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Using personal digital recorders as an assessment tool

I am entertaining the notion of using personal digital recorders (PDR) to assessment my students' knowledge. The theory is that the student holds the PDR and sings into it during the regular class rehearsal. I then take the recording and assess the student outside of class. The idea is that students would be less intimidated with this method than singing solo or even in small groups. They would just be singing like they (should) do with the full choir in class. Also, assessing won't suck precious rehearsal time out of the class period.
Does anyone have any experience with this? If so, I have the following questions:
  1. are there any specific PDR I should be looking at that are inexpensive enough to buy at least 10 of? Or any I should avoid?
  2. how do you know which student is on the recording when you come back to it later? I am assuming I would put multiple students on a single session.
  3. Does this method achieve the goals I set out above? Do the students like it?
Any help anyone could give would be greatly appreciated. Thank you very much.
John Wright
Vocal  Music Teacher
General John Stricker Middle School
7855 Trappe Road
Baltimore, MD 21222
Vocal/General  Music Teacher
Middle River Middle School
800 Middle River Road
Baltimore, MD 21220
on October 5, 2015 3:55pm
I have done this once, and it was awesome! The kids actually like it quite a bit, and it's a really fast way to assess them. Yeah, if you do a whole song, it takes awhile to listen to them, but you can choose a 30-second passage to grade for mastery and whip through a class of 60 in half an hour! 

I used the Sony ICD PX333 recorder because that's what my old school had, but a quick amazon search for "voice recorder" will get you several options, many of which are extremely cheap. (The other option, if your students have them, is to let them simply record themselves on their smart phones and email you the file.)
One trick: you'll have to test it to get a "level" for the sound. Some students will sing too loud and create distortion, while others will be very soft. Expect some of this on your first try, and just report back to those students with problems when you give them back their grades. I'd use a short little half-sheet rubric to assess on tone/notes/rhythms/breath/etc, and you can leave additional notes there if you want. 

As far as procedure goes, I did it like this: 
1) Students have recorders in hand. You have them all hit record and say their name--they can all do this at the same time, which creates a fun cacophony and lightens the mood. 
2) Begin the song/excerpt. Students with recorders sing like normal, but holding the recorder close to their mouth. 
3) When it's done, switch recorders to students who haven't done it and repeat! The whole thing can take a little as 5 minutes. 
Let us know how it goes! 
Braeden Ayres 
on October 6, 2015 3:01am
Make sure you instruct the students to say their full name both before and after they record. Otherwise things can be unclear. Also you should tell the students to push the stop button after they record. That puts each student or group in its own file. Not doing that puts their performance at the end of someone else's file, where you might miss it.
on October 6, 2015 6:05am
I have also done something similar with my large choral classes, and while it did give a good assessment of the individual student (in a relatively stress-free setting), I was spending a ridiculous amount of time on my own, listening to each recording, so I abandoned it.  I do, however, like the suggestions above, including having students sing a SHORT passage into their own smartphone and emailing the file -- seems to me something like this could be done on a fairly regular basis, allowing for plenty of feedback on a student's progress.  When I retired, smartphones were not yet as prevalent as they are now, but I'm sure I would give this method another try if I were still in the classroom. 
In my case, each student went into a separate room where I had set up a recording of a portion from a previous concert on a large stereo, alongside a small cassette recorder and microphone -- they were instructed to press "play" on the concert playback, and to press "record" on the cassette machine, and then to "sing along" with the choir.  When I listened to their cassettes, I could hear the individual voice clearly in the foreground, and still hear the choir performance in the background -- this helped me to determine if they were singing in tune, if they were holding onto their own voice part, their level of projection, and vocal quality among other things.  As I listened, I would jot down a set of evaluation numbers according to a rubric I had set up for them.  These results were shared individually with each student, and gave us both a means of measuring improvement throughout the year.  These same numbers were also used as a part of their report card grades each quarter.  My administration was also pleased with this system.  
on October 6, 2015 8:44am
I tried this last week with students using their smartphones and it worked really well.  I chose an approx 1 min section to record - each holding their own phone.  Anything much longer than 1 min. and the size of the audio file gets too big to email.
Android phones used the app voice recorder and iPhones used italk.  Both apps are free.
Students put their name in the subject line of the email so I could easily track and use for grading.  All of my students have smartphones, but if they preferred to come sing for me individually, that was an option. 
I plan to do this more often, and with sight reading exercises as well.  The students liked being able to sing in the group setting, and although it took time to grade, I found it to be less time than when I had them individually come in and sing for me.
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