Higher Order Thinking: Self-Assessment


Part of the goal of the Common Core standards is to develop higher order thinking skills in preparation for life challenges. We have already been encouraging higher order thinking skills in music in one very important aspect: that of self-evaluation. Our students are consistently evaluating their improvisations, their creations, their choreography, their performance techniques, and even us at times.

This year, I began using an adaptation of a behavior-style chart I discovered on Pinterest. To adapt this chart, I use clip clothespins with numbers that correlate to either a student’s class number or their chair number in my room. When we are doing activities, I would have students take their clothespin and put it on the corresponding color, the middle pink being, as I tell them “You’re just here. You’re not making mistakes, but you’re not doing anything, either!”. The higher they go, the better. Under the pink are the classroom consequences of safe seat, buddy room, then office. We use the Positive Behavior Management System in my building, and the higher colors can earn them “tickets” that can be saved and later cashed in for prizes. (I only use this chart for grades 2 on up).

The kids would be able to guess, pretty much, what color they would end up on, based on their participation. So, this week, I decided to put them on the spot. For instance, this week, the second and third graders concentrated quite a bit on solfege. I inwardly assess them on their pitch match, or in some cases, if they are trying their best to match pitch, and whether they are also doing the Curwin hand signs. This week, I told them they would not only tell me what color their clothespin deserved to be on, but why. The first person picked, of course, was like a deer in the headlights. So, I gave them prompting questions. “Did you sing? Did you silly sing? Did you use the hand signs? Were you sitting up straight?” The kids quickly caught on, and a few were bluntly honest when they told me they deserved to be “in the pink” because they were not participating. Some kids even pointed out things I didn’t even notice, to their advantage. One student said, “I sang with expression”. I hadn’t used that phrase for a couple of weeks with them, and I was pleasantly surprised! (Of course, everyone else picked up on that right away!). If the student’s choice of “color” and mine didn’t agree, I would gently tell them why. But in some cases, the students were harder on themselves than I would have been. Some students would pipe up for others. For instance, if I said the student should probably be on the pink, there were times when the other students would point out things I missed that the student did correctly. I loved it!

Fourth graders are currently working on their program and have recently started learning “Waiting for the Light to Shine” by Roger Miller from Big River (arranged by Spevacek). The students assessed themselves on singing in their head voices, and a few were totally honest and said they should be on the green (above the “pink” in my classroom-my order is different than what is pictured), where students earn one ticket. They explained that they had volunteered to sing the descant parts, and a few boys had volunteered to sing on the solo part. They were right. They chose to do more than what was expected, and they chose more difficult parts and really did very well at sight-reading them.

I began to notice that, for the most part, even the kids who usually have attention problems and general “goofiness” problems were doing better when they knew they might be called on to describe their own behaviors. Students are also learning, conversely, not to be so difficult on themselves as they learn that making mistakes is OK as long as they are trying the best they can at that particular place and time.

This activity can be a little time-consuming (for each class, it averaged about 10 minutes or so), so I wouldn’t do the self-assessment explanation every day. They could just name their color every day, or this can be a random activity when students don’t expect it. It’s obvious that it cannot be the first activity in the day. The students also know those clothespins can climb up or down at any given point. A student can be on green, then quit participating or start disrupting the class and start moving down. By the same token, a student can have a rough start, but move up to the orange (on my chart, where students are when they are doing what is expected).

At the end of class, I pick off two clothespins that are in the “orange” or above. Those students are the VIPs for the next music class, get to sit in my “rolly” chairs, and are my helpers (such as putting up the tallies on the Whole Brain scoreboard I use, pass out papers, run errands, or PICK people to do those chores!)  They also get to hold a puppet if they so desire. And, it is amazing how many rough and tough sixth grade football players want to hold a puppet.

I look forward to some of your ideas, or how you can implement these in your own classroom, so please feel free to share!


  • Hello. These are called "engagement meters" for us. While I've created a few, I don't use them like I should! My plan is to put one on my whiteboard (that I rarely use any more) and let the students put magnets in the appropriate place as they line up to leave.

    Thanks for the reminder and inspiration.

  • Karen . . . I have this exact thing pinned on my Pinterest board and I love how you've adapted it. Thank you so very much for sharing this idea!

  • I was reading your blog describing your experience with Whole Brain learning. I've starting implementing WBT in my music teaching this year and, although I'm not a pro at it yet I find the strategies very effective! I'd love to network with other music teachers using WBT in their music classes.
    I see here that you are using the color chart to track behavior – are you no longer using the whole brain teaching strategies? If so are you using the scoreboard technique?

    • I definitely use the scoreboard as a general whole class measurement. The guitar chart has clothespins that correspond with student class numbers, so it's an individual student measure.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hi there!

I am an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor from Missouri and have completed my Ph.D. in music education through the University of Kansas.

I am an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor from Missouri and have just completed my Ph.D. in music education through the University of Kansas.


Weekly teaching support, right to your inbox!​