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/


Simple Ways to Integrate ICT and the Drama Logbook

The use of technology in Drama is a tricky one in my opinion. When you think of technology in Drama most people think, “oh, using a video camera.”

Drama is all about the making and performing of a work and especially in class, you become so caught up in the “doing” that you miss the “reflecting” part. Or the “documenting of the process” part. My kids are reluctant to write anything at the best of times and it has still been challenging getting them to write using their laptops but it is because of them that they are a little less reluctant to write 🙂

The NSW syllabus like many others, has three key areas: making, performing, appreciating. The logbook has been an essential part of the “appreciating” section of the syllabus for years. It is vital during the HSC in which student’s must show their process in creating their group performance work and their individual project.

Now, I’m really going to put my opinions out there and say that I am certain that in a few years, the logbook will become digital. Just like the written exam. Not just in Drama. I’m sure in many other subjects as well.

I think this opens up enormous possibilities for the Drama logbook and how dynamic and interesting it could be in showing the theatre making process.

As such, as teachers it is not only our responsibility to be integrating technology in our lessons but making it meaningful and a tool for preparing them for the HSC and the effective documentation of process in a logbook.

So, here are a couple of suggestions to get you started in turning the logbook digital:

1.Type in Microsoft Word: It’s basic and it’s boring but it’s also familiar. I’ll probably be crucified for suggesting this but if you’re apprehensive about getting your student’s to create a digital logbook start with something that most of us these days actually knows how to use. It’s tried and tested and it’s a good way to get student’s into the habit of writing their thoughts on screen rather than paper. Trust me, they’ll be just as apprehensive. They’ve been taught for years to write everything with a pen and paper. This will be weird for them.

2. Use OneNote: This is another really simple start to creating a digital logbook with a few cool features. Most of the DER laptops have OneNote. It is like a paper ring binder sans the paper. It has tabs to organise your work, an endless page and an automatic saving function. You can copy and paste images into notebook and it copies the source link with it. You can also freely move things around your page. Here’s a really brief intro to it:

3. Start a Blog: This is my latest favourite.The great thing about a blog is that it is like a personalised web page. Student’s can customise them, connect with student’s from around the world, embed video, links, sound clips, photographs (all of which are technology in themselves). They’re dynamic and they broaden the scope of their work. They are public pages so it is a great way to teach student’s about digital citizenship, the appropriate use of language, editing and spelling. Here is an example of one from one of my student’s. I provide student’s with a very structured template with which to base each of their entries on. Starting off with a class blog first might also be a great way to take a dip into technology.

4. Create a Digital Portfolio: This is a great idea for mini-assignments as well but you could get student’s to create an interactive Powerpoint that includes links, video, sound clips and photos for each week of their project. Have them create a slide that looks at the problems they faced in their group and how they solved each problem. Make sure student’s submit everything (video etc.) to you in one folder. Missing parts means the portfolio’s interactive bits won’t work.

Finally, it’s important to remember that these are just some simple ways to move away from the traditional book and pen scenario. Some people can be really turned off by technology because they think it is all bells and whistles and the truth is it is. Another thing I’ll probably be crucified for.

I think some teacher’s feel they are becoming redundant because the teaching is being done by technology. This is when I would say that is, absolutely, 100% not true. Student’s will not know how to write well and skillfully without your guidance. They way student’s create their blogs, portfolios or whatever is dependent on what you show them is the best way to do it. You are still the most important tool in creating critically reflective, appreciative writing in Drama. Don’t forget that 😉

Have you tried anything that is working well in your class? Please share them in the comments.

Image Credits:Moleskine Retro PDA Part1 / Stephen Ticehurst / CC BY-NC 2.0

My Journey with Student Blogging: An Update

Back in March I introduced student blogging to my Year 9 Drama class. I dived right in having each student create their own individual student blog which was connected to a class blog.

The other day a very kind reader of my blog asked me how my class blogging was going and what my thoughts were on using it in the Drama classroom. I had been meaning to update on this for some time so having interested readers push me along in this pursuit was great!

Here is the class blog page.

As you can see, I’ve added absolutely zilch to it since starting it. That was my responsibility and my fault and I have some thoughts on that further on.

However, some student drama blogs that I think are well worth taking a look at from my class include:

On the downside though, only these four of the eleven students in my class have really taken to blogging and have been updating it regularly. Three of my student’s haven’t added their link to the class blog page at all. Student’s were just not contributing to their own blog nor commenting on their peers.

This really surprised me. I really thought the kids would want to engage with their laptops and create a blog.

So why, were they just not getting into blogging?

Most of them did not know what a blog was nor did they have the patience to set one up thus making them very frustrated and hence giving up on the idea all together (thus why many of them are not regularly updated or are non-existent).

This classroom moment did re-affirm for me this idea I have that technology is really not that scary and children don’t necessarily know more than us about technology. Their fear of trying something new online was just as obvious as that of any adult using a computer for the first time. Student’s may be surrounded by technology but they really don’t know the breadth and depth of it nor do they really use any more than a couple of web tools on a daily basis. I guess this is obvious to many of you who have been engaging with web tools and web based learning for a long time but I’m still new to this revelation.

In reflecting further on this I really shouldn’t have delved straight into individual student blogging. Spending time reading other blogs and simply commenting is the best way to go. I should have also done my part in keeping the central drama blog up to date along with the kids.

Time is something I do feel pressured by and I do find critical reflection and appreciation in drama can get lost by the wayside when you are dealing with student’s who have behaviour problems, learning difficulties or simply do not like having to write.

What I have learnt though and I what I need to get better at, is really sticking to keeping the last 15-20 minutes of a lesson (mine are 75mins so adjust accordingly) for writing activities. Unfortunately, getting student’s to do this kind of reflective work at home is not an option at my school. If you can do it though, go for it. It is ideal because then you really can concentrate on practical activities. Getting into habits, such as writing for the last part of the lesson,  is a basic teaching rule and one that I think can be forgotten in Drama classrooms because of the practical nature of our subject.

The way the student’s have completed their “blog logs” for drama is based on a template I gave them which I will share in another post.

For web tools and ICT to work in the Drama classroom, I believe teachers need to allocate appropriate amounts of time to appreciation, critical study and simply writing to ensure student’s are getting into effective habits that will assist them to process the thoughts and experiences of the practical classroom and then to eventually share that with the world of the Internet.

Lesson Lovenotes: The Theatre of the Absurd, Teaching Suggestions and Resources

I recently posted some teaching and learning activities for the teaching of Dada Performance Art in the classroom. I mentioned in the post that Dada is an excellent pre-cursor to teaching The Theatre of the Absurd. Here are some of the strategies I like to use in the classroom when teaching The Theatre of the Absurd to my students.

Introduction to The Theatre of the Absurd

There are two main concepts students need to understand in order to start to understand the basic ideas behind The Theatre of the Absurd:

  1. The random, lack of connection between actions, objects and words.
  2. The playfulness between the actors in being able to convey this randomness.

The first point links to the social, cultural, historical and philosophical viewpoint of Absurdists. The second links to the execution of this philosophy by the Absurdists.

Remembering that drama is a visual medium, it is important to understand the viewpoints of the Absurdists. However, the intricacies of the execution with which they manifest their beliefs through their plays is what is of real interest. You want your students to be able to identify these, interpret and perform them in new and existing ways and to also be critical of them and review and appreciate the process of making an Absurdist performance.

There are two activities I always like to use in the classroom to convey this.

1. A Non-Sensical Scene: Place a number of random objects around the room. Have each student line up at the entrance to the classroom. Each student must take a turn at entering the space, picking up an object and using it in a way that it would not normally be used. Secondly, students pair up. The first of the pair enters the room and picks a different random object and uses it in a way it wouldn’t normally be used. As they are doing this the second of the pair comes into the space and whispers a line of dialogue into their partner’s ear. It should have nothing to do with the object or what the person is doing with the object. The person then says it aloud. It is important at this point to have the students discuss their experiences of the exercise. Use questions that engage them with the idea and the connection that what appears on stage is not literally what is intended. Often something different may be meant.

2. Watch Clips of Absurdist Scenes: In the years since Beckett, Albee and Ionesco many have treaded the boards of Absurdism. These include the Marx Brother’s, Abbott and Costello and of course Monty Python’s Flying Circus. There are several excellent clips on YouTube that show what an Absurdist piece can look like but the key concept to be drawn from these clips at this point in the students learning is that commonly, not always, but commonly, Absurdist plays featured two main, male characters who were seemingly clown-like.

Before viewing these clips may I also suggest rather than watching the clips straight from YouTube you consider downloading them and saving them permanently on your computer. I have written a post about this previously that you may be interested in to help you with this.

The Marx Brother’s – A Day at the Races

Monty Python’s Flying Circus – The Dead Parrot

Abbott and Costello – Who’s on First?

Working Through the Concepts

There are some pretty heavy concepts dealt with in the Theatre of the Absurd. In particular, their philosophical viewpoint, the idea of existentialism. Consider starting your theoretical study of Absurdism with a discussion about this. Link to the Wikipedia page or perhaps consider the use of another video to get the students thinking about what it is. Essentially what they must understand is that Absurdists believed life had no purpose or meaning and only till you experienced anything could you place meaning onto it and what it means to you may be different to someone else.

Other things to consider in your theoretical study include:

  • The historical context: Absurdism was a creation born out of WWII. Get students to consider the effect the war had on people at the time and why some people may have felt it necessary to create theatre like this.
  • The social/cultural context: Absurdism was not well received by theatre audiences. Have students consider (and perhaps research) what kinds of plays people had been watching up until then and the kinds of expectations they had of an evening at the theatre and why this (Absurdist Theatre) was so outrageous at the time.

Acting It Out

Next comes the fun part 🙂 The experiential learning. Students need to be up and actively engaging with the texts language and stage directions in order to fully understand the purpose and dramatic meaning of the text. Most of the suggestions below are based around Waiting for Godot but can certainly be adapted to suit any of the other texts available for study. Consider the following:

1. Pick a play: There are heaps to choose from including most famously Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (notice my tree reference in the image above), The Zoo Story by Edward Albee, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard. I prefer to use Waiting for Godot because there is a lot of material available on this play both online and in books. Ensure also that you are able to study the play chosen because certain syllabi have text lists and texts are not be studied across more than one curriculum area.

2. Moved Reading + Video: Have the students perform a moved reading of the script. Alternate students playing each of the parts at different times during the play and alternate students to also read the stage directions (these prove very important later on in the experiential study of the plays). If you can source a video of the play, watch it after the moved reading. Personally, I prefer to watch the film at the end of the unit because I like to see how the kids interpret the dialogue and stage directions without the films impressions in their minds but that is a decision best left to you, the teacher.

3. Clowning Workshop: After the students have read the play I delve into getting the students to understand and interpret the relationship between the characters. Many of the Absurdist plays, as mentioned above, tend to centre around two main, male characters. The dialogue is like a tennis ball bouncing between them and the ins and outs of their relationship are moulded by it. The clowning workshop looks at interpreting the physicality of each role. Look at facilitating certain activities such as master/servant, look at the different types of clowns, the way they dress, speak, walk, stand, show facial expressions, enact with other clowns (consider slap stick and tricks here like falls etc). Have students create their own clown character. Pair them up with another student and get them to create a short skit that demonstrates some of the elements explored in the workshop. To take the workshop one step further, have the students apply their knowledge of clowns to specific scenes from the play. Incorporate props (e.g. the bowler hats that Estragon and Vladimir wear). Have the students perform it to the class and have them discuss the effects of the performance on the audience in terms of dramatic meaning and the relationship between characters.

4. Voice/Dialogue Workshop: Similar to the clowning workshop and linking some of the elements of the voice workshop mentioned in my Dada post, choose sections of dialogue to experiment with pitch, pace, pause, tone etc. Pitch and pause are two commonly used conventions in Absurdist plays. Another one is intonation and punctuation. A fantastic example of this is Lucky’s speech towards the end of Act 1 in Waiting for Godot. There is not a single punctuation mark for over two pages. Many students will interpret it as being read in one long, fast, continuous breath. However, watching various interpretations and trying to work out what it could mean to Lucky generates some interesting interpretations and deliveries of his dialogue.

And The Rest…

In addition to all of that it’s a good idea to look at the following:

  1. Biblical Allusions: In Waiting for Godot there are many. Have the students find out what they mean and why they have been referenced.
  2. Who is Godot?: Obviously this is specific to Waiting for Godot but it is an essential question to ask. Also, whether or not he is in fact real needs discussing.
  3. Dramatic Form: The cyclical nature of the play both in Act 1 and Act 2 are relevant and link in with the Absurdist philosophy of existentialism. Explore this.
  4. Elements of Production: Minimal sets, lighting, sound and costumes are used. Have students look at pictures of past productions or use the stage directions or inferences to set pieces in the stage directions as a means of discussing the dramatic meaning for the audience.

I hope you found these suggestions helpful. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated. Please leave your feedback in the comments below.

Image Credits:

3005 Waiting for Godot, melomys, Licensed Under Creative Commons: Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)