Let’s move this discussion to the world of music teaching. Take scales for example. Often an exam syllabus will require a number of exercises to be learnt. Here are some of the problems I was finding as a teacher:
X Which scales was the pupil supposed to be learning through the week?
X Which exercises were weaker than others therefore requiring extra practice at home and attention in lessons?
X How could I get students to give as much attention to the exercises in the back of their scale books as the ones in the front?
X How could I, and indeed the student, get an overview as to how close they were to reaching the requirements of the particular grade (or standard) they were studying for?
X How could I motivate them to do more scale practice?
Enter the X-Rating system!!! After some deliberation, I came up with the idea of a one page list of all the exercises they were required to learn with four blank boxes that I could pencil in an “X” so that both I and the student could follow progress over the weeks. The results turned out to be revolutionary (in a good way)!
How it works
X = A new scale (or exercise) that needs lots of careful attention
XX = The scale (or exercise) is progressing well without the need for intervention from me the teacher but requires further work to reach a “pass” standard
XXX = Yippee! The “pass” standard has now been reached. Can it now be improved yet further?
XXXX = Amazing! The scale (or exercise) has reached an above average standard. Now it just needs gentle maintenance*
(*I tried at first having five Xs but eventually I found that four boxes was a simpler and clearer system all round)
X The biggest benefit has been that students are trying so much harder to improve their standard
X It quickly focuses me on which exercises to work on during the lesson saving wasted time
X Nothing gets forgotten about
X Both the pupil and I can see on one page an overview of how well we are progressing towards completing the whole syllabus
X Keep the assessment sheet cello taped in the inside cover of their scale book. This stops the page getting lost and everyone knows where to find it easily
X Only I (the teacher) do the assessing each and every lesson
X Try and keep the whole syllabus on just one page so it’s easy to see the whole project at a glance
X Use a pencil so you can always rub out some Xs if the standard is dropping
X In the lesson, focus on the lesser rated exercises first but don’t forget to spot check higher rated ones EACH week otherwise students will neglect to practice them; A couple of “wild cards” keep them on their toes!
X Try accompanying the assessment by holding up “traffic light” coloured cards with younger children for extra fun and motivation. Red = “oh dear this needs lots of work”, orange = “getting there” and green = “fantastic!”
X Always base the assessment on their first performance as it would be in an exam. It’s the first playing that really reveals how well they know the scale (or exercise)
X You might notice on the sample above that I use black ink for previously learnt exercises and then “blue for new!” This helps me remember which ones they should already know and which ones need careful introduction
Other ways… This rating idea could be used in many other areas of music education. For example, I place a number of Xs after the title of songs that they are learning in their emailed notes. Students are then keen to come back the following week to achieve an even higher X-rating!