How to Build a Music Portfolio

2011Symposium_1_2When it comes to student work in music classes, it can be difficult to collect student work because much of what students do in music classes is not normally written down. Singing, playing instruments and improvising produces no tangible artifact that can be collected into a folder and shared with students, teachers and parents. While some work in music class is (or should) be written, much of it is not. Nevertheless, music teachers must document what progress students are making with samples of their work. A good music portfolio will have a combination of writing about music, original music compositions, and music performances.

I used to think that if I assessed student musical performance with a rubric, and collected the rubrics into student folders, that was sufficient. The problem with that is the completed rubric is not what the student did. Calling completed rubrics of student work is like trying to persuade others that your grade book contains student work. Clearly it does not, it contains the results of evaluations of the student work. The thing that you graded, be it an essay, composition, or performance, is the student work, and it is those, in addition to  the assessment and evaluation documents that need to be preserved.

Recording student performances is the only way to collect student work when it is playing or singing. Students must be recorded individually on the same piece periodically throughout the year. By recording students performing the same piece, progress can be assessed. By making a recording, the student work is available for the teacher to assess and to compare with previous recordings, for the student to self-evaluate and hear his or her progress over time, for administrators who want to have tangible evidence of student work, and for parents who want to have a concrete answer to the question, “how is my child doing in music?”

The logistics of how to record large numbers of students individually presents a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. I prefer to just dedicate two or three class periods three times a year to recording every student. I make sure I give the class written work they can do independently and then call the children up to my desk one at a time to perform. If the rest of the class wants to quietly listen, fine, or if not they have their seat work to do silently. At other times, I will require that the class evaluate each student using the same self-evaluation instrument each child completes after they have made their recording. This gives students added practice at using the self-evaluation instrument, and sharpens their awareness of what good singing or playing is.

Another method to use is to have the recording device set up in an adjacent room, such as a practice room, and have students go make their recording one at a time independently. This method has the advantage of allowing you to teach a normal lesson and avoid suspending your normal classes while you assess the class. For this method, you must train your students in how to operate the recording equipment, and other logistical matters. For example, I like to keep the recordings anonymous when I’m assessing them, so I have students sign their name to a numbered list. Each student is assigned the number next to his or her name, and I record my assessment by these numbers. Later, after I have finished assessing, I can go back and add the names so I know how each student did, and look for growth compared to the last recording. The recordings are mp3 files, so they can easily be stored on a computer or compact disc, or shared with students via e-mail.

Written work from other music classes is still collected into folders and saved as part of the student’s portfolio of piano practicework. These include worksheets, journal entries, and essays about music. Self-evaluations and goal setting documents pertaining to preparing a musical work for performance can round out a portfolio that also includes audio recordings of the performance. Including audio recordings in a portfolio of music student work just makes sense. It frees music teachers up from artificially inventing written assignments just to produce tangible student work, and instead allows the teacher to document the actual presentation of musical works.


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