Grading & Elementary Band

In my district, my 4-6 elementary band students receive a grade for band on their report card.  Even though this is my 5th year of teaching, each year I have struggled with how to grade these students.  For the majority of this time, I have relied simply on a participation grade.  That is, if they show up with all of their materials, they receive the full credit of 10 points.  Let me first state that I do not wish to grade students on their abilities, as all students are at differing levels. However, over the past few years, I have realized some things about the elementary band program.

Students do not take elementary band seriously enough.  – Now, before you accuse me of making elementary band too rigorous and serious, let me assure you that my main goal is for the kids to enjoy being there.  If they didn’t have fun, I would have no students.  But, at the same time, I think the students need to begin taking some responsibility for band – after all, it is a class, and they do get graded for it.  I think keeping the band time enjoyable is all a matter of the teacher’s state of mind. I have found that my elementary students do not practice, and for most of them, the only time they take their instrument out of the case is when they come to their weekly band lesson. I have found that this is greatly affecting not only the ability of the elementary band, but it is also affecting the students’ progress at the middle school level.

With all of these thoughts swirling in my mind for the last few weeks, my student teacher and I have come up with a new grading policy for the elementary band students that is based half on participation (similar to how they were graded before) and half on their assignment, or what I’ve been calling it – “homework.”  The participation grade is broken down into 10 points – 2 for attendance, 2 for bringing an instrument, 2 for bringing their book and pencil, 2 for getting their practice journal filled out and signed by a parent (more on this later), and 2 for behavior and attitude.  The other 10 points is based on their ability to play the assigned excercises or song(s). Of course, this grade is based on their improvement, and not just ability.  As other veteran music teachers know, it is very easy to tell if a student has practiced or not, and that is how I base the grade.

The other thing that I have resolved to do this year is to communicate better with elementary parents.  At the end of the first 9 weeks, I sent out an individual progress report to each student’s home, indicating the student’s current grade, and where their strengths and weaknesses were.  So far, I have already had great response, as I can see students are now practicing and some have even improved their behavior.  Imagine that! Some students have even commented about receiving the progress reports, and a few parents that I talked to really liked receiving them.  One teacher friend even suggested to make the process easier that I could have the students’ teachers put them in with the report cards when they get sent home, instead of mailing them.

So, other elementary teachers out there…what are your thoughts?

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2 thoughts on “Grading & Elementary Band

  1. Even though it is elementary band, I believe expectations should be high. Since you are their 1st teacher, you should be the one to establish good habits that the student will carry with him throughout his practice.
    Also, when progress is made, students take pride. Fun? Sure! But hard work too.

  2. Do you teach other levels besides elementary? (I’m sure I could find this out elsewhere in your blog.) But I have a feeling if you taught only elementary, and forgive me if you do, that your “main goal” would not necessarily be “for the kids to enjoy being there” but to establish fundamental skills, techniques, and habits.

    One thing that kids consider fun is acheiving something they couldn’t do before, like playing a new song, or learning a new skill that opens up the opportunity to learn more music. It’s a different kind of fun than playing games or having a party, but more substantial and meaningful.

    To comment more specifically about the grading issue, my district gives three grades: General Musicianship (Demonstrating some level of mastery of the skills you expect them to learn, no matter how simple or complicated), Home Practice (Turning in practice records, which I realize has quite a comical element to it), and Attendance with instrument. We send home music report cards when the regular report cards go out, 4 times a year.

    Like you, I also try to make some sort of a personal comment on the report card, even if it’s just a sentence or two, and even if it’s identical to 5 other kids in the class. “Johnny is a pleasure to have in class.” “Maria’s attendance could use improvement.” “I can tell that Olivia has been practicing more lately.”

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