Music SLO: A Beginner’s Guide

image music slo: a beginner's guide

Is your school district requiring you to do student learning objectives? 

Have you heard about this from other music teachers and want to learn more? 

These new ways of doing assessments are becoming more and more commonplace, so it’s worthwhile to learn about music SLOs. 

Music SLOs may seem like a lot of work, but when broken down, they aren’t confusing. They consist of setting a goal, planning for instruction, and assessing the success of your teaching. 

In this beginner’s guide to music SLOs, we’ll talk about: 

  • What an SLO is
  • Why you should do them 
  • The elements of an SLO and how to fill one out
  • Tips for success

What Is A Student Learning Objective (SLO)?

According to the NEA, student learning objectives (SLO) are long-term goals made by the teacher to encourage success in key areas. These goals are backed up by and guided by data collection. 

The SLO needs to detail important factors about the students worked with and describe a specific plan on how to improve the students’ skill and knowledge in the goal area. 

SLOs are becoming more and more common due to state-level pressure on assessment data included in teacher evaluations. 

The SLO is, fortunately, allowed and encouraged by many states and districts. While SLOs can be tied to state-mandated testing, it doesn’t have to be. 

Many districts allow for individual teacher control in setting the goals (with administrator guidance).  

Why Should Music Teachers Do SLOs? 

This all may sound intimidating and scary to music teachers. This is especially true with words like “data”, “assessment”, and “evaluations.” 

But it doesn’t have to be! Here are a few reasons music teachers should be embracing the SLO structure. 

It avoids evaluation based on other subject scores. 

Many music teachers (including myself) have been there. Your principal decides to base all eval data on the state scores from math or reading. 

And yeah, we do improve test scores with music, but we shouldn’t be evaluated on that! 

SLOs provide us the chance to tie this data piece to something we control, and better yet, something we teach.  

They help you be more intentional with your teaching. 

SLOs can push up to do better. By picking a goal ahead of time and thinking of ways to reinforce this goal, you set yourself for more consistent teaching of this idea than if you just “winged it” all the time. 

The intentional teaching won’t cost you any extra time, but it will be more effective for your kids. 

You won’t have to change your teaching (much) at all! 

Despite what you may think when you first hear about all of this, you aren’t going to have to do much extra to complete these. Chances are, you’re already doing things that you can use for your SLO. 

Check out the tips below for advice on how to make the whole process easier for you. 

You can use the SLO to translate what you do for administrators. 

Let’s be real. Most administrators don’t understand what we do. 

Even the best admin in the world can try, but unless you live it, it just won’t translate. But they do understand SLOs and things like that. 

Putting your work into a format they get can make them more impressed with you and then trust you (and maybe leave you alone to teach!). 

image music slo info

Elements Of A Music Student Learning Objective Explained

Still, looking at the whole format of the student learning objective can be overwhelming if you’re unfamiliar with it. But that’s what this guide is for. 

In this section, I’ll go through the common elements of an SLO and offer some advice I’ve heard from others and picked up from doing these at 3 different school districts. 

Segment Of Students

Many SLOs require you to first define which students are a part of the SLO. 

In the elementary, you are sometimes given different expectations depending on the administrator. Here are some common choices: 

  • Every class, every grade (this one’s a lot) 
  • 1-2 grade levels 
  • A single class from each grade level 
  • A single class from two grade level

It’s easiest to do a single class, but I recommend at least going for a grade level or two. This gives you some leeway if one class struggles. 

For secondary performance classes, you may be asked to do a single class or everyone you see. It depends on the administrator.  

Learner Demographics

After your grade level or class is picked, you will be asked to define the demographics of the group. Some administrators don’t expect a lot of details while others require a lot. 

Pro-tip: If you’re doing specific classes, ask to see what the classroom teacher wrote for this. They will have the best, detailed information readily available. 

The purpose of this is actually to give yourself and the admin a better picture of what you can expect from your students. 

On the whole, your administrator will probably expect you to only go into a broad description. 

Broad Example: “The fourth grade consists of approximately 100 students of an equal mix of boys and girls with 35% receiving free or reduced lunch. Academic ability spread is consistent with the district as a whole.” 

Detailed Example: “The fourth grade assessed consists of 103 students as of 9/12/2019. There are 56 boys and 47 girls. 36 of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch. 

8 receive special education services. 15 have IEPs. 2 have 1 to 1 aides to help them through the day. 

25 are recognized as high achieving, 30 are recognized as low, and 48 operate at or near grade level.

The students are drawn from a local middle class population of approximately 90% Caucasian, 8% African American, and the remaining 2% spread between different races.” 

Interval Of Instruction

The interval of instruction involves the specific start and stop dates students will receive instruction on the concept. 

For most SLOs, you want to pick an interval that stretches over the entire course length. If you teach courses only per semester or trimester, you may want to go with that. 

For elementary music teachers, you need to pick the whole year as an interval if possible. 

For secondary teachers, you can choose your interval based on what you want, but it may be easier for you to pick the whole school year. 

Standards

Of course, you will need to base your goal off of some type of official standard. My school district accepts either the National Core Arts Standards or my state’s standards (Michigan). 

Fortunately, our music standards are worded so you can adapt them to meet your program’s needs. 

For this slot, I put in the exact wording (and even link) to the standard itself. This isn’t where you need to translate the standard for administrators. 

Learning Outcome

The outcome is a single statement that shows what students are going to learn and how they’ll demonstrate it. This is similar to a behavioral objective. 

Elementary Example: Students will be able to read and chant rhythms containing quarter note, quarter rest, eighth notes, half note, half rest in 4/4 and 3/4 meter with 80% accuracy. 

Secondary Example: Students will be able to perform Bb Major, F Major, and G Major scales in one octave on their instruments with 80% accuracy. 

Instructional Strategies

In this section, you need to describe the types of learning the students engage in to reinforce the goal they’re working towards. 

I recommend storing them by learning style to show your administration you’re differentiating (it’s better for students anyway). 

Elementary Example: 

  • Kinesthetic – Students will move to the rhythms by clapping; students create their own movement to match the different rhythm duration
  • Aural – Students will decode the teacher’s rhythms and echo them back with ta ti ti rhythm syllables; Students will be able to describe in their own words how rhythm value relate to one another
  • Visual – Students will practice reading rhythms from notation; students will arrange rhythm cards to create new rhythms; students will move Lego rhythm blocks to match the teacher’s rhythm
  • Social – Students will improvise and share rhythms in rally robin structure

Secondary Example: 

  • Kinesthetic – Students practice the fingerings for the different scales on their instruments; students use different motions to show whole and half steps as they say the pitches of the scales
  • Aural – Students will correctly identify where the incorrect note is played in different scales by the teacher and offer correct ones
  • Visual – Students will fill out practice worksheets on different scales; students create their own pictures to show whole and half steps along with the correct pitches for each scale
  • Social – Students practice scales in partners with a rally coach structure 

You don’t have to use this format, but you still want to put enough in there you show your admin that you’re intentionally working on the goal with students. 

Assessment

In this section, you need to describe the assessment you’re using for the goal. You also need to mention how often and when you’re going to give the assessment. 

Assessment can take time, but there are ways to shorten them up. 

But you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. In fact, you don’t have to invent anything at all! 

There are two ways you can save yourself a lot of stress with this step: 

  1. Pick something you already assess and slap a rubric on it. 
  2. Use pre-made assessments such as those by the Michigan Arts Education Instruction & Assessment consortium. 

Proof Of Rigor

Not all districts require proof of rigor or rationale, but two of the three I’ve worked at did.

This step basically wants you to describe why it’s “challenging” for students, what qualifies as successful, and why you chose this goal for your SLO. 

In my experience, just mentioning how important the goal is to musical development usually does the trick.  

7 Easy Tips For Doing A Music SLO

Hopefully, music SLOs seem less overwhelming now, but you still may want some help. Here are 7 easy tips to make SLOs a cinch. 

#1 Keep It Simple

Don’t make this more complicated than it already is! I know we all teach a million and a half things every single class, but your SLO only needs to focus on one goal. 

This doesn’t mean you won’t teach the other things. Just pick the one you want to see improve (or the one you know will end up with a good result). 

Instead of doing one for steady beat, head voice, matching pitch, tempo, dynamics, same and different form, etc for Kindergarten, just pick steady beat. 

#2 Don’t Press Too Hard

You have to strike a balance between a goal that will challenge students and one that ends up being unattainable. 

When in doubt, edge on the side of picking one too easy. Remember, the SLOs may be part of your evaluation; a goal the kids don’t reach looks badly on you. 

And the truth is, it may not have anything to do with you. 

How many times have you gotten pulled to sub? Will you be asked to throw some songs together for a surprise performance? 

Give yourselves some wiggle room and make a written goal you know your kids can achieve. 

You can always make it harder next year or just keep a more challenging one for yourself. 

#3 Keep An Open Mind

New things like this, especially those surrounding evaluations, are often met with anger and indignity. 

After all, why should we have to try to prove the impact we make on kids’ lives?

Unfortunately, a lot of this is out of our hands. So sometimes we just need to do it. 

And, honestly, there are a lot worse things we could be forced to do than fill out some paperwork. Taking the SLOs seriously could make you a better teacher! 

#4 Pick A Good Class

One of my administrators once whispered to me: 

“You only have to pick one class, so make it a good one.” 

If you have the ability to choose, pick the classes or grade levels you know are going to show good growth and handle the assessments well. 

#5 Adapt An Assessment You Already Do

Save yourself some time. We all do assessments whether formal or informal. 

Even if it’s watching how many students are getting the rhythm during a popsicle stick activity, you are assessing them. 

Just adapt this for your SLO by making it more official. During centers or the activity, watch students make the rhythms and give them a score on a 4 point rubric. 

#6 Pick A New Concept To Students

Along with picking a goal your students can achieve easily, you may also want to make the goal something brand new to them. This gives you huge numbers for student growth. 

Starting recorders this year? Pick a goal around learning two songs using BAG ED. Your pretest happens the instant you put recorders in their hands. 

Want to focus on learning 6/8 with your band kids? Make this your goal and have them try to sight-read this meter without having read it. 

It may seem like cheating, but it’s actually not. This is the beauty (and sadness) of our art; most students come to us with no prior knowledge. 

#7 Work With Others

You’re not alone! If you have any other music teachers in your district, plan your SLOs together. 

Even if you don’t end up with the exact same ones, you can bounce ideas off each other.

For those alone in a district, there’s always great Facebook groups and local music education chapters you can reach out to. Don’t go it by yourself if you don’t have to! 

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed learning about the SLO for music teachers. These can be intimidating things to do, but in the end, it’s best to get out of it as much as you can. 

Do you have lingering questions about SLOs? Drop a comment and see if we can help! 

Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher with Bay City Public Schools in Michigan. He's a Past-President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and Executive Secretary of the Midwest Kodaly Music Educators Association.

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