Chapter 6: Assessment

Not-So-Random Testing | One-on-One | Photo Booth

Not-So-Random Testing

Allow me to qualify the following before I get to it. Over a 34-year career I tried just about every form of assessment known to man … live, taped, private, cassettes.

By far the most useful form of testing of first year students in a beginner band was this: I trained my kids to the point of involuntary spasms. At any time and for any reason I would stop the class, point to a particular section and say, “Measure — to —.”

The first student plays with no further prompting, followed immediately by one of these two comments from me: “tomorrow” or “next.” “Next” was the good response; it meant the student’s performance was good enough so the next student plays. “Tomorrow” meant it was not good enough and I expected that student to practice and be prepared to play the same passage tomorrow.

The next student in line would know to start playing immediately following my comment to the first. They also knew they were allowed one do-over if they were not pleased with their first effort. On the other hand, if a student was taking too long to get started, I would simply say “tomorrow.”

I always kept my marks binder at hand. A checkmark went beside the names of students who were awarded a ‘next’ comment. I started early in the year and did it at least once every class to create an atmosphere in which students were comfortable playing before their peers. Well, all except those who were not practicing.

Every student knew exactly my expectations. They could approach me at the end of class to ask what or how they needed to improve in the passage or exercise.

The purposes behind this assessment practice include efficiency. I could test 10 kids in less than 5 minutes – assessment for learning – immediate feedback – peer exemplars – comfort. But mostly because IT WORKS!


Once or twice each term I would send the majority of the class to their assigned locations throughout the school; spare rooms, stairwells, etc. while I kept one section (i.e. clarinets) in the band room for private one-on-one playing tests. The students sent out were expected to rehearse exercises from the method book, simple duets or trios, scales, etc.

When I was finished with the first section they would go to their assigned location while the section leader informed the next section to go to the band room for testing. If I had supportive admin at the time, I usually could convince one of them to help me out by walking the halls and checking on the small ensembles.

Photo Booth

One of the most effective things I ever did was incorporate my MacBook and the Photo Booth app. As is the case with almost every worthwhile teaching tool, it takes some time and effort to train students to be efficient and understand how to use the technology. I had a small practice room set up with a chair, music stand and a small desk with my laptop arranged to capture every student performing. Students in this case did not have a second chance on that day. Their instructions were to sit down, push the Record button, state their name and play the required scale or passage, then press the Stop button.

The most startling example of the power of this tool occurred one day when I met a parent of one of my Grade kids in the office. Mom was in paying for some field trip, saw me and said she was meaning to ask me why her daughter received the mark reported in the last report card. I asked her to wait a minute while I grabbed my laptop from my room. Mom and I sat down in one of the administrator’s offices, I quickly found and opened her daughter’s file and played a couple of her Photo Booth test videos. Mom’s response was simply, “Thank you. I understand and I will have a chat with my daughter.”

One alternative if you do not have a Mac laptop is set up a camcorder on a tripod in a practice room or your office. Set the camcorder to record and pause. Train your students what button to push to start the recording and pause when they are done playing their test. Uploading the video onto a computer and separating the individual student clips into files is a bit more involved.