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Cathy DePentu: Excited and Engaged in Teaching After 35 Years!

Cathy DePentu    Leave a Comment   

Thirty-five years ago a guidance counselor asked me, “Why should we schedule a student all four years in Orchestra? Aren’t students just repeating the same class?” I attempted to explain that students continue to...

Thirty-five years ago a guidance counselor asked me, “Why should we schedule a student all four years in Orchestra? Aren’t students just repeating the same class?” I attempted to explain that students continue to grow musically and build greater facility and technique. He asked, “How do you know?” Hmmm.

Although I was able to describe the changes I saw and heard, and knew I was modifying the assignments for students at differing levels of experience, I had no way of producing concrete data. I can’t say I was too concerned about it at that stage of my life…I was a young, inexperienced teacher busy refining my classroom teaching skills, and as the kids were playing well. I thought I was all set.

Fast-forward twenty-five years. I met Ana Luisa Cardona and began my journey through formalized assessments and student directed learning. However it was not until I became a part of the MAEIA project that I began to see a transformation in both my teaching and my ability to assess and collect meaningful data. Over the past several years I have immersed myself in writing and editing assessments, field-testing and content review, demonstrating educator effectiveness/tracking student growth and am honored to be one of the Leadership Fellows. I look forward to delving into collaborative scoring next fall.

Many (okay, all) of these diverse roles have pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to reflect on my teaching. Starting with the basic—“what do I want them to know, how will I know when they have learned it, and how will I teach it”—I find myself moving more towards how can I measure an individual students growth and how will I teach them so that the material and the process of learning becomes “theirs”. I am trying to take myself out of the equation and empowering students to assume ownership for their individual and group process. The MAEIA tasks and events have helped guide my efforts, both as assessments and teaching tools.

Throughout this journey I have not seen a drop in performance quality, despite the fact that I do not direct the entire class period. Through sectionals and teacher assigned chamber ensembles, students are able to collaborate and contribute to their own rehearsal strategies and techniques. Many days I am a facilitator rather than a director, moving from room to room to observe rehearsals and occasionally offer a suggestion. It has been so exciting and rewarding to observe how a shift to seemingly “do less” has helped create empowered, independent musicians. As we debrief from these activities, students are surprised to realize they have created a learning process that can work in all areas of their life.

Using an assessment as a teaching tool: “Listen to our concert recording!”

We all remember hearing or giving those instructions. It usually resulted in a casual “hearing” of the piece while students chatted with their friends.

What was actually learned?

What was the directors’ implied goal for the activity?

Of course, the intent was to have everyone listen critically to the recording and objectively critique and analyze the performance. As teachers in the performing arts, this sort of listening and analysis is what we do every time we are on the podium, but have we taken the time to dissect what we are doing so that we can teach our students to successfully execute this multi-layered task?

So I asked myself, do students know how to listen? I know they can hear, but are they able to listen?

Can they accurately identify and evaluate the characteristics of tone, intonation and expression?

Can they construct and implement appropriate strategies to adjust and correct any problems they discover?

I have used M.T 421: Performance Critique for several years first in its newly written, untested form, subsequently as a field tester and beyond. I have modified it for use in grades 6-12 and use it as both a teaching tool and an assessment. For use as an assessment, I follow the directions as described in the teacher booklet. Modifications to the task to teach critical listening at all levels are described below.

Suggested Total Time:
This lesson can be completed in one 50-minute class period including time for discussion.

List of Materials Required:
-Recording of a short piece or excerpt of a longer piece from a recent performance and playback equipment

-The sheet music being performed

-Sufficient copies of the rubric/answer sheet for each student (I run two-sided copies, but you could project the rubric onto a white board).

-Pencils and a writing surface for each student.

Lesson Procedure:
All levels, lesson introduction: Direct students to listen to the recording and read the rubric. Play the recording.

Subsequently, have students listen to the piece and evaluate one element each time. You will listen a minimum of six times. (My students actually enjoy listening while they complete their evaluations, I just keep playing it as they write)

Modification for more advanced ensembles:
As students become comfortable with critical listening/analysis, they can be directed to evaluate two or more elements simultaneously and correspondingly, become more facile with appropriate music terminology. The number of “listenings” will also be reduced. (I explain to the classes that the goal is to listen/analyze while they play and apply these techniques to their role as an individual musician, member of their section and role in the ensemble)

Using this assessment has completely changed the way the ensembles listen to their performance recordings (even the 6th graders!) Most side conversations have stopped and students remain engaged and focused. Their developing ability to evaluate what they hear and create strategies and techniques to self-correct shifts the responsibility from the director (“Fix that!” “Too loud!” You’re sharp!”) to the students and empowers them to be independent musicians.
A Bonus Discovery! As I completed grading my three orchestras’ papers according to the teachers’ rubric, I wondered if the students were actually learning to hear/analyze to the same standard. I pulled a random sample from each ensemble and tallied responses.

All three ensembles used the top three categories…no one used the lowest standard (which made me happy, as this was a performance recording). The Middle School ensemble used all three of the remaining categories, fairly evenly spread. The Concert Orchestra also used the top three categories but clustered around ratings of 3 and 4. The Symphony (the most advanced ensemble) only used 2 and 3, demonstrating more developed critical listening skills. No one in the advanced ensemble was willing to give the top rating, while younger ensembles were less critical. This is VERY informal data collection, but it did lead to some interesting discussions in class.

I encourage all arts teachers to take a look at the MAEIA resources. Pick one or two and give them a try with one of your classes. Modify them as you see fit, share them with your colleagues and administrators. These amazing resources can provide so much to benefit our teaching and our students, take advantage of our work!


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Chunk and Bundle: The Bundled Assessment Approach for Demonstrating Teacher Effectiveness by Carrie Jeruzal

Carrie Jeruzal    Leave a Comment   

Navigating the world of assessment can be daunting, especially assessment in the arts.  Arts assessments come in a variety of forms, all dependent upon a variety of factors:  resources available, specific arts discipline, grade level,...

Navigating the world of assessment can be daunting, especially assessment in the arts.  Arts assessments come in a variety of forms, all dependent upon a variety of factors:  resources available, specific arts discipline, grade level, etc.  While information and research regarding assessment in the arts begins to mount, and the importance and pressure of reporting data from assessments becomes critical for demonstrating teacher effectiveness, I would like to offer up a “take a deep breath,” “let’s get organized and take it one step at a time,” practical approach to Visual Arts Assessment in the secondary classroom.  Chunk it and Bundle it.

I teach K-12 Art in a small rural public school that serves just under 300 students in the entire district.  I teach 2 hours of High School Art, 2 hours of Junior High Art, and 2 hours of Elementary Art each day.  Just writing that makes me tired!  Providing data on all these students at all of these different grade levels is too much and would literally become a full-time job on its own.  So to keep data management realistic, I have selected a small portion of my population from which to pull my data.  Since my High School students have a summative exam already worked into their semester schedule, the practical choice for me was to start with a selection of 16-25 high school students from which to pull data.

That’s right, instead of trying to pull data from all 200+ of my students, I focus in on a manageable set.

The data that I collect from these students is a bundle of 4 chunks:

  • MAEIA High School Level 1 Visual Art Performance Assessment Data
  • Digital Portfolio Performance Data using Google Classroom
  • Pre and Post Knowledge Data using Google Forms and Flubaroo add-on
  • Pre and Post Perception Data using Google Forms and Flubaroo add-on


This style of data collection requires forethought and organization at the very beginning of the school year.  I often incorporate my assessment plans right into my curriculum maps and I store the data digitally.  I also use an Student Learning Objective (SLO) document to serve as a kind of roadmap for my bundled approach.  Although this type of document may not be necessary in every district, I do find getting organized in the very beginning very helpful.

Also I feel using a bundled approach gives my students many options and chances for demonstrating their growth as opposed to relying upon a single assessment that may not be holistic.  It’s comforting to know that my students have multiple opportunities to demonstrate their growth by using 4 different assessment methods.

MAEIA Performance Task

This year my High School year long curriculum consists of three-dimensional art and design.  The MAEIA assessment that I selected was the V.T409 3-D Wire Sculpture.  After administering the task to my students, I collected performance assessment data by way of digital photos submitted to students’ Google Classroom Accounts.  I also collected numeric data (point scores or grades), based on the rubric included in the MAEIA assessment.  This process lasted approximately 5 class hours.  

Digital Portfolio

The second chunk of data that I collect is actually collected by my students.  Students post all of their work into a digital file organized and housed in their Google Classroom accounts.  When reporting my data I often have students select, print and document their own pre-proficient work and also proficient work.  This method allows students to visually self-assess their own learning and report that learning in a visual manner.  I use the 5 C’s strategy (Content, Craftsmanship, Creativity, Communication, Composition) to guide students through this evaluation process midway through the year and then again at the end of the year.  

20 Questions Pre and Post

This set of data regards Knowledge Data.  Think of a traditional multiple choice exam.  I select 20 questions mainly focused on knowledge of key terms, concepts and image recognition.  It is given within the first two weeks of school and then again during the final exam.  I use Google Forms to administer the test and the Flubaroo add-on to grade the assessment and then chart and report the data.  This chunk of data is collected fast; It only takes the students 15-20 minutes to complete.  Technology is a huge timesaver and the forms can be reused again when I re-teach the same curriculum.   

Perception of Growth Survey

The final set of data I collect and report is Pre- and Post-Perception Data.  

This answers the questions:

  • Does the student know and realize when he or she is meeting a standard?
  • Is he or she trying to meet a standard?
  • How does the learner perceive his or her own growth?  

This is where a student offers up a short narrative of his or her perceived growth.  

There is power not only in the numbers and visuals of student growth data, but also in the student’s own story.  Confidence, knowledge, experience, goals and learning in the arts are addressed in the student’s own voice.

Bundle up all these chunks of data in a cohesive digital dossier and present them to your administrator during your final evaluation to demonstrate your effectiveness in not one, but in four different ways.  This kind of data bundling presents visual, numerical and reflective narrative that all highlight the growth and learning of your students through cohesive methods.

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