Assessment using Rhythmic and Musical Learning

Music and rhythm form an active tool for classroom use. Above being a powerful memory and engagement tool, they also allow teachers to assess student learning in an immediate and direct way.

1. What is a Rhythmic or Musical Learner?

A musical learner is one of eight types of intelligence in Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences. It refers to a person’s ability to understand sound, rhythm, patterns in sound and relationships between sounds as well as their ability to process auditory information. It is important to note that these intelligences are not absolutes, and each student will have a unique combination of multiple intelligences, and few if any can be classified as a single type of learner, such as a "Musical Learner".

1.1 Characteristics of Musical Learning

Musical activities surround the learner with music and foster an appreciation for many different kinds of music. Learners can be creative and play instruments, whistle, compose music, use percussive/rhythmic elements, and sing. They may include activities at school such as band, choir, music appreciation, and writing poetry or songs. Many of these activities can be adapted to classroom activities outside of music class.

2. Benefits of Musical/Rhythmic Learning in Assessment

There are multiple benefits to using musical and rhythmic elements in the classroom. Music can be used for memory, to foster creativity, help develop mathematical skills, and develop performance practice. It reflects culture and history, science, language (including it's own grammatical structure), and art. Of particular benefit to the teacher though is the use of musical/rhythmic activity as an assessment tool. Music and rhythm are active learning processes, and as such a teacher can identify strengths and weaknesses in student learning very quickly. For example, if a teacher introduces a skip counting song, a teacher can watch which of the children are singing along. If a child is singing the information, that is powerful evidence that they will be able to reproduce it later. Group based activities are common in musical learning, and teachers can observe and confer with individuals and groups during the creation/practice process, turning learning and assessment into one fluid process. You can also use songs as a Summative Assessment by asking students to create and perform their own songs at the end of a unit.

Here is a video of a song being used in an English as a Second Language classroom in Incheon, South Korea. Aside from providing an engaging learning environment, assessment can occur simultaneously by observation. A follow up exercise may include having students create their own verses.

Singing with a class can be an effective formative assessment tool, as student involvement shows application of knowledge. If a student can sing it, he can say it.

3. Strategies

There are many strategies to using music and rhythm in the classroom. They are useful across subject areas and can be used by anyone. Remember you do not have to be musical to embrace musical strategies. We have outlined a sample of uses below.

3.1 Musical Mnemonics

A Mnemonic Device is used to aid in memory recall. Rhymes, acronyms, and songs are all examples of a mnemonic device. Educational literature supports the theory that musical mnemonics are effective learning tools for the classroom.

What are some advantages to using mnemonic devices in the classroom?

  • Musical mnemonics are particularly useful for students with learning disabilities and mild handicaps.
  • Musical mnemonics are very useful for young students who have not yet learned to read or for students who have not been taught any memory strategies
  • Research shows that the human brain responds positively when exposed to musical rhythms and patterns, and hence, recall is enhanced.

When teachers are searching for effective mnemonic devices or creating their own it is important to keep in mind qualities that enhance recall. Some of these qualities are:

  • A simple, repetitive melody or a melody that is already familiar
  • A defined rhythm
  • Alliteration
  • Strong end-rhymes
  • Multiple in-class rehearsals of the song or rhyme
  • The song is presented with a related image (ex. singing about parts of the brain while pointing out the parts on a diagram

Many teachers feel uncomfortable using musicality in the classroom. Some feel they do not have a good voice or that they would feel silly singing in front of their class. Some methods to overcome this worry are:
  • Embrace the silliness! Memory songs are almost always silly, that is what makes them fun and easy to remember!
  • Remind students (and yourself) that you are not in a music class and that sounding pretty is not necessary, nor is it the point of the exercise.
  • Have the students come up with their own mnemonic devices in groups and then present them to the rest of the class. (Formative Assessment)
  • Sing along to an audio file.

Conjunction Junction video
Have you heard this song before? If someone said the words, "Conjunction junction" to you, what pops into your head? How about "In fourteen hundred and ninety-two..."? Are there other songs or chants you learned in early elementary school that spring to your mind on occasion? Songs, rhymes and rhythms can stay with a person for a lifetime.

In a study observing preschool aged children using word-play and rhythms to communicate with each other playfully it was noted that the teachers did not engage in word-play with the students. The teachers were passive members of the conversation; they only asked occasional questions to clarify a student’s thought process. The researchers mentioned that by not engaging in this sort of play with students, teachers may be missing out on valuable teaching moments that could further enhance oral skills a
nd early literacy.

In other words: Students are using rhythms and songs during play to naturally enhance vocabulary and literacy. This is a chance for teachers to extend student learning by engaging in this playfulness.

3.2 Music in Class Settings

Music can be combined into many subject settings. Creative writing and physical education make obvious pairs with music, but it can be incorporated into science, math, or second language learning. We have included some examples of possible classroom use here.

Rhythmic activities can include body percussion (tapping, clapping, stomping), non-pitched percussion (such as hand drums and tambourines), other objects in the classroom, or just spoken word. This will appeal strongly to the kinesthetic style of learning, promoting motion and coordination while involving high level thinking. Students can work with poetry of any order, incorporating it into a percussive rhythm. This may be done as creative writing, or as core subject material. Older students may even want to make their own rap video and post it on youtube.

Consider how much you've learned about the students by watching this video. They've demonstrated their understanding of technology, math, rhythm, and movement, and the ability to present a professional looking product.

Music can also be used in core subjects, turning difficult concepts into memorable melodies. Again, students can be invited to become involved in the creative process, or to sing the tune, both allowing direct feedback of understanding to the instructor.

Possible Activities/Assessments for this video:
- Have students sing song (assessment by performance)
- Have students reflect on information presented in this song (written, verbal or musical formats)
- Have students use this video as inspiration for their own presentation. Guide students in the creation of a song, poem, or chant of classroom material. They will never forget their own creation! This can become a formative or summative assessment tool, incorporating high level thinking skills.

3.3 Forming a cross-curricular music plan:

Consider a grade 4 class learning about building simple machines.
Can we use music as a supportive tool in their learning? What would be the purpose?
First, what do we want the students to learn? Perhaps there is some terminology you want your students to understand (fulcrum, lever, leverage...). You will likely also want to see them apply their knowledge to building an actual machine. Can we incorporate these goals into a musical activity?

  • Find a song or create your own- Take a familiar tune (pop songs, kids songs, jazz, classical, use what you have and what the kids will be interested in!), or create something original if you have the ability. For younger grades, try to find something short and repetitive.

  • Create a chorus- Make it fun, but you can also incorporate a key concept here. This gets repeated the most, so make use of that!

Leverage can help us, help us every day
Push the long end of the lever, to lift Justin Bieber
Push the short end really hard, if you want to launch him far
Leverage can help us, help in every way

  • Find a way to get the students involved- Let's say you're students have made their own machines now using whatever materials you have present. Perhaps they could write a verse about their machine, and then use that verse to present their machine to the class. Student musical writing can be guided by using a fill in the blank format.

eg.- I have a (name of machine). It has (description of components). It can (description of its function, what can it do?). Here it goes!

  • Give the students examples, and let them be creative!- Actions can be included as well for an additional active element. This would also be conducive to group learning

What have we assessed? An instructor has gained evidence of the following:
  • Knowledge of key concepts- By building and then writing about their machine, they show applied knowledge of the lesson materials
  • Language skills- Can you encourage the students to rhyme, use rhythmic meter, be aware of syllable count? These key language skills usually discussed in poetry class are demonstrated by the student here, as well as spelling and grammatical structure as appropriate for the format.
  • High level thinking- Were the students able to take their understanding of concepts, translate them into a workable machine, then create a musical presentation about it? This requires many different types of thinking, and their integration. Educators can gauge the ability of students to perform these high level tasks by how they work on and present their materials. As students master this type of activity, they can be encouraged into even higher levels of operation.

Why bother? Because it's interesting, active, memorable, and the assessment happens as a part of the learning process.

4. Links for Further Exploration

4.1 Activities and Videos

Two songs on lab safety and nano technology.

Audio files for songs about math, social, etc.

Top Ten Scientific Music Videos from "Wired"

"Blame it on the DNA" Music Video

Carbon is a Girls Best Friend Music Video

4.2 Reference

Some examples of mnemonic devices: