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.

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To drama or not to drama?

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Drama is a very powerful learning tool. There is lots of academic research in education to back this statement up. I will not be presenting arguments to back it up in this post. What I will be discussing is how I made use of drama, as a learning tool, in the other subjects that I teach (other than drama).

I have always been passionate about theatre and drama. But one thing frustrated me: a lot of the theatre programs I participated in, whether as a teacher or a student, were more focused on the show than on the learning experience for the participants. My passion for drama was a lot more educational than it was artistic. Maybe that is why I did not really feel that a career in theatre is what I wanted (and I did experiment with that path for a short period of time).

Also, I wasn’t just satisfied with a career as a drama teacher. I wanted to bring the educational benefits of drama into other subject areas. I wanted to find ways of integrating drama more into other curricula. I set out on a quest to find out how, and I experimented with a lot of tools. This is a post I wrote to share my experiences.

Firstly, there are a lot of theatre or drama conventions/strategies that drama teachers generally use with their students to help them analyze text to build character and to understand motivations and objectives. My first experiment with taking these tools outside the drama classroom was with conscience alley in my year 10 humanities class in 2011. This technique or convention requires students to form two lines facing each other (i.e. an alley) and one student plays a character facing a dilemma or a difficult decision. The student-in-role then walks through that alley, whilst being bombarded with advice and conflicting arguments. I used this technique to explore the motivations the Muslims may have had for invading Spain in the Middle Ages. One student stepped into the role of the Caliph at the time, while the dilemma was ‘to invade Spain or not to invade Spain’. The students had to quickly read through the text and come up with arguments for and arguments against invading and bombard the Caliph with their arguments as he/she walked through the alley. This activity was then used as a basis for a reflective journal entry in which students had to weigh up the arguments and solve the dilemma. The students thoroughly enjoyed the activity and were very engaged, and I believe the activity improved their arguments in the journal entry. They even requested more similar activities being brought into the humanities classroom.

Later on, I experimented with hot-seating, where a student would step into the role of one of the historical figures studied, and be interviewed by the class in a sort-of press-conference-setting. This activity requires the students to have some good background information about the historical figures, but also there is a lot of room for creativity and just having fun with improvisations. Mantle-of-the-expert was yet another drama strategy that I used in the same unit of work about the ‘Islamic History of Spain’. The students studied the achievements of the Islamic world during the Golden Age of Islam, and so some students were assigned the role of a panel of experts from the various fields of achievements (astronomy, mathematics, geography, agriculture, poetry etc…). The class would then interview that panel of ‘experts’ about their contributions to the Golden Age of Islam.

This year, I used thought-tracking to explore the thoughts and feelings certain characters may be having during certain parts in a novel studied in my year 8 English classroom. A student would be asked to step in role and voice the thoughts and feelings of the assigned character at a certain stage in the novel. I also made use of the other drama strategies mentioned earlier, and I noticed a much higher level of engagement from the students and deeper reflections when these activities were used as a stimulus for journal-writing.

Earlier this year I designed an assessment framework (as part of my masters) that relies wholly on drama strategies as a stimulus for speaking and writing, and to assess reading and listening. This was when I came across this fantastic resource: Joe Winston’s book ‘Second Language Learning Through Drama’. I would highly recommend it for any teacher interested in integrating drama more into their classroom, even if they do not teach drama. I also found the Swansea Grid for Learning literacy resources to be very useful, especially this leaflet.

The advantages I observed of using drama as a learning tool in the classroom are:

  • Engagement: I noticed students were a lot more engaged and interested in the material studied, even if they did not necessarily want to participate in the drama activity, they were still keen to watch their classmates perform.
  • Kinaesthetic learning: these drama strategies require a lot of movement and can appeal more to students that get restless when sitting down and writing for too long.
  • Great stimulus or prompt for a writing task: as it allowed students to dig deeper into the text and actually step into the role of the characters or historical figures, which improved their understanding. This was in turn reflected in their writing.
  • A practical and authentic formative assessment tool: to see whether or not the class have understood the content or the text.

However, there are challenges that teachers should be aware of:

  • Not all students will be keen to participate at first: of course, not everyone likes to perform because they may be shy or self-conscious. I found that slowing introducing these activities and encouraging students to try their best eventually led to full participation. I told my students that trying something new for the first time is the hardest, like riding a bike for the first time, but the more you do it, the more confident you become at it.
  • It will often get noisier: I noticed that students get very excited when I apply these strategies in class and this can led to them being noisier. Moreover, the strategies themselves do encourage a lot of talking. Just relax at first and understand that while they are noisy, it does not mean they are not learning. Just be clear about your expectations and set up an easy class signal to get back their attention.
  • These activities are not a panacea: they are engaging strategies that can be added to a big repertoire of other teaching activities. Naturally, a teacher should have many diverse tools and tricks in their teaching arsenal to appeal to all learning styles, and ensure that everyone is learning.

I hope this reflection on my experiences with drama outside the drama classroom was helpful and that you may take at least one thing out of it. Now, it’s your decision: To Drama or Not to Drama? Maybe set up a conscience alley to help you decide 😉