Brianne Gidcumb | February 2015

Moving, Shaking, and Music-Making: Providing Creative Release During Testing Season

Moving, Shaking, and Music-Making!

Throughout this week, the Ed Closet team has shared some strategies for the upcoming testing season. With the focus and importance placed on high-stakes testing, it’s easy for those who don’t teach tested areas to get lost in the shuffle. What role can we, the arts, play for our students during testing?

As teachers, we have a responsibility to provide quality standards-based instruction, and to show that our students are achieving. This is the foundation of high-stakes testing. However, we have an equally important responsibility to give our students what they need, to encourage them, to foster growth, to provide social-emotional care, and to differentiate for our students. This is where high-stakes testing fails our kids. So what can we do, particularly as arts teachers, to meet both of these responsibilities with integrity during those testing windows?

The arts can, and should, provide students a release they so desperately need during high-stakes testing. During these testing windows, we have an opportunity in arts classes to plan intentionally to fulfill our responsibilities both to our students as well as to our content. Here are some considerations for testing week planning in music class,


Testing comes at a time of year when many of our students already suffer from cabin fever. As I write this, it is -6 degrees in Chicago. My students have not been outside for recess at all this week due to the cold. More than ever, any opportunities we can provide for movement, especially creative guided movement, are in our students’ best interest. Classroom and arts teachers alike help by allowing for an actual physical transition between activities in the classroom. Additionally, by providing brain breaks, but we can also leverage the arts to ensure we are faithful to our responsibility to standards as well. Have students create choreography demonstrating their understanding of musical concepts. Perform folk dances. Give students a physical release from the stress of testing, while also engaging them in musical content.


Collaboration, creativity, communication. These are not skills taken into consideration in standardized testing, but celebrated in the arts! Ensemble activities, musical performance, improvisation, and the like provide our students an outlet to utilize these skills. Often during testing weeks, I set up every instrument I have, ask students to create class rhythm patterns based on known rhythms, and allow the class to perform this common rhythm using improvised pentatonic pitches. I always tell my kids it should sound like “beautifully organized chaos” (see Artie Almeida’s Mallet Madness for some great ideas for Orff instruments). Drum circles also allow students to collaborate, communicate, and improvise through musical performance (World Music Drumming by Will Schmid is one of my go-to resources for testing season).


During testing season, you’ll find my students using manipulatives for hands-on experiences with musical concepts that allowing for experimentation, easy trial and error, and revision. Whether they are engaging in floor staff activities, composing with toys and interesting hands-on materials, or mapping form with attribute blocks, I always opt to put manipulatives in my students’ hands during testing weeks rather than pencils.

We have the awesome opportunity to give students a chance for creative outlet in a stress-free, safe, nurturing, and structured environment- what a privilege!

What are your favorite lessons for art and music classes during testing season?

About the Author

Brianne is a former music educator from Chicago and current graduate class instructor with EdCloset’s Learning Studios. She earned her Masters degree in Music Education from VanderCook College of Music and has over a decade of experience in the elementary general music classroom. With her experience in the performing arts, Brianne is dedicated to building connections between the arts and Common Core Standards, 21st century learning skills, inquiry and project-based learning. In addition to her work with EducationCloset, Brianne is a yoga instructor in the Chicagoland area. You can also find Brianne here: