "maybe this will inspire that person to put in a lot more effort."  All are important concepts and all have a place here.

That should cover things for this post.  Be aware that Concert and Symphonic Band students will have playing tests assigned this week!!