There is a wide body of research that points to the benefits of structured music education. This column, which will be published every alternate month, will expand on various aspects of this research with a focus on topics related to STEAM education, social emotional learning, and the role that the arts play in developing a new generation of global citizens.
We are going back into the physical classroom after more than two years, and a lot has changed in that time. Now that we are returning to teaching and learning in a very different environment, it only makes sense that we also update the way we evaluate our educators’ classroom performance throughout the year.
Currently, these are some of the broader criteria used to assess our general educators’ effectiveness, which are also very relevant to music educators:
• Student achievement
• Discipline levels
• Attendance rates
I have the good fortune of working with music educators and developing a music curriculum for learners across age groups. The bigger picture of music education is the role it plays in STEAM integration, and bridging the science-arts gap in the classroom. With that context, it has always been clear to me that these criteria can be extremely limited – especially since the bigger picture is to create a better future for children. The pandemic has made these limitations clearer than ever. Let us look at each of these factors up close:
Student achievement: This is not the most reasonable or fair way to judge the student or the teacher, since it uses examination scores as its primary tool of evaluation. These scores don’t take into account the student’s progress through the year, or the conditions in which they had to learn or prepare for the exams. Exam scores should be reframed as just one component of the student and teacher’s progress in the classroom – not the driving factor.
Discipline: I believe that discipline and consistency will take us farther than natural talent, and as an educator, I always look for ways to help my students develop this as a quality. But it is also important that we re-frame what it means in today’s classroom. I believe that we should take a more holistic view of classroom behaviour, and make sure that it includes components of Social Emotional Learning – SEL. With that in mind, some questions we can ask are: is the teacher encouraging children to be kind and empathetic, especially in group projects? Are they encouraging critical thinking, and ensuring that students are able to resolve differences with respect?
In the past, discipline in the classroom has largely meant compliance – maintaining silence, obeying teachers, and completing the assigned work. Today, it is useful to measure it in new ways.
Attendance rates: Improved attendance rates are a great way to measure the child’s interest in the subject, and this certainly reflects well on the teacher. But attendance also depends on a number of external factors outside the child’s control, and this was especially highlighted during the pandemic. Are attendance rates still the most effective way to measure the teacher’s performance? And even more importantly, is it fair to push children further away from opportunities by punishing them (and their teachers) for low attendance? As we re-enter the classroom, it is time for us to examine ways in which we can be flexible and give children opportunities to make up for time lost in the class. Empathy begins with educators.
Over the last decade, we’ve worked towards building a structured ecosystem for music education, and a huge part of it is educator evaluation and feedback. We’ve reframed the way we measure teacher progress and effectiveness, and I believe that many of these evaluation structures can be used across subjects and schools. Here are some ways in which we measure our music educators’ success:
Are we paying attention to the difference between teacher quality and teaching quality?
Research studies from 2018 highlight the importance of understanding these terms better. Teacher quality measures the educator’s ability to teach. Teaching quality measures the circumstances under which they have to do it. Are we, as managers, giving our educators a variety of musical instruments that they can encourage their students to use? Do we have classrooms that are conducive to learning music in the best possible way?
When we give equal weight to both these factors, we get a more accurate picture of what the situation looks like. With this, we can start taking steps to make it easier for both teachers and students to perform at their best.
Are we giving children the best learning tools?
We don’t just teach kids songs and activities, we teach them how to learn. And we measure this by looking at students’ progress throughout the year; in addition to end-of-year assessments, we have spot checks where we understand if our educators are encouraging questions, participation in group activities, and more. This is a better way to understand whether or not teachers are able to create an environment that works for different personality types and learning styles.
What does effective classroom teaching look like today?
Are we just teaching music because it’s fun? While it’s a huge part of why kids enjoy learning with us, we also keep an eye on how they can apply what they learnt to their daily lives. This leads us to ask ourselves how our teachers make learning hands-on. Are they using our global music component to make children appreciate diversity? When they explain the difference between a violin, a viola and a cello, are they making science a little simpler? When they conduct rhythm activities, are they encouraging children to think of mathematical patterns?
In other words – are they just giving the students information or are they helping translate subject matter into real and meaningful takeaways?
To me, two points in the National Education Policy stand out:
- The value of STEAM integration in the classroom
- The role that educators play in shaping the next generation of citizens
If we are moving into a world that understands the value of the arts in creating a better world, we should also measure all our educators’ performance using new guidelines. Of course, these suggestions leave us with more questions and problems to solve, especially in an education system as complex as India’s. And to find an effective evaluation system that can be scaled will take a lot of time and research. However, as we move into a new way of teaching, it is more important than ever that we start taking the first steps in this direction.
The author is a singer-songwriter, music educator, co-founder and CEO of SaPa – Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts. Her vision is to take the benefits of music education to every learner. She can be reached at email@example.com.