D-ram-ata: Using Data in the Drama Classroom!

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Self-assessment and peer-assessment play a very important role in the Drama classroom. Getting into the habit of constantly reflecting on one’s performances and the performances of others is paramount to learning how to think like an artist. Ever since the introduction of iPads in our school, I have made use of eLearning tools to facilitate the processes of self-assessment and peer-assessment in my drama classes. One of my favorite tools is Google Forms.

Before class, I would create a form with the indicators that need to be self- or peer-assessed (examples of each attached: peer assessment form and self assessment form), and then QR-code the link to these forms. Before the performances, students would scan the QR code and gain access to the Google Form. I would instruct them to read the form and have a think about the criteria upon which they are assessing themselves and/or their classmates. After watching the performances, students would then fill out the relevant form and click ‘Submit’.

When I started using Google Forms, the process would end there: clicking ‘Submit’. I would then encourage them to write a short reflection on their self- or peer-assessment and keep it in their folios. However, I felt like this data that I’m collecting in spreadsheets is so valuable and gives me such a great insight into the students’ feelings about their creations in the drama classroom (my undergrad degree had a huge ‘statistics component’ so I actually get really excited about ‘data’!).

I wanted to share those insights with the students, but didn’t really know how to make it relevant. Until one day, I decided to actually show my students the ‘summary of their responses’ (I have attached a PDF of such a summary generated by Google Forms, scroll down to see how data is represented visually). Google Forms has a wonderful feature where it summarises responses as bar-charts, and I showed these bar-charts to the students. Their initial reaction was: ‘Sirrrrr this is DRAMA not MATHS!’ We looked at some of these indicators and discussed the meaning of the data. What does it mean when the indicator ‘I projected my voice well enough during my performance’ got a 50% response of ‘sometimes’, and a 25% response of ‘usually’? It means that we need to have a discussion about voice projection and ways to improve it! So, we started going through these bar-charts and discussing the areas where we, as a class, may need to work on, whether it’s voice projection, or use of the performance space, or use of facial expressions.

I have found that this approach really got the students thinking about indicators they need to pay more attention to in order to develop as performing artists. The students realized that they weren’t alone, and that there are others in the classroom who struggle with the same skills, and it was done anonymously through Google’s wonderful ‘summary of responses’ feature! The students now actually request that I show them a summary of the responses whenever we use Google Forms in the drama class!

It has been said that feedback is the main driver behind learning; and this is a great example of how data can be used to give meaningful and timely feedback that can move the students’ learning forward!

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.

To reward or to punish?

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For someone who has had the pleasure of teaching a wide variety of subjects (namely: economics, business studies, statistics, humanities, English/ESL and Drama), I believe classroom management in a drama classroom is a bigger challenge than the others. Firstly, the environment is a lot more open and students are not seated on desks and chairs, which can be an intimidating factor for a lot of teachers. Secondly, drama activities and processes are often noisy and require teachers that are comfortable with noisy classrooms and know how to handle them. Thirdly, drama activities often push students to a level of self-awareness that they do not experience often and this can make a lot of them uncomfortable, which often translates in them playing up in an attempt to hide their self-consciousness.

An added challenge for me is the fact that drama is only timetabled as one double-period for every class per week, and we are expected to assess every criterion at least twice during a semester. When the teacher factors in the periods that will be lost due to excursions or public holidays or school events, or even absences, in the end you are left with approximately 16 double-periods per class per semester (each double-period is about 90 minutes long). Also, assessments should be carried out prior to writing reports which is during the sixth and seventh weeks of the term. Therefore, I often feel like I am racing to teach the content and skills, get the students to practice and apply those skills enough times, and then assess the drama process, and classroom management can often slow that down drastically and makes it more challenging.

Over my teaching experience, I have come to learn, adapt and create a number of classroom rules and procedures to make classroom- (and behavior-) management more ‘manageable’. I have learned to keep the rules simple and easy to remember. I have read that rules should be no more than five. I have come to know that rules should tell students what to do as opposed to what not to do, so instead of saying ‘don’t hit, kick or punch other classmates’, apparently it’s better to say ‘keep hands and feet to yourself’. I took every bit of advice I came across and I tried to adapt it in my classroom. I can say I am pleased with my ability to manage my classroom now, however, it still is a challenge that never ends.

For me, one of the most challenging aspects of classroom management is what behaviors to reward, when and how, and what behaviors to punish, when and how. In a class of 25 students, it is hard to keep track of positive and negative behaviors and to respond to every one of them. Of course, as humans, we tend to notice negative behaviors more than we do the positive ones, so teachers must be conscious and careful of that tendency. I have come to devise a few positive consequences for good behavior, and negative consequences for bad behavior.

Positive consequences for good behavior

1- Verbal Praise: simple, kind words of recognition for a student’s work or behavior go a very long way.
2- Using the Whiteboard: I have found that writing a list of students who are ‘on-task’ or ‘appear to be working well’ on the whiteboard can accomplish a lot. Students notice when others receive this recognition and try to imitate their behavior in order to get their names written up on the whiteboard. I also occasionally review and revise this list throughout the lesson to add more students or remove students who may have started to get distracted or off-task.
3- Merit Points: since I teach middle schoolers now, this system seems to work very well. I always inform my students what sort of behaviors will warrant a merit point at the end of the lesson, and tell them that they will be assigned during the last couple of minutes before the bell.
4- Merit Certificates: I try to keep a track of the upcoming year-level assemblies and prepare some merit certificates for the best students, usually they are the ones that have gathered the most merit points in the classes. These certificates are signed by the year-level coordinator and so that adds more recognition to them.
5- Stickers: sounds cliche, but yes it still works! I had my year 10s begging me for stickers last year.

I generally do not like to give material prizes like candy or stationary because I believe in intrinsic motivation, and I aim to build that in my students. Also, there are so many food allergies now, so one has to be very careful about any food brought into the classroom.

Negative consequences to correct certain behaviors

Behavior regulation chart: I have a poster chart on the whiteboard with six columns: name, warning, time-out, behavior-reflection form, behavior-checklist sent home, detention. It looks something like this:

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This chart is printed, laminated and hung up on the whiteboard top-right corner. The students are taught early on, and constantly reminded of, what sort of behaviors are acceptable and what sort of behaviors are not. The teacher can just write the name of the student and then tick the appropriate column. It’s best to start with a warning, and quietly inform the student what behavior you are warning against (make it short and simple, and so as not to embarrass the student, do it quietly between you two only). If the student does not self-correct, you can then choose the most appropriate consequence depending on the behavior. It’s very important to practice consistency: if talking-out-of-turn warrants a warning followed by a behavior reflection survey, then stick to it with all other students. This can be quite challenging as you will have some days where you might be more anxious or tense, but always try to be consistent and fair.

It is also very important to always have a quiet one-on-one chat with the student at a time when his/her peers are not around, where you can question the student to probe the reasons behind him/her choosing to behave that way. Keep this chat friendly but firm, and do not let it turn into an interrogation. You want the student to know that you have nothing against them personally, but it’s rather their behavior that you want to change or correct.

The behavior-reflection form was an idea I got from lauracandler.com and it looks like this:

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Not all incidents will require getting a parent’s signature. When I need a parent’s signature (which is usually the next step if the behavior continues) I often send home a behavior-checklist that looks like this:

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I still haven’t decided what is the best way to use this behavior regulation chart, is it best to make it progressive, where students take a step up the punishment ladder every time the behavior continues? Or can I reserve the right to choose the consequence to my judgment (after giving the warning of-course)? Richard Curwin wrote a very nice article about how the progressive system isn’t always fair.

What other positive and negative consequences do you use with your classes to reinforce positive behavior and correct negative behavior? What strategies do you use to stay consistent with your classes and to manage their behaviors?