Using ALARM in the Drama Classroom

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My latest explorations in the Drama classroom have revolved around the drama essay and improving the literacy of my students as well as the quality of the writing tasks I ask my students to produce during class.

In introducing you to ALARM it would be worth starting at the finished product before moving back towards the beginning of the process. Have a look at Max Wood’s video below. The matrix that he talks about is what you are aiming for your students to be able to produce independently. Eventually.

Why, eventually? Well, the thing I’ve learnt from these matrices (and I’ve made a couple now) is that before you get your students to create one, you will need to create one for yourself so you know exactly where your kids are heading. That’s when it can seem a little overwhelming. In all honesty, I would say it requires an initial outlay of time (I’m talking a good 2-3 hours) to produce the resource and get your head round how to deliver it to your kids. Once you’ve done it though, you’re set. You will save yourself hours of work later on.

It’s a HUGE area and one that its creator, Max Woods, is much better at explaining than I am so I’ll just direct you to his multitude of YouTube clips to help you familiarise yourself with the matrix and how it is put together.

Here’s a quick intro vid from Max himself:

 

I do think this kind of matrix is worthwhile. It makes you think in the way that your kids need to. It develops the thinking skills needed to apply the content. The content means very little if it isn’t applied in the right way and I think that’s where a lot of our drama kids miss the mark. I really feel this is avoidable. In my teaching I know I don’t commit as much time to theory as I should. The kids are generally fairly reluctant and many in the course are not the most skilled writers so it feels like a chore. I plough on through but I feel the resistance.

At the moment I’m trying to reintroduce the matrices back into my teaching but also more specifically look at direction words and their influence on guiding students to write a response. From this I’m also looking at how these direction words could be more influential in directing the types of responses we ask our students to produce in their logbooks after a workshop or whilst devising or rehearsing.

To some degree I think we do skip over the direction words of questions when we’re teaching, assuming that our kids already know what they mean. We then launch into a structure and direction that is going to ensure that the content is sandwiched in as best as possible not really realising that the direction word probably has an influence on this structure in the first place.

I really feel that refining this area could mean the difference between one result or another one that is higher. It only needs to be a few marks that do it too. Coupling this kind of teaching with the appropriate choice of theory topic and well designed experiential learning could mean essay success! Well, this is what I am hoping for certainly.

I’m in the process of developing these skills with my Year 11 students so I will share some of the resources as I go. I’m also looking to backward map this in the Stage 5 drama units and assessment tasks as well as incorporating the literacy continuum. I’ll try to keep you posted with resources as I go.

HSC Drama: Writing a Workshop Reflection

I mentioned yesterday that I would post the scaffold I use to get students writing after an experiential workshop.

I learnt this structure from @loucopoulos at his professional learning day on writing the essay for the HSC Drama exam so I take absolutely no credit for this. I’ve been trying it out this year with my seniors and it seems to be working. It’s a simple enough structure that is getting the kids writing about what they have done experientially in class and is connecting it with the themes and issues in a much more effective way.

Start by giving your students a question to respond to. For example, I mentioned in my post yesterday about activities you could use to introduce Ruby Moon. These are specifically getting the students to look at the themes and issues in the play of Australia’s identity, suburban paranoia and missing children. Your question could be something like:

What are your initial impressions of Ruby Moon and how do these contribute to your understanding of the issues and concerns in the play?

1. Answer the question in a sentence or two.

2. Elaborate on that answer by explaining it.

3. Use a workshop example in a quick recount.

4. What insights does that example provide?

To reiterate, the idea behind the structure is to help students better incorporate their experiential learning and make better connections to the issues and themes as well as the elements of drama.

This is how I would respond to the question using the scaffold, indicating in brackets at the end of the sentence when I have addressed each part of the scaffold (remembering also that you can say “I”):

The initial impression I get of Ruby Moon by Matt Cameron is one of darkness and mystery (1).

This is because the plot mirrors the familiar fairytale/fable of Little Red Riding Hood and looks at the consequences of a missing child on a couple as well as their neighbourhood. This fairytale, both traditionally and over time has been manipulated and at the core contains a dark, moral message. The idea of a missing child creates a feeling of unease and when delving further into the make-up of a neighbourhood it becomes clear that many people do not really know their neighbours (2).

In a series of activities as part of a class workshop, my class looked at two different versions of Little Red Riding Hood and the aspects that had been “fractured” or manipulated in each version and what impression was left for the audience of the characters, story and moral message. We discussed how this links in to the themes and issues in the play that we had read about: Australia’s identity, suburban paranoia and missing children. We researched a number of different missing Australian children and discussed the circumstances behind their disappearance focusing in particular on the parent’s role and who the abductors usually were. Finally, this lead to a discussion about our own neighbourhoods, what they look like, sound like and feel like (3).

Through these exercises I was able to get a better sense of the issues and concerns that we had read about in preparation for reading the play Ruby Moon. That there is more to Australia than simply white, sandy beaches and at the core of many Australian neighbourhoods and families there is a sense of unease and mystery about our neighbours because of incidences like missing children. That families become “fractured” because of it. That we cannot fully trust people because we don’t really know who they are or what they are thinking and this is a common feeling amongst much of Australian society (4).

I hope my paragraph above makes sense. It’s hard to critique your own writing because I mainly find my faults rather than looking for what I’ve done right. As many of our students do also I’m sure. Feedback is always welcome so please share your thoughts in the comments.

If you get an opportunity, I would highly recommend attending Costa’s course. I found it really helpful. You can find more information about the HSC Essays and Dramatic Practice course here.