Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Using Evaluative Performances to Enhance Student Learning

Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Using Evaluative Performances to Enhance Student Learning

Article excerpt

The previous three articles have explored various facets of evaluative performances in music education. Music educators have been drawn to these kinds of evaluations for the same reasons that educators in other disciplines use standardized academic tests. Like academic tests, evaluative performances are assumed to be objective and to provide assurance that students are receiving the highest possible quality of instruction. Music education advocates use the perceived rigour of festivals, competitions, and exams to increase the legitimacy of music education. Unfortunately, the syllabi that are supposed to guarantee that student receive a high standard of education can easily result in very limited curricular offerings. The composition of the student body can also be adversely affected when evaluation plays too large a role, as students whose musical background or interests do not fit with the syllabus either choose not to participate or are actively excluded. Teachers often choose to register their students for evaluative performances in an effort to increase their students' levels of motivation; however, the kinds of motivation that are fostered by evaluations are those that are less likely to encourage a long-term interest in music.

On the other side of this issue are the arguments in favour of evaluative performances. Students enjoy feelings of accomplishment when they do well in an evaluation (Davidson and Scutt, 1999). In the case of an ensemble, there can be a strong sense of community and team spirit when students have worked hard together towards a common goal. Students, parents and teachers also appreciate having a benchmark by which to measure a student's progress (Tye, 2004). The feedback from adjudicators can provide a valuable perspective not offered by the student's regular teacher or conductor, particularly in settings in which the adjudicators can offer workshops to the participating students. In festival settings, students often have the opportunity to hear others perform and can benefit from this exposure to other music and styles of performance.

There are several factors for music educators to keep in mind when assessing the role of evaluative performances in their students' experiences. The following are some warning signs that evaluative performances have become too important in a particular music program:

1 Students learn only the repertoire that will be evaluated. Other music is considered distracting from what is really important (Tye, 2004).

2 There is little diversity in the kinds of musical activities that are part of the program. The focus is on the development of performance skills to the neglect of other aspects of music learning, such as theory, music history, improvisation, composition, and the development of aural skills.

3 Technical skills are emphasized over the expressive and communicative aspects of music (Davidson, Pitts, and Correia, 2001). Interpretations are "safe."

4 There is little diversity in the student body (Bartel, 2004). Students who might be a liability in an evaluative setting (because of their lack of suitable musical background or lack of ability to perform under pressure) are discouraged or prevented from participating.

5 The teacher or conductor feels personally invested in the result, rather than focusing on the experience of the student(s) (MacArthur, 2008). The teacher has based his or her professional reputation and the reputation of the program on results from evaluative performances rather than on evidence of meaningful musical experiences.

6 The teacher is under such stress that he or she interacts with students in damaging ways in an effort to motivate them to work harder (Cameron and Carlisle, 2004). This usually goes hand in hand with the above concern. Teachers who are overly concerned with the impact of students' results on their own reputations are more likely to have unreasonably high expectations regarding practice time or to express their frustration inappropriately. …

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