assessing the progress of music in the classroom

One of the core areas of the delivering the Irish primary music curriculum is understanding how best to assess the progress of the class in music.

The purpose of assessment is not simply for fulfilling the curriculum’s requirements, but it is also to instil in the children a sense of constant of appraisal and a desire for improvement. Like with most things, if a child feels they can understand the areas they need to work on and then improve those areas this can lead to an even greater sense of enjoyment with music.

The Irish primary music curriculum views the purpose of music assessment to be the following:

- to meet the needs of the pupils, building on their expertise and understanding and to develop their musical potential

- to identify shortcomings in pupil achievement in music

- to inform future teaching

- to summarise what has been achieved so far

- to observe and guide participation in and emerging attitudes towards music and music making

- to provide a basis for reporting and communicating pupil progress to parents and to other professionals

- to guide the decisions regarding the development or effectiveness of the curriculum.

The curriculum goes on to provide five different methods for musical assessment which we've broken down along with our own advice on each method.

In terms of DabbledooMusic, a key advantage of using our interactive resources is the teacher doesn't have to focus on leading the musical performance (such as keeping the pulse or playing an instrument) instead they're now able to focus purely on assessing the children's progress. If you’d like to try our resources to help you deliver the curriculum, why not try out our free trial.


1. Teacher Observation

The first method of music assessment is your own observations of the class engaging, performing and creating music. Before you start teaching music, an ideal place to start is to ensure you have a good grasp from the music curriculum as to what level of standard your class should get to in music. Once that is done you can then start to observe their abilities in the following ares:

  • Watch as they sing, play an instrument or create their own music
  • Listen as they talk about music that they have listened to
  • Informal questioning on music making
  • Watch how attentively the children listen to music
  • Observe how well the children write about or discuss music
  • Listen to see if they can read or perform a simple rhythmic pattern
  • Explore how easy it is for them to pick up a new song.
  • Observe their proficiencies of playing instruments
  • Explore how they composing new sounds, melodies or rhythms within a group


DabbledooMusic Tip

With a large class of 20+ children it can be tough getting a sense for how each child is doing with learning music particularly if they are playing or singing as one large group. While it might be tempting to ask a particular child to play/sing on their own, this might be particularly off putting for the child.

What we recommend is instead to put them into a group of 4 or 5 children and then asking them to sing or play together. This way it’ll be easier to hear each child without them feeling like they’re performing on their own. Performing as part of a small group within the full class can also help build a child’s confidence confidence and give them a greater understanding as to how their part is important in the overall music making.


2. Teacher Designed Tasks and Tests

This is where you as the teacher can set a range of different tasks or tests for the class in order to assess their progress. This should be treated in the same way that you as a teacher would set tasks to assess progress within any other subject.

Example ideas could include:

  • Writing about a piece of music played in the classroom
  • Playing a tune or singing a song from memory
  • Asking a child to create and then explain their own composition.

There are 3 core assessment methods the curriculum promotes for this area:

  1. Performance assessment - allows for the assessment of a created asset such as the recording of a composition.
  2. Process assessment - explores, for example, how a group in the class decided on their vocal sounds for an exercise.
  3. Performance and process assessment together - the combination of the two would look at, for example, how a group selected the instruments/sounds they did and then how they arranged them into a composition.


DabbledooMusic Tip

In our curriculum we tend to structure and bunch the lessons around particular themes. For example, there might be an entire month of lessons using our resources for practicing rhythm. By doing this, it creates a natural flow for a teacher to build in a designated time at the end of this group of lessons for assessment on that topic. Our recommendation to teachers is to assess every month and to design short tasks on the particular topic area that you have recently been covering to help you measure the progress.


3. Work Samples and Portfolios

By creating a portfolio of work over time, it creates a record for the child and the teacher to measure that child's progress over time. As an assessment piece, it’s up to you how long a portfolio of work should be kept for - it could be as short as one term or could extend over a two year period.

The items within the portfolio should represent the different activities covered within the three core strands of the curriculum (listening, performance and composition). Other additional elements you might consider to be included as part of a portfolio include:

  • Invented notation
  • Drafts of compositions
  • Listening lists compiled
  • Recording of a performance or composition
  • Notes on self assessment
  • Comments from peers or the teacher.

In the area of composition a portfolio can be particularly useful as a child’s self assessment is a vital part of them being able to look back on previous work to see what aspects they like or dislike.


DabbledooMusic Tip

Our recommendation is to track a child’s portfolio over the course of a full school year so that you and the child have a record of all of the interrelated strands and what activities were done to fulfil each of them. Using your phone to track recordings of performance and storing the files on your class computer is a great way to maintain a record of the class’ work performances and compositions.


4. Projects

An important part of music making is working in collaboration with others. Assessing how children interact with one another while they are performing or creating music will give a good insight into their level of understanding and will hopefully encourage each child to feel like they can put forward their own ideas for their musical group work.

If portfolios aim to highlight the work of an individual’s progress, projects are a good way to assess the progress of a child in a shared group environment.

Here are an example of group projects you may look to adopt:

  • Composing music to accompany a story
  • Playing a tune together from memory
  • Creating a new musical instrument or family of instruments
  • Composing a song
  • Inventing a new form of notation
  • Composing a dance sequence
  • Selecting and listening to a number of pieces of music to compare and contrast.

Like both teacher designed tests and tasks along with portfolios, projects are also a summative assessment which will allow you as a teacher to draw on these and on your own records in deciding an overall grade or score for a pupil.


DabbledooMusic Tip

Working in a group can be quite distracting for pupils and so having a clear plan for project work is the best method for approaching and organising it in the classroom. Make sure you have a defined outcomes that you want them to produce along with the assessment criteria you’re looking to focus in on. For example, sometimes asking a group of children to compose a piece of music is too vague, instead asking them to compose an 8 line song about nature in the springtime is better as it sets the parameters that they have to work within.


5. Curriculum Profiles

The curriculum states as follows:

Curriculum profiles are records of pupil achievement that are primarily based on objectives in the curriculum. They may be used by the teacher to make informal judgements of pupil achievement in music.

The three main parts to a curriculum profile are:

  • Indicators of achievement - such as ‘recognising the difference between loud and soft music’ or ‘difference between a tuned or untuned instrument’
  • Levels - these are the different bands of indicators grouped together to form a level
  • Assessment tasks or contexts - rating a child’s achievement may refer to a child’s performance in various tasks, tests, portfolios, projects set throughout the year. This could also include personal learning logs or anecdotal evidence.

The aim of curriculum profiles is to make a reasonable assessment of a child’s performance in music towards the end of the school year.


DabbledooMusic Tip

Throughout all of your assessing method, the important thing is to maintain a simple system and one you feel confident works for you. Where possible, the assessment methods should be done during the class so that you can assess real time performance and aptitude of the children. By ensuring the children maintain records of their work and portfolios, this too will greatly assist in your final assessment of them.


As a final bonus tip, for tracking the music that has been produced in the classroom, we recommend finding a simple way of recording audio. This could be via the recording app on your smartphone, using a laptop which often will have a built in microphone or using a handheld recording device such a Zoom recorder which will store audio files onto an SD card.

Taking photos of work done such as visuals the children have produced, new graphic notation or a composition that has been produced online using graphic score resources are easy ways to keep track and store records of the work produced.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our tips and advice on different ways of assessing music in the classroom. Whatever method(s) you employ, make sure it suits the way you like to work and that it’s convenient for you to track. Let us know in the comments below any advice you have on assessing music in the classroom.


DabbledooMusic Free Trial - Irish Primary Music Curriculum