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!

‘Instant Edmodo How-to’ by Dayna Laur

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Edmodo has become very popular as the Learning Management System (LMS) of choice for many schools and teachers around the world. I can not think of any reason why that would not be the case: Edmodo offers a free and user-friendly service. Dayna Laur, a social studies teacher with 14 years of classroom experience, has created a wonderful how-to eBook demonstrating the steps taken to integrate this LMS in the classroom. The eBook, titled ‘Instant Edmodo How-To‘ is targeted at educators and administrators, and is written using very simple language, outlining clear & detailed steps for performing a wide variety of functions using the Edmodo LMS. I would highly recommend reading the eBook for teachers who wish to become more familiar with using Edmodo in their classrooms.

The eBook contains 14 short chapters, each with a different focus. For example, there is a chapter titled ‘Setting up your Profile’ which outlines the steps involved in creating and building your teacher profile on Edmodo. The chapters are also labelled ‘simple’, ‘intermediate’ or ‘advanced’, depending on the level of tech-savviness of the reader, or their level of comfortability with the platform. Each chapter follows the same structure: a short introduction to the Edmodo function or feature, followed by a ‘Getting Ready‘ section to outline prerequisite steps, then a ‘How to do it‘ section listing the steps in a summarized format, followed by a ‘How it works‘ section explaining the steps in more detail. The last part of every chapter has a ‘There’s more‘ section that offers further features or steps for the teacher that would like to try them out.

Dayna Laur has written the eBook using very simple language that I believe is accessible to all educators, regardless of their ICT knowledge or expertise. I also believe her style of writing is very practical and not too technical, and the steps outlined or explained in every chapter follow a very logical sequence. Organizing all chapters using the same structure also helps the reader follow the instructions, and be able to easily identify areas where they might need more reading. Additionally, the eBook is full of screen-shots that help the reader with following the steps outlined in each chapter. The formatting of the eBook is also very appealing to me as a reader: the use of clear sub-headings, the font size, and the appropriate use of ‘bold‘ font and numbered lists. I would definitely recommend Dayna Laur’s ‘Instant Edmodo How-To‘, as I believe it is a useful guide ‘for educators who intend to use Edmodo for instructional support in classrooms or in professional development sessions’.

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Technology vs. Teachnology: eLearning in moderation?

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I am a big proponent of eLearning and mLearning. There, I said it! However, I often receive comments from people saying “those kids are not necessarily learning more when they’re eLearning” or “eLearning is destroying those kids’ spelling abilities because of autocorrect and text-talk” or “eLearning will lead to a loss of lots of essential motor skills like handwriting because of all that touch-typing” etc… The list of Armageddon-like scenarios people creatively conjure up is endless! I believe some of these concerns are valid, but can also be completely blown out of proportion.

eLearning and mLearning offer benefits for educators such as saving paper, higher student engagement, immediate student response systems, fast feedback, portability, mobility and many more. Students can also learn at their own pace, and connect with a global audience. Lots of eLearning tools also allow students to create many things: animated movies, blogs, podcasts, vodcasts, screencasts, ebooks, comics etc… However, I am also a proponent of using everything “in moderation”. While using these educational-technology tools enriches the learning experience of students in many ways, it still does not replace teachers, and it certainly does not entail we throw all our old practices out the window.

I do believe it is still important to expect students to write every once in a while, instead of type. Not every Art project has to be on the iPad, as hand-drawing on paper also offers a lot of benefits for the child’s sensory-motor development. Not every project or assignment has to be submitted in electronic format. Sometimes receiving a good poster about the topic where the student actually wrote down their understanding, and used REAL scissors and glue to cut and paste pictures, can be as rewarding a learning experience as a virtual poster using Google Images and typed up paragraphs.

Web 2.0, mobile devices, tablets, interactive whiteboards are all TOOLS. Any skilled teacher should have a whole TOOLBOX of diverse tools, with edu-technology being a part of many others in that toolbox. Not all books have to be ebooks, not every written word has to be typed, not every assignment has to be electronic, not every discussion has to be online, and so on… Students need to learn a very large range of skills to be able to cope with the demands of the modern workplace, but not all these skills can necessarily be taught with a sole-reliance on educational technology tools. Teachers have to find the right balance between edtech and non-edtech learning experiences, so that our students are as well-prepared for life beyond the classroom as possible!

iGeneric: how can teachers incorporate iPad in all subject areas?

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A group of science teachers were sitting around on the staff room table. They were having a faculty meeting. One of them said, “I found this great app about biological cells! We can use this to teach the unit about cells!”. Another one responded by saying “This app I stumbled upon yesterday is amazing for teaching about the periodic table!”. The conversation went on for quite some time, only to end with one of them saying “there aren’t that many apps that can be used to teach Science”. This is when I intervened!

What I observed was a number of teachers who flicked through the chapters of the textbook, and then tried to find an iPad app to replace each chapter. I believe this approach is very limiting, and does not allow for full utilization of the iPad as a tool. I teach drama, and none of the apps I use in my classroom have anything to do with drama!

In Andrew Douch’s words, the iPad is a “Swiss-army knife” of tools! Subject-specific apps are great, but generic apps are even greater! There’s so much you can do in every subject with just a bunch of generic and cheap/free apps! Using the iPad in the classroom does not just mean using apps that are subject-specific. It is more useful to think of learning processes and activities, and how the iPad can facilitate these learning activities, not replace the designated reference used in the subject (i.e. textbook).

Here are some generic learning activities (or learning processes) that can incorporate the iPad, and using apps that are not subject-specific:

1- Documentation: the iPad has a Camera. So what? Before iPads, students may have been asked to use digital cameras, and then connect them to a laptop/desktop, import their photos/videos and so on. There were a lot of steps involved, and more than one device. The iPad eliminates all these steps. In science classes, the students could shoot video footage of their science experiments. In art classes, the students could take snapshots of their artwork at different stages of the creation process. In maths classes, students could take snapshots of the whiteboard to keep a visual record of the steps a teacher took to solve an equation. The students can also keep video footage of class discussions or group work for their documentation. Realistically, the ability to shoot video/take photos anytime and anywhere, without having to import them on another device later, is a great advantage for any subject area.

2- Reflection: the iPad can make student-reflections easier and more suited to their learning styles. Students can use an app like Evernote to keep reflection notebooks/journals. Evernote notebooks allow inserting text, photos (from the Camera-roll), voice notes, checkboxes, and locations. Therefore, students can reflect in oral or written format, and supplement their reflections with photos and screenshots. An app like ShowMe can also facilitate reflection, as students insert photos of different parts of the learning process and doodle over them, while also recording their voice. Reflection has a role (or should have a role) in all subject areas, and so these apps/learning activities can be used in whatever class.

3- Discussion: this is not necessarily an advantage of the iPad itself, but the iPad does facilitate discussion by allowing mobile access to several discussion platforms. Students can have back-channel discussions on Edmodo while a teacher is explaining a lesson. Twitter hash-tags can also be used to encourage back-channel discussions, or even a Facebook page. Whatever the subject area is, these apps/tools can facilitate discussion in any class.

4- Formative Assessment: being able to gauge the students’ learning while it’s still occurring is a very useful thing for teachers. Again, it’s not a characteristic of the iPad itself that makes it easier to make formative assessments, but its mobility and portability, as well as a range of apps that facilitate the process. An app like Socrative allows students to ‘click’ their answers as a teacher poses a question, and also allows teachers to create and assign quizzes, and exit slips. The teacher could also poll the class quickly before deciding the next course of action. Socrative will automatically send the teacher an e-mail with a spreadsheet report of the answers. Also, the statistics can be displayed directly on the app to show the class and prompt further discussion to correct misguided learning. The teacher just downloads the Socrative Teacher Clicker and creates a free account. The students then download the Socrative Student Clicker and join the teacher’s room, no sign-in or registration required. Socrative can be used in any subject area, as it is not subject-specific.

5- Creation: as Andrew Douch wrote, the iPad is a “Swiss-army knife of content-creation tools“. I have written a post previously about using the iPad to encourage creation in the classroom. In this post, you will find several non-subject specific apps that teachers can use to get their students creating blogs, wikis, animated cartoons, comics, podcasts, screencasts, videos/movies, ebooks, ePortfolios, and much more. These content-creations can be used in all subject areas. Students can create podcasts in science class explaining main concepts, or comics in history class to describe a historical event, or animated cartoons in geography class where they are interviewing a famous geographer, or screencasts in Maths class to explain steps taken to solve a mathematical problem etc…

To conclude, I would like to encourage teachers to explore the apps mentioned in this post, as well as any linked posts. Below is a screenshot of many apps that can be used in meaningful learning activities, and none of these apps are subject-specific!

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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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iClassroom iManagement – tips for managing an iPad classroom

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So, every school now is rolling out their own BYOD and 1-to-1 programs. Mobile learning (mLearning) is the new black! Whether it is just a fad or not, mobile devices change the way the class runs, and they change the way students learn. Many teachers, from my experience, cite too many problems with using iPads in their classroom, most of them related to classroom management. As an eLearning leader, I get a lot of questions like ‘how do I guarantee the students are on-task?’, or ‘how do I make sure they don’t play games?’, or ‘how do I make sure I can maintain their attention when I need it?’. Reality is, these devices can be very distracting to adults even, let alone school-aged kids and teens. I have gathered a bunch of tricks throughout my teaching experience that I would like to share:

1- Set clear expectations: a lot of classroom management challenges can easily be overcome by setting clear guidelines and expectations for iPad use. Regularly remind your students of the school’s mobile learning policies and ‘acceptable use’ policies. Communicate your expectations about iPad-use at the beginning of every task. Simply saying ‘I expect you to be working on this app until you submit the work and receive my feedback’ will keep most students on-task. Also, talk to them about trust and how you ‘trust’ that they know what they should be doing. I would also advise teaching a clear non-verbal signal that means ‘put your iPads down and give me your full attention’. Ringing a bell three times, for example, is the signal I use.

2- Let go of control: mobile devices can be distracting and they can empower students to do many things, and that challenges the traditional role of the teacher as the centre of the students’ attention and the main source of knowledge and information. Introducing personal learning devices like the iPad can make learning messier and noisier, but that does not mean that the learning is not happening. Fact is, education shouldn’t be about teacher-control anymore, teachers need to embrace their roles as ‘facilitators’ and ‘managers’ more.

3- Differentiate the task: if a student is disengaged from a task and seems to be easily distracted, ask them for reasons. It might be that he/she doesn’t want to type an essay using Pages, but rather prepare a screencast using ShowMe? It might be that they prefer using another app that accomplishes the same thing you requested, not the app you recommended? Give the students options and choices about how they can go about and demonstrate their learning.

4- Explore gaming: see how you can bring gaming into the classroom. Students often feel like school content can be very disconnected from their lives. Lots of teachers talk about gaming as just a waste of time, but fact is there is research that proves the value of bringing gaming into the classroom. Use different characters in games and their voices/body language to get students thinking about characterization in drama, and the elements of a narrative (as a lot of games are based on a story). Think about how ‘Angry Birds’ can be used to teach some concepts in physics. Use scrabble-like games in English classes. Whatever the subject, I’m sure you can find one or two games to relate. Additionally, those games need not take up the whole lesson, they could just be quick warm-ups or even rewards for students who finish early but still produce high-quality work (i.e. whose work is not just rushed so they can play games).

5- Assign group roles: the iPad is meant to encourage collaboration, and I am a big proponent of collaborative learning. When I run a lesson that requires the iPad, I design the task so that only one group member needs their iPad, then I would rotate that group member in consecutive tasks (so that other students also get to use their iPad). For example, in a brainstorm task, I would give the questions to the group and ask them to brainstorm on a poster paper (to be hung up in class) while one group member is responsible for reporting the group’s findings on a typewith.me pad or Google Form. Additionally, you can pick another group member to visualize the brainstorm on a mind-mapping app. It’s easier to manage an iPad classroom when only a few students are holding the iPad at a time, not the whole class.
See if you can design tasks where all group members can work on different stages using their iPads. For example, one group member brainstorms with the group using their iPad. The next group member is responsible for taking photos and documenting rehearsal. The following group member is responsible for shooting video of the performance and uploading it on the class YouTube channel, and so on. Each group member is also responsible for uploading or embedding the evidence they collect onto the group’s shared blog or Evernote shared notebook, or any other form of group portfolio, so that they can all have the same evidence to document their learning. Also, you can design the task so students each work on a part and pass one iPad around, while doing something else when they are not holding the iPad. I have found that it is easier to manage the class and ensure that they are on-task when I can only see five or six iPads around the room at a time (in a class of 25 students).

6- Circulate around the room: I have seen many teachers who like to teach from their desk. I personally believe this cannot be done with iPads in the classroom. I believe the teacher must walk around the classroom and circulate often when students are working individually. That gives the students the idea of ‘teacher-with-it-ness’ and encourages them to be on-task. Also, arrange the classroom in a way that allows all or most devices to be in view.

7- Prepare backup plans: last semester, I designed a really cool rubric using Numbers (the spreadsheet app). The students were to use this rubric to assess themselves. I uploaded the file on Edmodo, shared it with the class and thought everything was under control. However, many students couldn’t open it because it required the latest version of Numbers, which many of them didn’t have (students don’t always regularly update their apps and their iOS software either). Luckily, I had a few printed copies. Technology does let us down sometimes. The most important thing is: don’t panic in front of students and relax, show them that you control the technology, not the other way around.

8- Use games as an incentive: many teachers I meet disagree with this approach, but I still firmly believe in it. We have to teach our students that there is a time for work and and a time for play, and we need to model that in our classrooms. I always tell my students that they can have free-time to spend on their iPad when they finish their work and it is of ‘high quality’. That ‘high quality’ disclaimer is to encourage them not to rush to finish the task, and it reserves room for your judgment on the quality of their work. I often try to find one or two things they can do to improve their work first before allowing them that free time on the iPad, or even nicely asking the student who finished to help another struggling student for a few minutes first before getting free time.

9- Teach responsibility: ultimately, we need to teach students to be responsible for their own learning. Mobile devices empower the students with a lot of tools that can be useful for learning, but at the end of the day, they have to make the choice of learning or not. I constantly remind my students that ‘I’m responsible for my own teaching, you are responsible for your own learning’. Talk to them about making choices and the consequences of these choices. If they allow themselves to get distracted, ask them to give suggestions for helping them stay on-task, so they feel they have more responsibility over the situation.

10- Use ‘Guided Access’: I have never used ‘Guided Access’ in my class because it is the last resort in my arsenal of strategies. Basically, ‘Guided Access’ is a feature that came with the iOS 6 update where you can disable certain hardware buttons on the student’s iPad (like the home button and lock button for example), and also keep the student focused on one app or one part of the screen. I would advise that you only resort to this strategy when all else fails, and only with the most challenging student/s who just can not stay on-task (keep in mind that this strategy does not teach responsibility and trust). You can also disable the touch-screen through ‘Guided Access’ if you just want the student to focus on reading. Remember to always give a warning first to the student before you resort to ‘Guided Access’. A lot of students fear losing full control over their iPad when you warn them that you will resort to ‘Guided Access’ if they do not stay on-task. Here is a screencast explaining how to use ‘Guided Access’:

To conclude, managing a classroom that uses iPads or other mobile devices presents challenges that are different to traditional classroom challenges. I am constantly seeking suggestions, ideas, and practical tips from other teachers, so please feel free to leave a comment. Happy iPad-ing!