Assessment for Learning

Assessment for Learning — In music, jazz improvisation is the spontaneous creativity (“composing in the moment”) of a musical composition which combines performance, instrumental technique and communication with other musicians. In other words, musicians who improvise use the evidence of the musical composition to improve its melody. This evidence is then used as an assessment for learning.

You’ve got to find some way of saying it without saying it.” – Duke Ellington

In Jazz, improvisation isn’t a matter of just making any ole’ thing up. Jazz, like any language has its own grammar and vocabulary. There’s no right or wrong, just some choices that are better than others.” – Wynton Marsalis

Alike in process, formative assessment is feedback used by teachers and students to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve students’ achievement.

The greatest value in formative assessment lies in teachers and students making use of results to improve real- time teaching and learning at every turn.- W. James Popham

In combination with sets of sequenced building blocks called “learning progressions or “sub-skills” assessment evidence is collected to determine student mastery of enabling knowledge. School districts implementing effective classroom formative assessment are using improvised classroom instruction to meet the needs of different learners. Educational scholars have stated that “Assessment for learning can take many different forms in the classroom. It consists of anything teachers do to help students answer the following questions: where am I going, where am I now and how do I close the gap? (Atkin, Black, & Coffey, 2001).” These are also the inquiries educational leaders and teachers should ask themselves while initiating educational reform in our school systems.

As I concluded this semester’s instruction, I wanted to assess my own usage of formative assessment in the classroom. I’m faced with the challenge of teaching a variety of different learners the basic music fundamentals. My strengths are based in differentiated instruction techniques, and my area of needed improvement is patience. In accordance with NJ content standards for general music, I wanted to teach the entire population of students how music is organized and structured whether they where enrolled in music class or not. I started with the most challenging class, a group of kindergarten children diagnosed with learning disabilities.On the first day of class, I knew the traditional method of teaching my learning objectives wouldn’t work for some students. These objectives included the basic essentials that make music work: The musical staff: line and space names.

This is how we distinguish what notes to play on any given instrument (see figure 1).


Armed with art paper,crayons, and a ruler, students were instructed to pick out their favorite color, draw five-lines and number them from bottom to top using numbers one, two, three, four and five. Using a different color of art paper, I then made small circles for students to cut out and paste the letters E-G-B-D-F and F-A-C-E on each circle separately. For the lines of the musical staff, I told them E lived on the first line, G on the second and so forth. For the spaces (space in-between the lines) of the musical staff, I told students it spelled the word F-A-C-E. In order to complete their assignment successfully, students had to paste the correct lettered circle on the appropriate line or space without assistance from the teacher (see figure 2).


As students worked together on their art work, they began to learn from one another. They talked aloud about where each one should be placed. They took ownership and pride in what they doing and making! But most importantly, they all knew where the circles were to be placed. I decided to assign this same group project to my third and fourth graders. We laminated the projects and systematically place them in my classroom and around the school where other potential music students could observe.During the next few weeks, I wanted to assess if my students had mastered the musical staff’s line and space names. I gave them recorders and a corresponding method book that used examples of what they had made in class to assist them with fingering the correct notes on their recorders (see figure 3).


Before we performed a selection in our method book, I told them to use a pencil to write the letters beneath each note. With teacher feedback and visual clues embedded around the classroom and school, they were able to help themselves while helping each mastery the overall objective:  How music is organized and structured?

As a supervisor or principal, I would want my teachers to be able teach one thing three different ways.  I would consider teachers who teach a wide-range of subjects to one class to be more specialized in one or more content areas.  In my opinion, how students are funneled into classrooms is as important to what they are to learn.

With Teacher Learning Communities and a supportive administration, a modest implementation of formative assessment can be the pathway to student achievement.  Teachers sharing prudent strategies to improve learning during classroom practice is essential to educational reform that’s based in the planned process of formative assessment.