Writing Assessments in Drama

I was asked by a reader recently to write a post about how I go about assessing my student’s in Drama. I had a bit of a think about this because assessment is such a huge part of what we do as teachers and it really is so vital. I wasn’t sure how to approach the post, thus why I’ve been sitting on this one for awhile. Assessment informs our practice in so many ways yet it can be such a tricky thing to get right. If there is, in fact a “right” way.

The things I always worry about with assessment are:

  1. Have I distributed the weighting of tasks correctly?
  2. Is this an appropriate weighting to give to a task?
  3. Does the task I have designed accurately match the outcomes?

The other thing with assessment in drama or in any subject for that matter is that there are endless ways to design a task. It is a highly creative part of programming but also stressful because you have to worry about weightings and outcomes because these in turn influence what you teach as part of your program for that unit (not to mention it’s their HSC and all that jazz). So I’ve discovered the way that works best for me is to work backwards. That is, design the task first and the program will follow after. Remember, this is just a process that I have found works for me. You will find your own in good time.

So to design a task, these are the steps I like to take:

  • Pencil It In! -Work out when your tasks will need to be completed by student’s. Factor in when your half-yearly or trial exams are, when reports need to be written etc. Mark them in your diary. I always find it gives me a much clearer idea of a time frame to work within.
  • How Many Tasks Do You Need? – This can be tricky. In Stage 6 I design one assessment task per topic and finish with either a Yearly Exam or the Trial HSC Paper. In Stage 5 I strip right back and simply have one practical task and one theory task per semester. So I have a 30% Practical/20% Theory split each semester which equals 50%. Put both Semester’s together and what do you get? 100% and it fits the 60/40 rule perfectly. See below if you have no idea what I’m talking about.
  • Remember The 60/40 Rule –  In Drama 60% of tasks must be from the Making and Performing (Practical) outcomes, the other 40% must be from the Appreciating or Critically Studying (Theory) outcomes. I revise my Stage 6 assessments every time I teach them both for weighting and task content. In Stage 5 I tend to stick to the same weighting allocation but vary the task. I am not a huge fan of numbers and I find this part can do my head in because I dance back and forth between what I want to focus on in the task and whether or not it fits into the appropriate outcome and the weighting I’ve given it.
  • Match Your Outcomes – There are no hard and fast rules here but naturally when reading the syllabus you will find that some outcomes, particularly in Stage 6 lend themselves to one particular unit of study to that of another. In Stage 5 the outcomes are quite broad in their terminology so there is flexibility to design tasks that could massage themselves into particular outcomes. I do find this part a little time consuming because you do have to make sure you have covered all outcomes by the end of the course and some faculties like certain outcomes assessed more than once. In doing this first however, it creates a clearer and somewhat narrower picture for me in terms of the direction I need to go in with my task and I feel reassured that I am covering outcomes.
  • Brainstorm Task Ideas – This is such a tricky part of the process to advise on because it is so dependent on many factors including class size, level and ability of student’s and resources. In Stage 6 I model all my tasks around what is expected in the HSC. Designing Stage 5 tasks like this isn’t such a bad idea either because it allows for continuity and adequately prepares student’s for the expectations of the senior school.
  • Write Your Task Clearly – Particularly focus on the “Submission Requirements” section of your task where you are imagining that in an ideal world, where kids will just read the task, go away and do it, all the information they need to do that is there. I agonise over this section because it is not only beneficial for your student’s it is beneficial for you because it again clarifies exactly what it is you are looking for and how best to advise your student’s.
  • Spend Time on the Marking Criteria – I try to use as much terminology from the syllabus and the outcomes. I also keep the criteria to between three and four dot points, with each point linking to a particular part of the task. I also take the time to go through this with student’s. Particularly what an “A” response looks like. I want them to know that these are my expectations and that they are all capable of reaching them. Discuss how the criteria also links back to the outcomes and how this will be reflected in their report.
  • Step Away From the Computer – Once you have written it, leave the task for a few days and come back to it when you are completely fresh. I find I get so immersed in the writing of it I lose perspective sometimes and there are typos and my head just goes round and round in circles stressing as to whether or not it is effectively going to achieve outcomes. Show it to a colleague or someone in your PLN who can give you some good feedback.
  • Revise The Task – If you find as you are teaching that the task is not going to work with your student’s rewrite it and reissue it. I have had this happen and it is no big deal if you are transparent and up front with the kids from the start. At the end of the unit, take the time to reflect on the task and what worked and what didn’t. Think about what you would do differently.

All in all, the best advice I can give to new teacher’s in Drama is to find a colleague or someone in your network who would be willing to look at your tasks and give you some feedback. Also the feedback you give to your student’s is of the utmost importance. I’ve blogged about that before. Maybe team up with another teacher in your area and program and assess together. So many of us are the only Drama teacher’s in our school. We are isolated and when we need it most the support may not be there.

I hope this helps but if you can offer any other advice or suggestions please feel free to leave comments below. Also, I’m happy to share programs and assessment schedules and notifications if you are in need of them. Comment below or contact me via my Twitter account in the right hand widget bar.

Image Credit: One done / Daniel Kulinski / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

4 Comments

  1. Hello Karla! I have missed your tweets lately! haven’t been as active, but so happy I caught Viv’s reply to this post! Your curriculum coordinator must be really happy with you – this post is a worthwhile share for any new teacher, nit just drama. You’ve not only taken is through a really valid process, but explained why and how as well. Great work Karla!🙂

    • Thanks Denise! Yes, I have been a bit quiet in Twitter land of late. Just needed to recalibrate somewhat but I feel like I’m getting back into the swing of things again.

      I appreciate the feedback. I really find assessment tricky and I’m really not sure if what I do is right but I thought I would share it anyway and see what people say.

      Your feedback is really appreciated. Thank you.

  2. This is FANTASTIC! This is exactly the type of tips I need on assessment! Will definitely read this post over and over again and compare how I approach assessment. I guess in the IB MYP system our assessment criteria are determined and so it makes it a bit different, but there are definitely ideas in this post worth reflecting on! I also feel rather validated because I plan my tasks backwards too🙂

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