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.

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More Theatre of the Absurd Teaching Ideas

One of the posts that seems to get a lot of views here on the blog is the one on suggestions for teaching the Theatre of the Absurd. I taught it again this year and I made a few alterations to my program and tried a few new things. You might like to use these in your class.

1. Focus on Being a Director

I’ve posted previously about how I spent several lessons scaffolding how to write a Director’s Concept. I wanted the students focus to look at the play as directors rather than as students.  I spent a lot more time than I have in the past building a strong understanding of the concepts behind the Theatre of the Absurd in order to more effectively work through into the practical aspects.

2. Workshops that Provoke Insight

I went on some PD last year that suggested a pedagogy of teaching that involved a different structure  to drama lessons so as to ensure experiential learning could be more easily transferred to the written essay. It suggested this idea of workshops that centered around key questions that required the students to have insights based on their practical experience as well as an ability to reflect on these. I structured mine over four lessons and found that they worked really well in being able to better convey these concepts to students. Here is a link to a PDF version of what I gave my students in a booklet: Workshop Series – The Theatre of the Absurd I also gave the students a Workshop Reflection Template to fill in on each of the workshops. The one in the link above is for Workshop 1. I would use the same template for the other three but replace the question as per the Workshop Series worksheet.

3. Devising an Original Absurdist Piece

I revised the assessment task and had the students form pairs. They had two tasks. The first was to write a Director’s Concept for their original Absurdist piece, which was the second part. The piece was to be created using dialogue from Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. It could be used in any order and from any section as long as the sentences were as per the scripted play. The piece also had to demonstrate an understanding of the aspects looked at in the workshops. Some of the pieces that the students came up with were highly engaging.

I’m really pleased with how I taught this unit and think I really delved into the students higher order thinking and insight. I really enjoyed teaching it.

What strategies do you use with your class to teach The Theatre of the Absurd?

Writing a Director’s Concept

I’ve taught the Theatre of the Absurd and I’ve blogged suggestions on some teaching strategies for a unit of work before. I have Year 11 again this year (the first time since 2011) and I really wanted to work on refining my teaching and learning program. I reflect on my programs each and every year and in the time since I last taught Year 11 I have come to a greater understanding of what is key in getting student’s to succeed in the HSC.

In particular, I have stopped calling my student’s “students” and I have started calling them “directors.” I refer to everything they do in class as their “directorial choices”.

This is something that I needed to shift in my own head before I could do the same with my student’s.

Teachers are leaders in the classroom, just as a Director is on a production. In this vein, I needed to stop thinking of myself as a teacher who was teaching content but rather as a Director, teaching other director’s how to create their own original works.

This, for me, has been a significant moment in my development as a drama teacher. In wanting to ensure I was teaching the appropriate content to my student’s I lost sight of the need to remember that Drama and theatre is a creative, fluid process that needs a lot of discussion and thought. The pressures of the syllabus and the term time frame makes this difficult. In shifting my thinking in this way I have felt a renewed energy towards my teaching that encapsulates more of my passion and appreciation for theatre as an artform.

Much of this came about through my undertaking of a Directing for the Stage course at NIDA. An eight week program, it worked through two elements of direction: preparing a vision or concept and working with actors. I was most interested in the preparing of a concept or vision as that is something that my students are required to do as part of their HSC.

My students had been writing these concepts and visions but I don’t think they had quite the amount of depth that they needed to give the student’s a clear and focused direction with which to work on their project. I wanted to structure and refine the development of the student’s thinking so they would be better able to run meaningful rehearsals and communicate articulately with the audience about their piece.

In the HSC the Director’s Concept or Rationale is 300 words and explains the intention of the work. In structuring my student’s writing I was able to structure my student’s thinking. Well, that’s how I approached it anyway. So the scaffold below is for writing a rationale/concept. This lesson took about two 75 minute periods. I wedged it between finishing my mini unit on DADA and placed it just before starting on the Theatre of the Absurd.

The reason for this was because I wanted something tangible with which they could write their practice concept and then use that to help them develop their concept for their Absurdist assessment task.

1. Evoke a Moment from the Piece to Create a Sense of Atmosphere

This is written in a similar fashion to the opening of a theatre review or a descriptive paragraph in a narrative. It visually communicates a moment from the piece. I got my student’s to focus on the opening of their DADA Performances.

2. Form an opinion about the intention of theatre as influenced by your particular theatrical style. Write a statement expressing that.

I asked my student’s: What is it about DADA that has influenced theatre? Why is theatre the way it is because of DADA?

3. Summarise the theatrical style that you have been influenced by. What are the key aspects of that style that you have focused on in your piece?

This could be pulled from a worksheet or textbook you have given your students on the topic you have been studying. In my case I gave them notes about what DADA is, what Theatre of the Absurd is all about (think existentialism) and, for some of them, had them regurgitate exactly what was written in the notes. The stronger student’s will be able to identify which aspect of that philosophy they are wanting to focus on. Maybe even why as well.

4. Discuss how the style influenced your concept.

I encouraged the use of “I” and “we” here. This is where the students start to think about their own thinking process. They are making connections between what they know about the style and they are starting to apply it to their own performance piece. What inital discussions and ideas were had by the students? Why is this of interest to them?

5. Outline the structure of your piece. What happens? What is the key theme, dramatic question that you wish to explore? Why is this piece relevant to your audience now? What do you want your audience to think, feel, do?

These are such key questions when devising any sort of drama. Stronger students should be able to clearly articulate their dramatic question in no more than one or two sentences. A good way to see if this has been achieved is to see if an audience member can articulate another groups concept in their own words. If they too can do it in no more than one or two sentences, the performance has clearly communicated to its audience.

6. How have you attempted to use the elements to convey your message?

Here there should be specific reference made to the elements of drama and why they have been used. I don’t think it is necessary to discuss all of them (because they should all be there) but I do think students should be able to address three to four clearly. If they can’t, they haven’t given their concept enough thought.

The stronger students will write too much and the weaker students will struggle to write much at all, particularly when explaining the use of elements and even even when discussing the intenion of theatre, style and influence on concept. In a follow up lesson, it would be good to look at editing the piece down to fit the intended 300 words.

What do you do to teach Directorial Concept? Share your ideas in the comments.

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/