Friday, January 6, 2012

Forget Art Class- Music Grade

Back at the end of August, I posted about a sign that Jeff and I spied in the Art classroom at Teagan's school.  Jeff and I had a positive reaction to it.  Many of my readers did not.  The sign, in my opinion, was a way of encouraging students to draw in a different way than they had so far.  When I talked to Teagan about the sign, she said that she liked it because she'd always thought she could only draw stick people and now she knows she can do more than that.

But today I have a complaint.

That sign in that class?  It isn't part of the grading system.  The projects that the kids do in art class don't even relate to the sign- it's more for free drawing and in-regular-class time.  So there has no impact on Teagan if she does decide to stray from drawing bodies to drawing stick figures- no points taken away, no trouble, no grade reduction.

But Music Class is apparently a different story.

I realized that 1st semester grades were probably up.  Grades really aren't a huge focus in our home at this point in time.  I see them as a guideline to determine where we might need to focus a little bit of energy or effort.

In each of her subjects, there are specific skills that she is graded on.  The scale is done in a basic "mastered / progressing / needs improvement" method.  So, for example, I can easily see that in writing, she needs to focus more on refining sentence writing- capitalization, punctuation, and writing in complete sentences.  With that scale, you can easily see where the overall grade (scale being "Satisfactory / Progressing / Needs Work") comes from.

Teagan is doing very well in all her subjects and classes.  No surprise there.  But I enjoyed clicking around and seeing where the grades came from.

Until I got to the Music Class grades.

She received a grade for the quality of her voice.

"Matching Pitch"

Description: Students will sing a short excerpt from a known song.

Now, if this description led me to believe that Teagan was asked to sing a song they'd been learning in class and she instead sang a different song- therefore demonstrating that she didn't learn the song that was taught or requested, I'd be ok with this being a graded subject.

I am a singer.  I sing and it's something I do pretty well and really enjoy.  I know a thing or two about music.

One thing I know is that not everyone can sing.  Not everyone can even carry a tune.  I have heard people who are good singers, great singers, mediocre singers, and even bad singers.  I've heard people that truly cannot find the correct note in their vocals.  I've heard people who are "tone deaf."

I don't see how "Matching Pitch" is something you can be graded on.  I don't see how your ability to sing is something you can be graded on.  I don't see how your level of talent can be graded.

In that art class situation, the thing I took from it was that the quality of your outcome isn't important.  What matters is your effort to do more than what is expected.  I can't draw.  I stick to stick figures and balloon trees because that's what I feel the level of my talent is... but maybe... if I tried to really look at something and draw it more realistically... maybe my deep efforts would still not produce a beautiful picture.  But I would have given my best effort to do what was asked.  I'm ok with being graded on my effort.  I'm ok with being graded on my ability to grasp concepts and understand steps and follow directions.

But if I'm graded on how pretty my painting turns out- I'm in trouble.

In a gym/physical education class is being graded, my hope would be, again, that grading is based on effort given and on demonstration of understanding.  Teagan received a grade for "1 Mile Run."  My hope is that she was graded for running her best for that mile or that she was graded based on attitude, effort, and completion of the task.  My hope is that she isn't graded on how fast she ran it or if she ran the entire time.

All other areas of the music grades made sense to me.  A skill was listed and you could see how it was measurable to determine a grade.  Demonstrate ability to keep a steady beat.  Demonstrate a rhythm based on a card that gives notes and beats.  If you want a student to recognize pitch or be graded on pitch, play a song and ask them to identify it.

But don't ask them to sing it and then grade them.  This isn't American Idol.  You aren't Simon Cowell.  It's an elementary school music class.  I'm not looking for kids to be falsely built up and told they have talents they don't have.  I just don't see the point in grading on something that isn't something based on effort, skill mastery, or other measurable things.

I would really love to hear opinions on this.  Music teachers?  Any input?  Parents of kids with or without singing ability?  Memories of music class in your own childhood?



Alison said...

I sure hope the teacher's not channeling Simon Cowell!

I guess I'd have to casually ask the teacher what exactly he or she is looking for--an exact match of pitch? Some ability to recognize the pitch changes, regardless of their accuracy? Then let them talk. They may just be trying to see each child's potential; perhaps to eventually steer them toward an instrument instead? Since the rest of the music grading seems reasonable, I'd withhold final judgment until you learn more.

mimbles said...

I'd be very concerned too. In fact I'd be wanting to know why there's formal grading of any kind being done for music (or gym, or art) at this age. Put something about it on the report card by all means, but make it a "this is what we've done this year" blurb with a comment highlighting something good about each kid's work in the subject. No grading necessary.

There is nothing more guaranteed to destroy an enjoyment of singing than being told you're not good enough, I have a friend who was told she was tone deaf as a child because she couldn't sing to pitch (she wasn't and could hear perfectly well how far off she was) and it was hugely detrimental to her enjoyment of participatory music.

I know so many people who aren't even comfortable joining in casual impromptu sing-a-longs to popular music because they "can't sing" and it makes me so sad. Of course kids will work out for themselves eventually what talent they may or may not have in singing, the point should be that it doesn't matter - sing anyway! And putting a grade on it in school makes it matter.

Abbi said...

So, I am talking to my husband about this who has been a professional children's choir director for over 15 years and has extensive training working with kids and singing. First we think there is a difference between simply matching pitch and singing back a learned song. Also, just as some kids learn to read really fast, some can learn math facts quickly, some can improve their drawing, kids can learn to match pitch and some do it quickly and this is their learning style- music. Just as some learn visually, some with their whole body, some through nature, some by interacting with others and some by working alone some kids are wired to learn through music. The younger a child the easier it is to teach kids to match pitch and my husband has spent a large part of his career teaching kids to match pitch and it can be done and measured. The idea that it is simply a talent you have or you don't at such a young age is not entirely true and one would hope that the teacher is working with these kids on learning to match pitch and that is why it is a measurable skill on the report card. Also, in such a young grade it is important to realize that especially in music kids will have the same music teacher likely through all of elementary school and perhaps this teacher needs a way to track their improvement and learning. I just don't think it is as simple as being graded on a talent you do or do not have.

Eternal Lizdom said...

Abbi- thank you for asking your husband!

I do children's choir in our church. Nothing formal. I only get 15-20 minutes per week with them so we really focus more on fun than anything. But I try to incorporate some music theory and learning into it when I can. I have done some pitch training- I sing a note and have them match me and I can coach them to bring their voice up or down to match my note or the piano's note.

And if the teacher had done that, maybe I'd have felt better about it? I don't know.

And talking to the teacher is a challenge- we don't get much interaction in any form with the Specials teachers.

Maybe it's the "sing a familiar song" thing that raises my ire? That seems very subjective and not measurable.