My 7th grade music class at Backpack Middle School runs for 9 weeks at a time, and I teach two sections each term.  Factoring in a few years when I taught only one section per term, I estimate I have taught this course a total of 36 times.

The last unit we study each term is entitled “Form in Music,” in which we explore the many different forms compositions can take, such as binary, ternary, rondos, and sonatas.

One of the simplest musical forms to understand is “Theme and Variations.”  It is just what its name states:  a composer writes – or borrows – a melody, then composes variations of that melody by changing its notes, rhythms, etc.  We discuss the definition of the words “Theme” and “Variations.” I then provide examples, both musical (live piano examples, as well as recordings) and non-musical (think “basketball shoes” as a theme; think of all the different kinds of bball shoes as variations).

The class is also shown a Powerpoint slide with the following definition:

“Theme and Variations is the musical form in which a composer writes a theme, and then composes variations on that theme.”

They are then told that the unit quiz will include a question that looks the same, except for the first few words:

“Name the musical form in which a composer writes a theme, and then composes variations on that theme.”

The answer?  “Theme and Variations.”  Simple, right?  The words are even emphasized as they are in the statement here, and we review this question on the day before the test.  It’s so simple, a caveman could do it (think “Geico commercials…”).

In all the times I have taught this unit, there has only been one class in which every student got this question right.  Usually, four or five of the 20 students miss it.  That is 20-25% (think “discouraging”).

My point in this post, though, is not what you might think it would be:  “How can any student not get this?”  No.  I didn’t write all of this to lament the sad state of students, though it would have been valid.

Actually, I would like to ask one question:  Given the real life situation described above, does it make sense to evaluate teachers based on their students’ achievement?


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