For several years, I’ve utilized an informal form of student self-assessment by having students rate themselves with a "thumb check" while I asked different self-reflection questions at the end of each music class. However, this year it just wasn’t enough and waiting until the end of a 45 minute class period to self-assess was waaaay too long a gap. I also found myself getting bogged down in extra paperwork, documenting and relaying to classroom teachers, parents, and sometimes the principal the behaviors that occurred in class that day. I needed to try something different and I decided I would sacrifice some of my music instruction time to do it.
I already mentioned that I have my students self-assess via thumb checks at the conclusion of each music class. Quick side note: Another alternative is a number system where, for example, a student shows 1, 2, or 3 fingers based on how well they think they did, but I like the thumbs version as it’s very straightforward and easy for them to understand. The questions I’d ask at the end of a music class might sound like this:
- Did you use your best singing voice today?
- Was your body in control during our movement activity?
- Did you remember to raise your hand if you had something to share?
- How was your listening when someone else was speaking?
- Overall, did you try your absolute best today?
After each question, I’d pause and allow students to reflect and rate themselves by putting their “thumb to tummy” so that they weren’t concerned with other people looking at them, and 99% of the time my students honestly reflected their behavior. In an effort to try something new, I first decided that a few select classes needed to go through this self-assessment more often.
Like, at-the-end-of-each-and-every-activity-we-do often.
At first, I was frustrated that it interrupted the flow of activities that I prefered to have, especially with being on a cart, time’s already at a premium. But in the case of these classes, it was necessary. And to my surprise, the interruption was a GOOD thing because it enabled the class to reset themselves if they were getting too out of hand. As the weeks went by and they improved, the self-checks became less frequent (or when a tough day arose, I increased it temporarily). I did this with kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade classes at various points of the year.
Now for some classes (some of my 1st graders in particular), even pausing to self-check after each activity wasn’t enough. They needed to further understand, acknowledge, and own their actions. So I formulated a simple worksheet and cut short my lessons so there was at least 10 minutes toward the end for them to spend in self-reflection. At the top of the worksheet was the last line of the school pledge (the pledge in its entirety is posted in each classroom and spoken aloud by students every morning), followed by blank lines for students to write 3 things that they did during music class that aligned or didn’t align with the school pledge and music class rules. To help hone their focus, I would often list on the board what I wanted them to briefly reflect and write about, depending on the music activities for that day. For example:
- How was your voice?
- Tell me about your xylophone playing.
- Did you keep your hands to yourself?
The bottom of the worksheet contained happy and sad faced bees (our mascot) for them to circle. I would also use these self-assessment papers as leverage during the lesson to help foster positive behavior choices:
“That was fantastic singing! Keep it up so you can write that on your paper later!”
“Oh, it would be so great if you could write later on that you kept your body in control today...come on, you can do it!”
And little by little, things got better. I had to chuckle one day when, after several rough months, one of my students had a great day and proudly wrote this: