Student Reactions to Evaluation: What Can Teachers Do to Facilitate Maximum Learning?

By Mitchell, Nancy | The Canadian Music Educator, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Student Reactions to Evaluation: What Can Teachers Do to Facilitate Maximum Learning?


Mitchell, Nancy, The Canadian Music Educator


Music students are evaluated in a variety of contexts and receive feedback on their development as musicians from both familiar teachers and unknown adjudicators. Depending on how deeply the student values the particular result, his or her reaction to evaluation can be highly emotional and can have long-term effects on future music learning endeavours. Processing feedback can be challenging for many students; however, teachers can help students reap the greatest possible benefit from evaluation experiences by encouraging students to engage in reflection about their own performances and the feedback they received.

Contextual Differences in Evaluation Experiences

There are several factors which impact how students process evaluations. The first is whether the evaluation is formative or summative. Formative evaluations have as their purpose providing guidance for future learning. Emotional reactions to formative evaluations may be less intense, as a disappointing result at an early stage could still lead to success later on. Conversely, a positive formative assessment does not guarantee an exceptional final mark. Teachers face a few challenges in giving formative assessment. The first is giving detailed, informative, constructive feedback so that students have specific ideas for furthering their musical growth (Boyle and Radocy, 1987). Teachers also need to take into account the emotional impact of the feedback they give and ensure that their comments are given in a way that encourages optimism and confidence, even if the student's current work leaves much room for improvement. Because formative assessments do not necessarily have great influence on the student's final mark, some students may need to be encouraged to pause and reflect on the comments and to take seriously the ways in which the feedback can be applied to their future work.

Summative evaluations, which are used to measure students' achievement and to indicate whether or not students' work measures up to the expected standard for a particular course, often carry more emotional weight, as they can be interpreted as the final word on a student's abilities in a particular area. While a successful summative evaluation can lead to increased confidence and self-efficacy, failure (and the negative emotions it brings about) can have long-lasting negative effects on students' desire to engage in a particular activity and on their success in future efforts (O'Neill and Sloboda, 1997). Failure can also have practical consequences, such as not being able to continue on to the next grade or not earning a credit that was to be applied to a larger goal (for example, high school graduation). While some students have the resilience to bounce back from a failure, many need help processing disappointing results in a way that will leave them with confidence to continue engaging in music learning.

While many evaluations concern only the individual student, most music students participate in some kind of competition at some point in their development. These competitions are often used as a form of summative evaluation. Students' emotions can run particularly high when there is the added pressure of determining not only who plays or sings well, but whose performance is the best (Miller, 1994). Teachers need to be aware of the likelihood of strong emotional reactions in the face of winning or losing and focus as much of their (and their students') attention on what the individual student can learn from the performance opportunity. Focusing on the performance of others can be a frustrating and fruitless pursuit, as it directs students' mental energy away from what they can control (i.e. their own development as musicians).

Another factor which influences how students process evaluation is the source of the evaluation. Music students are evaluated by their regular teachers in their classrooms and studios and also by adjudicators in festival and examination settings. …

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