What do you get with A Street Music lessons?

A piano lesson with Bülent

It’s finally here.

I’ve been alluding a blog post about our assessment practices here at A Street Music for a while. I’ve also been feeling guilty about not writing said post for a while. I am the education director at A Street Music, and this is the first time that I’ve put together a full assessment program. I’ve been a consultant for assessment in the Chicago Public Schools through the Music-in-Education National Consortium, and I’ve tracked the learning of my own students. Here, I’m creating a program where students get full progress reports and where teaching artists are challenged regularly to grow as educators. The ‘blurb’ about assessment on our lesson advertisements reads,

When you purchase A Street Lessons, you will receive more than just lessons with our outstanding faculty. You or your child will be encouraged to reflect on the learning happening in lessons and at home. This occurs through interviews designed to get students to think critically and with as much complexity as possible, and through daily practice logs provided by A Street Music. Teachers and students alike are assessed and critiqued through careful observation of lessons by our Education Director, and through detailed reports from teachers. You or your child will receive regular progress reports from A Street Music.

Everything above has been implemented already (except practice logs, which should be designed in the next week). I’ve begun observing lessons, and many of our students have received progress reports, to be provided every few months. The ‘meat and potatoes’ of the assessment – a strange metaphor as I don’t eat meat – is the interviews with teachers and students.

I originally designed the student interviews with Randy Wong in New England Conservatory’s Music-in-Education program with the intent to find out what students are learning and how make our education department great. The questions I ask get students to speak about musicianship, their instruments, listening to music, and performing/creating music. I ask the same questions to 5 year old students as I ask 30 year old students, though the way I word the questions should always be age appropriate. I feel good about the format of the questions, because young kids are able to respond and show progress over months of lessons, yet older students still comment on how difficult the questions are. These questions aren’t ‘only-one-answer’ questions, but they definitely make students think.

Progress Reports
I use the rubric below to take notes based on the interviews and to assign scores. Students, parents, and teachers don’t see this part of the process. I prepare a full progress report that ranges between two and three pages and meet with parents or students. I will include a link to a progress report here as soon as I get permission from a current A Street student.

The teachers respond to questions much like those of the students, but they are directed toward what the teacher has observed in lessons. This material supplements the interview scores on progress reports, and it also supports teacher reflection. Teachers are encouraged to plan ahead according the strengths and weaknesses of each individual student. Lesson observations are mostly to help give feedback to our teachers, but they will also be used to augment the information in progress reports.

What’s Next?
In the most literal sense, practice logs – tools for students to keep records their own work – will be the next implementation of assessment here. I’m excited about this, because it’s my belief that assessment – understanding what students know, what they need to do, how students learn, etc, etc, etc – is always best when it’s in the hands of students. When students reflect on their own progress, the trajectory of their learning is evident and goals for the future are easier to make.

Over time, I want to move toward a ‘portfolio-based’ learning philosophy here. By that, I mean that I want students to be able to document, through writing and video/audio taping, what they do musically. With more responsibility comes better learning. With better learning comes better musicianship. We want our students to constantly grow as learners and musicians. I created a portfolio of my experience here at A Street Music. I will make this available in the shop as soon as I get permission from all students featured in the portfolio.

So what does this all mean? For all intents and purposes, A Street Music is a music store that provides music lessons. I hope that what I’ve outlined above shows that we don’t want to be ‘just’ a music store that gives music lessons. As Aaron, A Street’s owner, likes to say, “we’re a non-profit organization in for-profit’s body.” A Street is a store, but we always want to offer people the best when it comes to all things music. Whether it be through the care we take making sure students are learning, the care we take with individual instruments, the availability of instruments for sale or rent, or our outreach in the community (keep an eye out for our coming work with the local YMCA), we showcase our love of music and our desire to share music.

So keep an eye out for more on the assessment program here, as well as our faculty’s upcoming concerts and a commentary on practice. And feel free to contact the store anytime.


About Justin Stanley, Teaching-Artist
I'm a musician and educator based in Boston, MA.

One Response to What do you get with A Street Music lessons?

  1. Rita Stanley says:

    It took me several years of teaching before I truly began to understand what you already know. Individualized instruction and assessment is difficult, especially with groups of students. But I’ve slowly come to know for sure that each young person – and each adult – has aspirations for the future, even if he or she can’t quite articulate it in the way we’ve taken for granted for so long.

    I now ask all of my high school students (ranging from AP to remedial) to provide a self-evaluation at least every quarter. That definitely helps them to reflect on their current achievement as well as their future goals, and it most definitely helps me to plan ahead and guide them to the next level. Sometimes, it even means that I become aware of my own failings and re-teach in the way that responds to their individual needs.

    I’m so excited about this blog; I’m learning from it. Keep it going and and try to keep it current. Meanwhile, find a time to read A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel H. Pink. Although it’s controversial and I didn’t “want” to read it, and although I don’t agree with every point, it has, just as this blog has, caused me to question, think, feel, reflect, and hopefully be a better teacher.

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