Life on the other side of the fence

This week marks the end of my first semester of collegiate teaching.  I survived!  There were plenty of new experiences – leaving the room for course evaluations, grading tests, giving written feedback, and administering juries, just to name a few.  It’s life on the other side of the fence.  I am so thankful for the education I received at Eastman which prepared me for these situations. I saw the need for periodic “checkpoints” – making sure that the students are keeping up and able to master the new concepts during the course of the semester.  How can you grade piano performances by seven different students simultaneously and objectively?I developed a unique system using the technology resources in the lab.  Every few weeks, I chose four items for students to record via Garage Band.  They had 30 minutes to complete these items, which allowed them the opportunity to re-record, if needed.  I am more concerned about whether or not they can perform the selected items rather than how well they do on their first attempt.  At the conclusion of the test time, the students emailed me their files for grading.  This allowed me to use a rating scale to grade their performances on tonal and rhythmic accuracy and expression.  I generally listened to each item three times to focus individually on each of these criteria rather than having to take in everything the first time.  When the students get their tests back, they have a very clear measure of their tonal, rhythmic, and expressive performances across all four items.  It’s a great way to see areas of consistency (i.e., John is great with rhythm but could spend more time on his preparation of tonal patterns).

I graded my fourth and final quiz/exam on Tuesday (yes, I am the teacher that gives a final exam on the last day of class – two days prior to the final).  The final exam is a 15-minute jury.  Students were asked to prepare the following:

  • Three 2-octave scales of choice
  • Solo piece
  • American Song
  • Harmonization study
  • Transposition study
  • Improvisation study

My classes are held in the Music Technology Lab so many of my students are not used to playing on an acoustic piano.  There are four small practice rooms on the first floor of the Fine Arts building (all with Boston uprights) but I thought it might be nice to arrange the juries to be held in a space that had a nice instrument.  My students were enamored with the classroom Steinway – the touch, the sound, the pedals – I think it had a positive impact on their performances.

For the jury, I decided not to record the student performances, for time’s sake.  Rather, I developed a grading chart to be filled out while listening.  I included items such as fingering, characteristic tone, rhythmic consistency, tonal accuracy, hand position, posture, technique, pedaling, phrasing, and articulation, each worth no more than 5 points out of 100.  This proved to be a great tool.  I administered six juries on Wednesday (with grades: 94, 93, two 89s, 87 and 85) with six more to go on Monday.

Time to take what I have learned and prepare materials for my classes next semester!