My Updated Drama Assessment Framework… And the role of the iPad in it?

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I have written previously about my MYP Drama Assessment Framework, and how I worked hard at creating and developing it. In my opinion, the IB-MYP Arts Assessment Criteria leave a lot of room for teachers to be creative and innovative with how they assess student learning, but also provide a solid structure for assessment. Recently though, there have been changes in my teaching environment that have prompted a change to my assessment practices.

Firstly, I am the only drama teacher at the school, and we have four year levels that have drama timetabled as a compulsory subject. This means I have eight classes a week to plan for, teach and assess. If I am not time-efficient with my lesson-planning and assessment practices, I could very easily be bogged-down and overwhelmed, and not have enough time for my other position-of-responsibility (eLearning leader and head of the school’s iPad program). Secondly, three out of those four year levels have iPads.

Previously, I had a task-based assessment approach. I would assign a task per criteria of assessment, for example: a research and oral presentation task to assess criteria A (knowledge and understanding; a detailed written reflection and evaluation to assess criteria C (reflection and evaluation); a major end-of-unit performance task to assess criteria B (application) [after practicing the skills, techniques and processes needed all term through minor performance tasks]. Finally, I would assess criteria D (personal engagement) through my observations and student self-assessment of certain attitudes and behaviors such as group cooperation, audience skills, commitment and effort, confidence and risk-taking, willingness to perform etc…

While this task-based assessment approach seemed to work for a period of time, I did face some issues/problems with it:

1- students did not put in as much effort in the tasks that were not formally assessed
2- students did not gain a sense of ownership of their ‘developmental workbooks’ or drama portfolios (as more focus was given to the task-booklets and task-components)
3- it was hard finding the time to actually communicate the numerical grades to students and give them detailed feedback on each criteria (as that meant I had to conference at least three times per term with each student, once per criteria. It is difficult for me to find the time to do that.)
4- it seemed unfair that a judgement for each criteria was only tied to one assessment task, as opposed to all work done throughout the semester. For example, it did not seem right at first to only assess one written reflection and evaluation for Criteria C (reflection and evaluation) even though the students reflect and evaluate all throughout the term.

Therefore, I decided to move to a more portfolio-based approach. Instead of linking each criteria of assessment to a specific task, I decided to trial an approach where each criteria is linked to a ‘portfolio of artifacts’ that demonstrate these specific competencies, abilities and skills. The students would be given the modified MYP rubrics at the beginning of the course, along with a portfolio self-assessment checklist that covers all strands of each criteria. At the beginning of the course, as opposed to the beginning of each task, I would talk to the students about the assessment criteria and give them examples of artifacts they can add to their portfolio to show evidence for every criteria. I would also constantly remind them of artifacts they need to put in their portfolio as we move between the learning activities. Towards the end of each unit of work, I would then conference with each student and together determine a numerical grade for each criterion based on the evidence in their portfolio.

For the iPad classes, I decided I will use Evernote as the platform for their drama portfolios. Evernote is great because it allows adding photos, audio notes, checklists, text and hyperlinks, which covers pretty much everything (video can be hyperlinked into the portfolio, as Evernote does not as yet allow embedding video into a note through the iPad). The students will create an Evernote workbook and share it with me. Here is the structure I have thought of so far:

1- students create one note in which they attach the drama booklet, which will have the rules for the drama classroom, the drama contract, the rubrics for the assessment criteria, the portfolio self-assessment checklist, and some basic info about certain aspects of the drama classroom. The drama booklet will also have three templates that we use often in the drama classroom: the reflection help-sheet from which students write their four-sentence reflections at the end of every lesson, the peer-evaluation template which students use to evaluate their peers’ performances, and the self-evaluation template which they use to write an evaluation of their own performances. This drama booklet will be a reference that they will refer to frequently.

2- students create three separate notes, each titled: ‘Four-Sentence Reflection – Criteria C (Reflection and Evaluation)‘, ‘Peer-Evaluation – Criteria A (Knowledge and Understanding)‘ and ‘Self-Evaluation – Criteria C (Reflection and Evaluation)‘ respectively. These three written tasks are very ‘routine’ in the drama classroom, and so I have created Google Forms for them. The students fill-in the Google Form for whichever one they are doing, and will be asked to take a screenshot of the form before they submit it so as to keep in their drama portfolio in the relevant note. Students will also add screenshots of self-assessment checklists and peer-assessment checklists to the relevant note, whenever asked to complete one.

3- students add evidence of research about the art form to a note titled ‘Criteria A – Knowledge and Understanding’, where they can add hyperlinks, or annotated screenshots, or answers to comprehension questions. Peer evaluations are also assessed as part of Criteria A.

4- students add evidence for every step of the drama process: planning, preparing, rehearsing, performing, reflecting & evaluating, and this evidence will be used to assess Criteria B – Application. This criteria of assessment focuses more on the skills, techniques and processes used to create drama, and so students can add story-maps or brainstorms, or written/annotated scripts, or storyboards, or sketches of the set/performance space, or rehearsal logs, or group-work logs, or photos/videos of rehearsals and performance, or anything that can demonstrate evidence of the relevant step of the drama process. For every performance activity that we do in class, there will be a focus on one step of the drama process more than the others. For example, for a radio-commercials performance task [in the year 6 Radio Drama unit-of-work], the focus might be on rehearsal and so the students must attach evidence of rehearsal, while for a radio-interviews performance task the focus might be on planning/preparation and so students can attach a script for the interview or a list of questions and answers. The reason I will have only one focus per learning activity is to keep the written component to a level that does not disengage the students who just want to get up and perform, but also to cater to those students who excel in the written components more than the performance aspect of the subjects.

I am really excited about this new assessment framework, and I can not wait to trial it for this coming semester. I would love to hear any feedback or suggestions from readers.

iCreate: How the iPad facilitates content-creation in the classroom?

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Andrew Douch wrote “the iPad is a swiss army knife of content-creation tools”. I read that sentence in his blogpost ‘How an iPad is a More Powerful Content-Creation Device Than a Laptop‘ and realised that he managed to say what I have been trying so hard to say for months, but just couldn’t find the words or gather the courage. I constantly come across teachers who argue that the iPad is very limiting and restricting, and that a laptop is far more superior. I personally disagree, but found it hard to argue my case. Andrew Douch wrote that ‘if professional production quality is your imperative, then the iPad is not your best tool’ and that it may be best to find a more ‘technologically capable’ device. However, he did argue that it is more ‘pedagogically productive’. The paragraph that sums it all up reads as such:

‘But producing comparable creative content on an iPad is relatively quick, simple, yields impressive results with minimal fuss, and the learning curve is … well, there almost isn’t one! There is no need to connect an external microphone (the built-in one is better than that in any laptop), no need to adjust recording levels, no need to use a pop-filter. No need to import media from a recording device to the editing device (becasue they are one and the same), and it’s unnecessary to allow 10 minutes at the end of a class, to save, unplug devices, shut down and stow the laptops. Instead, when the bell sounds, students simply flip their iPad cases closed and walk to the next class!’

And that is the truth, ladies and gentlemen. The iPad combines so many content-creation tools in one device, that it truly is a ‘swiss army knife’. Right there from the same device (without any external supplementary tools, and with a few cheap apps), students have the opportunity to create podcasts, screencasts, movies, blogs, microblogs, websites, eBooks, wikis, electronic portfolios, animated cartoons, comics, annotated PDFs, annotated pictures, photos, paintings, drawings etc… Andrew Douch also wrote that:

We’ve had computers in schools for years, but in reality many (most?) classroom teachers don’t and never did have their students making podcasts, movies, eBooks and websites. Doing so seems too time consuming and for many non-technical teachers the learning curve appears disproportionate to the benefits realised.

Using the iPad will not produce the highest professional quality, but it will make all of these creations much quicker, and easier, and that’s what teachers need to tap into. I wrote this post with the intention of informing my school’s teaching staff of all the possible content-creation apps that I have come across. The apps I mention here are definitely not the only ones that can do what they are designed to, but they are the ones that I am aware of and have previously used. I will divide the list according to its potential for content creation. So, here goes my attempt:

  1. Blogs/websites: I use the WordPress iPad app, as well as the Blogger app for blogging. Generally, I set up the accounts for the students using a class gmail account (due to age restrictions and safety reasons). On a blog, you can have pages, and sub-pages, and you can embed videos, screencasts, photos, files (through Google Drive, for example) and much more, which essentially means it can be both a blog and a website.
  2. Screencasts: My favourites are definitely ShowMe and Explain Everything. ShowMe has the advantage of being an online learning community, and screencasts can be uploaded on a ShowMe profile and then later on embedded on a blog or website. Explain Everything has the advantage of being able to import media such as PDFs or PowerPoints/Keynotes, and annotate over them while recording voice. However, Explain Everything screencasts may need to be uploaded on YouTube or Vimeo first in order to embed them on a blog/website.
  3. Movies/videos: I believe iMovie is by far the easiest to use (though many others disagree). My students use iMovie to create trailers, edited videos, short movies, and photo presentations with music and text. I think all that is quite enough for a classroom activity or task in any subject. Again, uploading these videos/movies on a class YouTube or Vimeo channel can allow embedding them on a blog/website/wiki.
  4. Podcasts: My favourite is Audioboo (but there are many others out there like using Audio Memos along with a Posterous account). My students record their Audioboos and then embed them on their blog/website. Some students also prefer using GarageBand to record audio files, and then import them into iMovie, where they add a picture or some sort of visual element. The students would then upload the podcast onto the class YouTube channel and embed it into their blog/website.
  5. eBooks: I prefer to use Book Creator because it is easy and relatively efficient. You can also embed all sorts of media into your eBook, which a lot of students like to do. eBooks can then be uploaded onto the students’ e-portfolios, or even embedded/hyperlinked onto their blogs/websites.
  6. ePortfolios: A blog, wiki or website can definitely be used as an ePortfolio. But for teachers who may be quite wary about age restrictions or the safety of their students, Google Drive offers huge potential for creating ePortfolios. Just by setting up folders and sharing them with the teacher/s, along with the Google Drive iPad app’s ability to upload all sorts of media (using ‘Open in another app’ functionality from most apps), the student can easily create and share an ePortfolio with the teacher. I have also used Evernote in many of my drama classes and I am a big fan of using Evernote for creating ePortfolios. However, I needed to set up an Evernote premium account and many teachers may refuse to do so.
  7. Animated cartoons: I have three favourites here: Puppet Pals, Sock Puppets, and Toontastic. However, the best in teaching narrative structure is Toontastic, as there are different scenes: set up, conflict, climax, ending, and you can also add music to create different moods/emotions etc… I love using it with my four-year-old nephew just to get him to think about how to structure a story. Toontastic also allows uploading directly on ‘ToonTube‘, and then embedding on a blog/website.
  8. Annotated PDFs/Photos/Pictures: I use Notability for annotating PDFs and Skitch for annotating pictures/photos. Both can produce content that can easily be integrated with Google Drive/Evernote and thus added to the student’s ePortfolio. Worksheets and handouts can now be shared with students as PDF files and then annotated using text, highlighters, markers, pencils, images or shapes, and that is a useful function for all subjects.
  9. Microblogs: I am a big fan of Edmodo, and I am a passionate user of this learning platform. Edmodo can now also make iPad workflow much easier after a recent app update, where files can easily be uploaded through the ‘Open in another app’ functionality. Teachers can also use Twitter and Facebook for micro-blogging in the classroom, but most social-networking policies in schools place many restrictions and challenges when it comes to these tools.
  10. Comics: I often use Strip Designer or Zoodle Comics to encourage students who wish to create comics. Both apps also allow sharing in PDF formats or into the Photo Library/Camera Roll, which can then easily be uploaded on Google Drive or embedded in blogs/websites.
  11. Drawings/Paintings: I have not used many drawing/painting apps, but I generally encourage my students to use Art Set or Penultimate. There are many more, with more specialised features as well. Again, all output can be exported, shared and embedded on blogs/websites.

To conclude, I would like to restate: I am not arguing that only the iPad can allow such content-creation in the classroom, but I do believe these creations are much easier to produce on an iPad than on a laptop or desktop computer (where additional accessories are often required, along with expensive specialised software). The iPad truly is ‘a swiss army knife of content-creation tools‘ as Andrew Douch wrote, and with these words I encourage you all to go forth and iCreate.

iLearned vs. iLearning: Differentiated portfolio assessment with the iPad?

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Differentiated learning is at the heart of my teaching philosophy. I believe teachers need to make a conscious effort to embrace all learning styles in their instruction, and to embed these learning styles in their assessments. I also believe the iPad makes doing so much easier, as it has for me. The iPad, and its enormous range of educational apps, offer multiple ways of teaching. Additionally, a very wide range of creation-apps means that students can create and produce content that suits and caters for their preferred learning style.

Differentiation needs to be equally embedded in assessment as it is in teaching. Students should be given opportunities to demonstrate their learning in a manner that suits their preferred learning style. Giving students tests under exam conditions is not always the ideal way for many students to demonstrate what they have learned. I have argued in an earlier post that teachers need to make more use of alternative assessments and achieve more of a balance between assessments for learning and assessments of learning (which appears to be a lot more prevalent to me). While my main timetabled subject is Drama, I also teach Humanities, English, ESL and the Business Studies. I would like to see more of the assessment practices used in drama in those non-drama classrooms. I have been making an effort to do so myself in my non-drama classes.

I am a big fan of portfolio assessment. The iPad allows the documentation of learning all throughout the learning process, not just the final product, which is exactly what portfolio assessment is about. In the drama classroom, my year 7 students can use their iPads in every stage of the drama process:

  • Planning : a huge variety of brainstorming and mind-mapping apps can be found in the App Store. My favourites are: iBrainstorm and Idea Sketch. Students collaborate in their groups called ‘theatre companies’ (which work very well for the people-smart/interpersonal learner) to brainstorm for their performance based on the prompt assigned or the task given, and then take screen-shots of their brainstorms to share so that each can document evidence of brainstorming in their portfolios (I use shared notebooks with every student through Evernote). This works perfectly for the more visual learners. However, some learners prefer to talk during their brainstorms and keep recorded audio clips on Evernote as evidence of brainstorming, or hyperlinks to an uploaded ShowMe where they screencast their brainstorms (works well for auditory/aural learners).
  • Preparing: the second stage of the drama process requires students to transform their ideas into writing a script or preparing a storyboard. Students can use Evernote or Pages for writing (if they are more word-smart, verbal or linguistic learners), or Storyboards app for preparing a storyboard (if they are more picture-smart or visual learners). ShowMe can also be used to prepare storyboards where students sketch-and-talk how they will go about their performance. Again, whatever is prepared has to be documented in their Evernote portfolio, whether as a note for their script or an embedded screen-shot for their storyboard, or hyperlink for their ShowMe.
  • Rehearsing: I believe the iPad has been most helpful in this stage. Students use the camera to take pictures during their rehearsals or to keep video footage. Watching video footage of their rehearsal allows them to see themselves (very useful for the visual learner) and facilitate reflection and evaluation (for the intrapersonal and reflective learner), so that they can brush up their performances before delivering them to a wider audience. Pictures can easily be embedded into their Evernote portfolio. If videos are kept, the students can upload them onto the class YouTube channel and add hyperlinks to their portfolios. Students can also choose to fill-in this Rehearsal Log and either screen-shot it or attach it to a note in their portfolio.
  • Performing: the students are expected to document their performances through taking video footage. These videos are taken primarily to facilitate student reflection, self-assessment and self-evaluation. Students also use these videos to evaluate their peers. Again, those videos can be uploaded on the class YouTube channel and hyperlinked in their portfolios.
  • Reflecting & Evaluating: students are expected to keep record of their reflections, either in written format (for the word-smart/verbal learner), or oral format (for the auditory/aural learner). Written reflections can automatically be typed in Evernote, and oral reflections can be recorded and embedded right through the Evernote iPad app. I also make sure there is some sort of structure or framework for reflection, so my students use the reflection help-sheet as their guide. Additionally there are many templates that I use for reflection and evaluation and I can easily share them with my classes through Evernote. The students can then take a screen-shot of the template and write over it in Skitch, which can then be embedded into their Evernote portfolio.

Additionally, there are multiple opportunities for students to create media-rich and authentic content in the classroom, whether they use iMovie to create trailers for their performances throughout the semester, or audio podcasts of tips for actors/directors/writers, or screencasts of theoretical material to teach other students and document their learning, or sound effects and background music using GarageBand, or photo collages of their group work, rehearsals and performances using iPhoto or FrameMagic.

While I have described my portfolio assessment practices in the drama classroom, along with my attempts to differentiate to cater for all learning styles, I believe such practices can be replicated in any other subject area. Whether it is video footage of experiments in Science class, audio podcasts of book reviews in English class, screencast videos to explain complex mathematical theories in Maths class, I believe the iPad can be used to differentiate assessment practices. All that needs to be done is to view learning more as a process, and not just the final product, then find ways to document evidence of as many steps of that process as possible.

To conclude, I believe the iPad can be used to teach across all levels of the Bloom’s Taxonomy, with a very wide range of opportunities to create (the highest level of thinking on the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy). Additionally, it can be used to differentiate teaching to cater for all learning styles. However, it is not enough to just use it to differentiate our teaching, our assessment practices need to also be differentiated and the iPad can facilitate this differentiation.

Update 25/05/2013

I delivered a presentation at the ICTEV 2013 conference about this, you can find the PowerPoint I used here.
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