Pass-offs: Accountability, Motivation, & Self-Directed Learning

accountability curriculum motivation pass-offs planning self-directed learning Jun 05, 2024
Pass-offs: Accountability, Motivation, & Self-Directed Learning

By Rob Chilton

In my last article, A Weekly Routine that Emphasizes New Learning, we discussed a weekly routine I used in my beginning band classes:

In case you missed it, you can read the full article by clicking the linked text above or the linked image below:

While that article was geared towards discussing new instruction on Mondays/Tuesdays, I received multiple questions about the pass-offs on Fridays.

So, let’s talk about pass-offs with beginners!

The Pass-off Sheet

To get started, every beginner was provided a pass-off sheet with a year’s worth of material in the first grading period.  Here’s a template which you can download and modify.  (The templates are Microsoft Word documents that may look strange when opened on mobile devices.  For best results, download to a computer.)

Consider consolidating your pass-offs to a single document.  Doing so increases the likelihood your students will understand the system yielding greater participation.

Creating Motivation

In my experience, kids are rarely intrinsically motivated… at first.  However, most respond to external incentives.  Similar to karate belts, we issued locker ribbons to our students whenever they completed a row of pass-offs.

These ribbons were homemade and easy to make.  You can download the template below and edit the titles to your liking.  Then, print on colored paper, laminate and cut.  It’s that simple!

Securing ribbons to lockers is straightforward.  If you have lockers similar to those above, tightly wrap the ribbon around 4 or 5 bars and loop regular clear tape (like Scotch brand) around the backside.  With some practice, you’ll be putting on ribbons with ease.

How Many Pass-offs Should We Include?

Our minimum goal was for every student to pass-off one line per week.  We encouraged more, but at the least, we wanted every child to complete one a week so they could regularly experience personal achievement through effort–something many kids don’t get on a regular basis.

With that in mind, we figured there were about 30 usable weeks for pass-offs in the first year.  That is, a typical school year has 36 weeks and we waited until about the sixth week to start pass-offs.  Therefore, the pass-off sheet needed to have at least 30 lines.  We chose to increase to 40-50 lines to set the bar for completion just above our minimum expectation.

WARNING: Not Everything Has to Be a Pass-off

We cover a lot of material in the first year of instruction.  Going from square one to ensemble readiness in 9-10 months is no short distance.  With that in mind, not everything has to be a pass-off.  Do we want our students to demonstrate mastery of everything we’ve taught?  Of course!  But having them pass off everything will create an immeasurable amount of work for everyone–yourself included.

Still cover everything in your curriculum, but pick and choose your pass-offs wisely.  Pass-offs should be the content or skills you deem most important.  For non-pass-off material, use formative assessment strategies such as down-the-rows and pop-plays to figure out if they’re getting it or not.

Finally, when selecting your pass-off lines, I recommend picking your top 30-40 lines from your method book(s) and sprinkle in some scales.  I like putting the scales at the end of a row of pass-offs.  This way, they have to learn a new scale or two to unlock their next achievement–something they are capable of doing on their own if they have the sheet music and a fingering chart!

When to Do Pass-offs

As previously discussed, we commonly did our pass-offs in-class on Fridays, but there are several options.  Here are a few:

  • In-class - This is my favorite.  First, it requires kids to play in front of each other, which is a necessary and acquired skill in the performing arts.  I always tell my students, we learn to perform for each other first before taking it to the stage.   Also, in-class pass-offs allow students to hear their peers play, and a lot can be learned from hearing others and the feedback given.

  • Before/after school - We typically did Friday afternoons.  To accommodate more students, you can try offering a morning and afternoon spot.  Don’t be discouraged if attendance is low at first.  This is common.  It will pick-up as time progresses, interest increases, and kids work out their transportation needs.  For most, getting to school early or getting picked up late takes planning.

  • Advisory - This is great if your advisory period also doubles as an activity time or study hall.  We had a thing called “Mustang Time” at my last school where students could sign-up to go to a particular classroom or activity.  We occasionally utilized this time for pass-offs.

  • Lunch - You can make this work, but I personally advise against it.  I speak from experience when I say it’s easy to overload yourself.  And honestly, everyone needs a break and a time to eat–students and teachers alike.

  • Remote via Google Classroom, Canvas, etc. - This can be great.  I was once a big proponent for remote work–or flipping the classroom.  Just be cautious.  Students can easily submit more than you can grade during working hours.  You can quickly find yourself spending big chunks of your nights and weekends just trying to stay caught up.  I know–it happened to me!  Also, it’s difficult to encourage students or provide meaningful feedback this way.  At least in my experience, when I did leave feedback, it often went unread.  #IYKYK

Music Literacy is the Cheat Code for Self-Directed Learning

Doing music literacy instruction on a regular basis will help your students tremendously with pass-offs, even creating self-directed learners.

In our weekly literacy lessons, we taught the written musical language ahead of where we were in the method book, eliminating hurdles in the instructional process and allowing students to advance on their own.  The biggest benefit for us was that our students developed the knowledge and confidence to try learning new material themselves.  They weren’t always dependent on us to show them how it goes.

Looking for a fun, fast, and easy music literacy method?

Stay Tuned!

If you have a system that’s working for you–that’s great!  If you don't, or are looking to modify an existing process, I hope you found this article resourceful.  There are still many more pass-off related topics to cover, such as:

  • Managing the spread of student achievement
  • Feedback–when to give it and how much
  • Pass-off standards–setting, maintaining, and balancing across a variety of situations
  • Pass-offs and grades
  • Various ways to do pass-offs in-class such as down-the-row, take it from the top, catch-up, and more
  • What to do when students complete the entire sheet

Stay tuned!

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About the author:

Rob Chilton is the creator and owner of Readymade Music, LLC and its content. Previously, Chilton was a middle school band director from 2007-2021. His most recent teaching position was the Head Band Director at Killian Middle School in Lewisville, Texas from 2014-2021.

Under his direction, the Killian Honors Band was named the 2018 Texas Music Educators Association CC Honor Band and performed at the annual 2018 TMEA Clinic/Convention. In 2019, the Killian Honors Band was invited to and performed at The Midwest Clinic in Chicago. Additionally, the Killian Honors Band was named a National Winner in the Mark of Excellence National Wind Band Honors Project in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Chilton is a graduate of Southern Methodist University where he had the opportunity to study music education under the tutelage of Lynne Jackson and Brian Merrill. During his years as a middle school band director, Chilton continued his professional growth under the guidance of his primary clinicians, John Benzer and Brian Merrill.

Chilton’s mission for Readymade Music is to promote the overall well-being of music education and support school music teachers by providing solutions to help make teaching music more efficient and inspirational while increasing engagement for 21st century learners.

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