Charlotte Danielson’s “Framework for Teaching” and music composition assessment

Recently, I sat down with a new assistant principal who I’ve never hosted in my classroom before to discuss my observation using the Charlotte Danielson “Framework for Teaching.” He attended my high school general music class, Music Plugged In, to observe an assessment lesson. I want to take you through my explanation on a pop music composition assessment activity I used in this lesson to get a perfect score on the Danielson rubric.


A gallery walk can be done in several different ways. The goal for the activity is each student gets to hear every composition from their colleagues. It is a great tool for differentiation as the low-performing students get to hear exemplary work while the high-performing students get a chance to hone their critical ears and voice to give constructive feedback. For the first half of the year, we have done ours all together guided by the teacher in written form so I can remove hurtful comments. Another set-up is to have the composers pull up their compositions at individual stations and students can literally walk from composition to composition, giving written feedback. You can also assign it as homework and have a more advanced class share their criticism directly with a composer. For the composer, it is a safe step into the presentation aspect of composing in a room of peers before their music goes off into the more perilous real world.

Like my previous post on the Danielson framework and popular music, this lesson is tailor-made for a perfect score, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to prepare. Only after working with students to hone their ears and critical comments is it possible to really achieve great results.

In my district, we are not evaluated on each and every component during each and every observation so I will showcase just the components I used for my lesson. Direct quotations have come from individual component levels of Danielson’s Implementing the Framework for Teaching in Enhancing Professional Practice: An ASCD Action Tool:

Component 1b: demonstrating knowledge of students
– “Teacher regularly designs lessons that allow for individual choice.”
– “Teacher’s lesson plan reflects student-­initiated ideas for incorporating culturally relevant
activities and assignments.”

For this activity, students have been working for several weeks to create their own remix using a Digital Audio Workstation. I’ve applied the gallery walk principle to all of our composition activities throughout the year, though. Students are using their own words to critique other composers’ works and their own decision-making process is displayed in their compositions.

Component 2b: ­ Establishing a culture for learning
– “Students take advantage of opportunities to choose their own projects and show individualism and creativity in their methods of demonstrating their learning.”
– “Teacher develops and shares high­ quality instructional outcomes and expectations with
all students.”
– “Teacher holds all students to high standards for completion of assignments.”
– “Students determine the relevance of assignment to real ­life examples…”
– “Students attribute their success to hard work and effort rather than the task being easy or luck.”
– “Students encourage each other to take risks and continually ask questions.”
– “Students reflect on their own work and consider how they might improve it.”

Each student chose their own song to remix in this assignment and through the year they have been making their own compositional choices within the framework outlined by the teacher. They have made multiple decisions along the way to craft their project. These compositions are real-world based and playing them in front of their peers solidifies that. On paper, the students are encouraged to ask open-ended and thought-provoking questions of each other’s compositional decisions.

Component 3c: Engaging Students in Learning
– “Students initiate the choice, adaptation, or creation of materials to enhance their

Students were invited to help refine the grading rubric and point totals were altered to
reflect their input. That includes students who specifically asked to remove sections of
the song, something specifically outlawed by the rubric, if the student can justify the
decision in a conversation with the teacher. With each student listening to all the other compositions, the process enhances their understanding for what to do and not to do in future assignments.

Component 3d: Using Assessment in Instruction
– “Every student” will be “asked diagnostic questions… to see at a glance which students
do and do not understand.”
– “Teacher provides a variety of feedback including written, verbal, and modeling…”

The written feedback the other students and the teacher provide here can be used as a summative or formative assessment. I allow students to resubmit projects like this after receiving feedback from their peers. Students also use a self rubric, to articulate what is good, what needs improvement, as well as what additional learning they need to obtain success.

This model is a exactly what classroom teachers in other fields are looking for. It’s general enough where each student can make it their own but shows each student’s content language and knowledge. Bring the student feedback sheets with you to your post-observation to show the administrator exactly what the other students had to say.

Here are some feedback examples discussing the same remix of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” created by one of my students:

Screenshot 2016-02-15 at 4.58.33 PM Screenshot 2016-02-15 at 4.58.44 PM Screenshot 2016-02-15 at 4.59.07 PM Screenshot 2016-02-15 at 4.59.30 PM Screenshot 2016-02-15 at 4.59.40 PM

The level of depth shown by these comments isn’t extreme, but it’s enough to see genuine musical listening, vocabulary, and criticism skills. You can also see the feedback each composer will get to improve their work.

Read more about how you can integrate pop music activities using the Danielson rubric in my previous blog post. To support my blog, use this Amazon link to buy Implementing the Framework for Teaching in Enhancing Professional Practice where you can get ultra-specific on what makes an activity a perfect 4-of-4 on the Danielson rubric.


images (1) @MattWarrenMusic

Charlotte Danielson’s “Framework for Teaching” and music composition assessment

Pop music composition starters for your General Music classroom



You want to incorporate composition into your classroom but you don’t know where to start. Start here. This is a step-by-step look at how you can make composition a part of your General Music classroom using pop music topics from the last 100 years.

This presentation gives you sequential examples of 12 composition assignments you can choose to weave into your General Music curriculum as you see fit. Feel free to modify the concepts and use them for your own purposes.

  • Folk Music Composition
  • Blues Composition
  • Rockabilly Composition
  • Rhythm and Blues Composition
  • Rhythm and Blues Accompaniment Improvisation
  • 1950s Chord Progression Composition
  • Disco Loop composition
  • 1970s Bass Line Improvisation
  • Rap “Where I’m From” Composition
  • Loop-based DJ compositions
  • Sample Composition
  • Remix Composition

There is also information on grading pop music compositions, gallery walk assessments, my view on standard notation, rationale for doing this type of assignment, and more.

This session was originally  presented at the 2015 New York State School Music Association Winter Conference.


images (1) @MattWarrenMusic


Pop music composition starters for your General Music classroom

Read this: High school a cappella jives with teacher evaluation systems


Recently I attended a festival at South Glens Falls High School in Upstate New York where I presented on two topics near and dear to my heart; contemporary a cappella music and student choice. I have found this type of music to be extremely popular among students and it allows them the opportunity to be creative, not simply perform the pre-written notes on the page. Read the excerpt and check out the full article:

Student leadership and choice has been a hot topic among music educators recently as the element is being used to evaluate teachers. To earn a perfect score using teacher evaluation tools such as the Danielson rubric or the new National Core Arts Standards, students need to take ownership of their experience and proceed beyond teacher-led activities. In many cases, that’s exactly what they are doing in their high school a cappella groups.

Read the full post here.

Read this: High school a cappella jives with teacher evaluation systems

How to use movie songs in your classroom

One of the best ways to meet students on their level is to talk about music they know. It removes entire steps; getting students used to the music they are hearing, explaining context, and more. Movie songs are especially poignant and can be a great lesson or unit for your classroom.

An easy way to begin integrating vernacular music is to introduce movie music or songs from movies. It prepares students for listening to music they are unfamiliar with by focusing on a movie song – be it in the movie or simply from the soundtrack. This list from Billboard​ can be a starting point for a movie music unit. If you’re looking to transition from classical music, you can parallel it to opera and oratorio or more contemporary operetta or musicals. How do these movie songs help tell the story or set the mood like those older types of songs?

If you would rather do just a single assignment on movie music, have students pick a song from the list and discuss how it fits the movie’s theme. Connect it to music of their choice (and the new core arts standards) by having each student pick a song from one of their favorite movies and do the same assignment.

You’ll see the students get more excited about your class while focusing on the music and the meaning of it in context. You’re building lifelong music appreciation.

images (1) @MattWarrenMusic

How to use movie songs in your classroom