Although I assigned our first vocal SmartMusic assignment two weeks ago, and for two weeks have encouraged students to not wait until the last moment, students are flocking to our practice rooms to complete their first assignment in time for tomorrow’s deadline. Tonight, I had “cues” of students waiting to get into the practice room.
By the way, my philosophy is that SmartMusic is homework, not classwork. I ask students to do their assessment before school, after school, during lunch, or out of another class where something isn’t going on (it’s actually rather frightening how often students have substitute teachers and there is no real class activity planned for the teacher’s absence). Only when a student cannot make it to any of those prior situations do I allow them to take the assessment while in class. Right now, that is only one student, who has a work placement before choir and night school immediately following school. I’ve made one other exception…I also allow students who did come in at other times and had technical difficulties to re-record during class.
I thought some observations would be helpful to others starting this process:
1. You have to stick to your deadline, particularly if you’ve given your students enough time to complete the assessment that is assigned. There can be extenuating circumstances, but in general, any student that waits until the last minute instead of taking advantage of any day of 10 days of school should probably learn to not do that again. It’s a tough lesson.
2. My biggest frustration, by far, is hardware related. One headset mic isn’t working and as I collect the headsets, I keep forgetting to mark which one doesn’t work. But the computers themselves are problematic, each having its own issues (although all are the same basic unit purchased in the summer of 2009). MakeMusic isn’t responsible for the hardware issues, but it is still frustrating for myself AND for students. Once again, how wonderful would an iPad app be that wouldn’t require all the messing around with different configurations of computers, microphones, and so on? I also think that if we were an Apple/Mac school, many of our problems would be alleviated, too. PCs just have a plethora of sound cards, input devices, and so on.
3. I took the time to demonstrate how to open SmartMusic, create an account, and take an assessment in each choir class. Nonetheless, students are confused on how to open SmartMusic (many try to find it online as a web-based program, which of course, doesn’t work), how to create an account, or how to take an assessment. I’m going to make a cheat sheet next year, but during this first assessment, I’m spending FAR too much time in each practice room with each student going over something we demonstrated in choir. I’m hoping this continued level of 1-on-1 time for the “how to’s” won’t be necessary going forward.
4. The biggest pushback is from students who traditionally have earned an “A” in choir without the ability to sightread. This is something that has been true for these students for years, not just in my program. I have suggested that if they don’t have the ability to sightread or to be able to sing the music they are supposed to be able to sing, perhaps they shouldn’t earn an A. Even some of the students in my top choir are complaining about this saying, “Well, what if people just want to sing in choir?” My answer? “They can, but they don’t earn an A.” Let’s be honest: authentic assessment doesn’t make students happy if they are on the wrong side of the authentic issue.