Friday, February 08, 2008

Grading time

This week I've been writing grades for my students. Yes, you might think, why is a private violin teacher making grades for her students? It's not a school class, just an extracurricular activity, and any grades I make for them don't count for a thing, neither on their report cards nor transcripts nor anything. I've certainly never received grades from any of my violin teachers, nor have I really even heard of anyone else doing that exactly, although many music teachers use various incentives to motivate their students to practice.

I grade my students solely on how much time they spend practicing per week. Here's my reasoning behind it. I have quite a few students who are getting into middle school age, and they comprehend grades. (I don't grade my 5-year-olds, although I might give a sticker for practicing every day.) I think many of them could invest more in their work on the violin. Giving them a "report card" at the end of the quarter makes them feel like it's a class that they have to take seriously, just like math or reading. I like for my students to know what kind of standards I hold for practice. I don't make it very hard on them--I realize that violin lessons are more optional than math or reading, and that there are times when they have a lot of homework that has to get priority. I grade them according to how many minutes they practiced per week, so if they skip a day or two they can make up for it on another day. I calculate grades for the quarter by averaging out all the weeks in the quarter, so if they have a busy week they can make up for it in another week. I also let them include lesson time, group class (45 minutes every week), and whatever else they might do with their violins (play for church, impromptu recital for Grandma, etc.) as practice time. What this works out to is about 180 minutes a week for Book 1 level (about 30 minutes a day for 6 days), 225 minutes for Book 2, 300 minutes for Book 3, etc., to get an A+. I also grade myself at the Book 6+ level, just to be fair. 

Here are some observations I've made from the experiment so far: 

1. Most of my students get A's. Many of them get A+'s. They enjoy seeing A+ on their report cards, and so do their parents. 
2. Those who are progressing more quickly through the repertoire are the ones getting good grades. Those getting C's are not learning as many pieces as quickly. Hmm. 
3. I can usually predict who will get what grade. 
4. I can usually detect a pretty good correlation between how much practice time they report to me for the week and how prepared they are for that lesson. Also, hmm. 
5. Hopefully, some of these students and parents will understand better why I say the things I do in the lesson, and also why they are not progressing very quickly through the repertoire, when they see their grades at the end of the quarter. It helps keep them from being discouraged, thinking that they are not talented, but rather realize that it's mostly a matter of time invested. 
6. I feel as though I am less arbitrary when I understand what is going on with my students' practice at home. If I see that a student is struggling with practice, I can talk with them about how to manage their time wisely, how to organize practice, and so on. It also helps me decide if I should assign each student more or less work.
7. Considering the average grades my students have received, I feel as though my grading scale is fair (maybe even on the soft side). Parents seem to like it, and nobody has complained about it yet. 
8. Grading myself definitely helps motivate me to practice! I feel like I'm accountable to my students, as well as they are to me. I've gotten more done the last few months than I have for years!


Anonymous said...

Isn't it nice to be able to teach on your own terms, and not have to obsess over standardized test scores, accreditation, and all that regulatory paperwork you'd get in any "regular" school (public, private, or otherwise)?

Alistair said...

It's great that you develop a fair and objective system to evaluate your students. I'm sure it's a great motivator for students...also helps unreasonable parents from blaming everything on the poor teacher!