Category Archives: Assessment and Evaluation

So, What Do You Teach?

By the end of last week, I was getting quite good at explaining that teaching is only part of my role!  It was a fairly natural thing to be asked, considering I was at the International Society for Music Education biennial conference.  I was beginning to think maybe I could do with a new job title, something like “Teaching Researching Librarian”.  It’s important to ‘own’ your practice, and to be able to rationalise why you do what you do.  I’m beginning to feel that teaching is genuinely part of my practice, which is an interesting development, considering I had no intention of teaching when I chose instead to become a librarian several decades ago!

Monday was mostly spent at the conference. Tuesday in the Library. Wednesday a research day in St Andrews.  Thursday was split between the Library and the conference, and Friday, mainly at the conference.

Scottish Music Educati0n in Recent Years

I attended Charles Byrne’s symposium, Transformations and cultural change in Scottish musical education: historical perspectives and contemporary solutions. He reminded us of the emergence of traditional music as a strong component in music education, with people like Hamish Henderson and filmmaker Alan Lomax igniting a new interest in grassroots culture, ceilidhs and other iterations of traditional music.  This was mirrored by a blurring of the boundaries between formal and informal learning, and the growth of the Feis movement.

Simultaneously, there was a swing towards student-centred learning, and new thinking took centre stage: creativity, inclusion, diversity and equality. In schools, the new Standard Grade showed different emphases to earlier exams, based on all-round musicianship, multi-genre and more focus on the integrated curriculum.

There was now a move towards the professional development of traditional music tutors, and the principles of learning and teaching were summarised in a memorable acronym: PREPARE.  (Participation, Resources, Ecological (music within the community), Performance, Activist, Reflective and Ethical.

Charles’ paper was subsequently responded to by Marie McCarthy, Martin [check surname], Jane Southcott and Josh Dickson. Charles’ themes were recalled and elaborated upon, particularly with regard to more emphasis on ‘meaningful engagement’ as opposed to an over-emphasis on assessment; on community and traditional music. Martin is contributing to a forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Community Music, due to be published in 2017 (edited by Lee Higgins and Brydie-Leigh Bartlett – I haven’t found reference to it on the OUP website yet).  Josh spoke about a new approach to assessment in pre-honours years at RCS, and also alluded to Lori Watson’s comments about elitism, defending elite artistry in both innovation and continuation of tradition.  Our traditional music students develop their own identity as a musician, as well as authenticity and integrity, in their journey as aspirational performers.

Being ‘Real’

How does all this fit into my own practice? As someone who generally delivers one lecture or seminar at a time, it can be difficult to relate the bigger philosophical arguments to my own context, but it is still important to understand how what I teach sits alongside what the students are learning in other parts of their course.  I’d like to know how the concept of ‘authenticity’ for today’s traditional musicians sits alongside the issues of authenticity that I research and talk about in an 18th-19th century context. Do we actually mean the same thing? Authenticity in an individual’s own performance practice, isn’t quite the same as the insistence on authenticity for individual tunes and accompaniments, but being ‘authentic’ is clearly a thread that has been interwoven through traditional music for a very long time indeed.

Symposium on Assessment

Five presentations were given.  Even though the speakers often worked in the context of school rather than university, the practical suggestions meant that there would have been much food for thought for everyone.  Since we have been encouraged in our own PGCert studies to consider how we assess learning to have been acquired by our students, I took copious notes.  I’ll reflect on these in my next posting.


Learning Overdose! I need an Intervention!

Studious SundayI’ve spent the morning looking at our PGCert Moodle pages, and viewing  DVDs of the Thursday evening online sessions that I haven’t been able to “attend” in person.  (There were actually seven sessions. I’ve reached the fifth one so far.)  And I’ve taken a closer look at the course reading-list with all the online links.  That was quite informative.  Although my absence of “click-throughs” suggests I may not have engaged with the materials provided, in actual fact I viewed quite a few of them when I did the first part of the course two years ago, and they’re listed in my bibliography as evidence of that.  But of course, the click-throughs would have registered on the 2014 Moodle rather than the 2015-16 Moodle pages.  Confused?  Please don’t be!

I had made up my mind that I’d be on the lookout for information about assessment and feedback today.  Going through our course-materials, I soon realised that the subject can be looked at in two ways because we, the students, have to undergo assessment and receive feedback, every bit as much as we have to know the best way (a) to ascertain whether our students have learned what we set out to teach them, and (b) to give them effective feedback.  Jamie Mackay talked to us about assessment modes and criteria in our second online Teaching Artist session, but obviously this is a topic that is interwoven throughout the course.  Thus, in the third session, we learned about assessment in teaching that has been designed using constructive alignment principles: the intended learning experiences should be measurable against the learning outcomes, so that the teacher can assess whether the ‘alignment’ has effectively led to the desired outcomes.

In the fourth online session (28th January 2016), Rachel reminded us that the teacher should review results in an ongoing process so that he/she can determine whether the teaching has been effective and whether modifications or adjustments are required in subsequent lesssons – this is also part of practice-based research, so we’ll need to consider it when we design our projects.  Already, I have tried to elicit feedback, whether from the course-leader, the students, or both, in training sessions that I have given, because my research project will focus on how performing arts students can best be engaged in library/information type instruction sessions. Clearly, if I can identify best practice, then it will give me the best chance of designing learning that students will benefit from.

In the same session, Jamie led a discussion about grading compared to appreciation or guidance, and participants were encouraged to consider occasions when they had received bad, or good feedback, also discussing when each form of feedback was most useful – grading against criteria, showing appreciation to give support and encouragement, or (possibly a little while later), going on to give guidance to help establish the way forward, or the next steps a student might take in their learning journey.  After giving a grading, a student might need guidance as to how they can go on to improve their performance. After a performance, a student might initially just need appreciation and a bit of praise, followed by guidance about aspects that merited further work.

It was noted that there was no point in praising if praise was not merited, if the student was showing a poor or disrespectful attitude, or if improvement was obviously needed.  The important thing is to focus on the work not the person. The work may have been poor – but the student shouldn’t be demolished in the telling.

The same evening, Mary talked about evaluating teaching using the ‘critical incident questionnaire’, and recommended Stephen Brookfield’s book, Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher – again, it’s in the Whittaker Library.  Brookfield suggests that when reflecting on one’s practice, one can use four ‘lenses’ – ie, four different sources of information, to evaluate one’s teaching: one’s own observation, peer feedback, student feedback, or by reading the ‘scholarly literature’. (Mary’s Powerpoint slide 2).  It is crucial to find out if your teaching is effective, and what the students feel about your teaching – good points and bad.  For that, you need feedback.

I devised a very simple feedback form for my Scottish music sessions just before Christmas, as I had done for the postgrads when I did a bibliographic referencing session a year or two ago.  In this, I just asked what they liked; disliked; and would have liked more of.  My analysis of the Scottish music class results can be read in my Portfolio for 2015-16.  Brookfield’s critical incident questionnaire asks five questions compared to my three (Mary’s Powerpoint slide 7):-

  1. When in the session did the student feel most and/or least engaged? (a bit like my first and second questions, except that I used the word “enjoyed”)
  2. What action did anyone take that was most helpful/affirming?
  3. Similarly, what was least helpful/affirming?
  4. What was the most important information learned? (this is subtly different from my question about what was most enjoyed!)
  5. Were there any questions/suggestions about the class?  (similar to my “what would you like more of?” question)

Mary explained that an analysis of the answers would help us identify major themes felt by several students, and would help us plan future sessions.  I certainly found this to be the case in my own analysis.

The question of assessment and its purpose was continued in the fifth online session (19th February 2016), when participants were reminded that assessment is also important to learners,  so that they can see themselves making progress – this supports the learning process and lets them see where improvements or other readjustments might need to be made.  Students need to know what was good, but also where there might be gaps, or what needs to be done next or followed up. This is formative assessment, whilst a mark or grade is summative, sets standards, and might be necessary before moving on to a higher level, for example.

PGCert blog books 1I would like to look at the Brookfield book that Mary recommended, but I have also borrowed Race, Brown and Smith’s 500 Tips on Assessment, which looks an approachable book and might give me some more ideas:-


First the REF then the TEF

I’ve been reading about proposals for the TEF – Teaching Evaluation Framework – that will go alongside the REF – Research Evaluation Framework – in Higher Education.  The good old student survey will provide data to help with this new assessment.  I must admit I hadn’t given it very much thought, apart from patting myself on the back for being in the middle of a PG Cert in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.  However, it would appear that the American experience of student surveys about teaching standards, is that students look for courses that they enjoy, that are easy to pass without too much hard work.  And if teachers want their teaching to be considered good, by these parameters, then they need to design courses that will allow students to get good grades without putting too much effort in.  Cynical or what?!  I have thought for quite a long time, though, that students may not apply the same judgements as a peer-evaluator might use, when thinking about which teachers are “good”.  Good entertainment value? Surely not.  You’d like to think that fairness, patience, good humour, and respect might be in the mix somewhere, too.

The article was in Times Higher Education: Student evaluations of Teaching: no Measure for the TEF, by Wolfgang Stroebe.
Here’s another article: Power to the Students: How the Nature of Higher Education is Changing, by Andrew Gunn (at