The Drama Journal?

As a drama teacher, I feel that my biggest challenge is the assessment and evaluation of student work and their progress. When I get the students to work on a scene as part of an assessment, I try to give them clear guidelines for them to receive a high mark, but I also do not like over-prescriptive steps that diminish the students’ creative expression. It’s not easy to find that balance.

Another balance that has been hard for me to find since I embarked on my career as a drama teacher is that of the Drama Journal: how much balance should there be between the theory and written part of the drama class and the practical and fun part? The drama journal is a great tool because it documents evidence of the student’s progress through the course, it serves as a medium for reflection and evaluation (self and peer), it can be used by the teacher for communicating assessment results and feedback, and it records research and theory.

I have to admit though, at the beginning of my drama career, I paid very little attention to the drama journal because I just wanted my subject to be ‘fun’ and ‘unlike other subjects’. During those days, I struggled to assess the students’ work because I relied solely on performances, and very little on student reflection/evaluation and self-assessment/peer-assessment. Then I started to make a switch to the extreme opposite: being obsessive about the drama journal, and spending way too much time with students working on it. During that time, I found it difficult to motivate students to do the written work, which created a whole lot of classroom management issues for me.

It’s been a process and a journey of trial and error. However, I have to admit that the introduction of iPads in the classroom has made it much easier. I have experimented with electronic journals or drama e-portfolios on Evernote, Notability and Pages/Keynote. What I like most about iPads is the ability to embed video recordings of rehearsals and performances, as well as photos and voice-notes/audio-recordings without any hassle, something which a paper-journal can not do. Recently, the iPad coordinator at my school recommended that I use an iPad app called ‘Book Creator‘, and it has been a great suggestion so far!

journal1

I have created a ‘template’ for the drama portfolio/journal on ‘Book Creator’ that I export and share with the students in ‘epub’ format (to allow them to edit and add their artifacts to the portfolio). This book-template is structured as a series of tasks: reflection prompts, self-assessment checklists, peer-assessment checklists, research task instructions, rubrics for assessment etc… Students are also encouraged to add photos, videos and audio-recordings in their portfolios. ‘Book Creator’ also allows writing with a pen which can be great for checklists and rubrics embedded in the portfolio. Some of the task instructions also require students to use other apps like ‘ExplainEverything‘ or ‘Puppet Pals‘, all of which allow exporting output as videos that can later be embedded into the student’s portfolio. At the end of the course, the students export the portfolio as an ‘ePub’ and can then be viewed on iBooks with all the pictures, videos, voice-notes and annotations in it.

journal2

Since I started using ‘Book Creator’, I have also made several adjustments to the tasks in the template, as initially I was too ambitious and put way too many tasks, but now slowly trying to find a better balance. Moreover, at our school, we are required to slowly migrate our courses and set them up on iTunes U, which along with the portfolio template on ‘Book Creator’, has really changed how I deliver my drama courses, mostly for the better!

If you would like to see an example of a drama journal template that I compiled, you can access it by clicking here (it is in ePub format).

The School Production: it’s over!

So, it all happened last week! We had our final dress rehearsals, Opening Night, Matinee Performance and Closing Night! Wow, it was a very action-packed week!

The Poster!

I’m somewhat relieved it’s over because school productions really really test my patience and drain all my energy. The performance nights were a success, but lots of lessons to learn and reflect on for next year’s production.

Firstly, I need to chill, relax and enjoy the process a little bit more. Towards the end, I was getting very tense about many things, but it all fell into place. I didn’t like becoming this cranky, snappy, short-tempered director, especially because I’m working with middle-schoolers!

The Ticket Box!

Secondly, the team you start with from the beginning is very very important! I was fortunate because I started with two great assistant directors and a great stage manager from the onset of the process. Also, I had many teachers who supported me with all the technical stuff and I’m very grateful for them!

Princess Who?

Thirdly, I need to have a clearer timeline from the beginning regarding rehearsals, because I feel like I could have made better use of the rehearsal process: more line-runs at the beginning where students just sit in circles and run lines, blocking can wait a bit longer until lines are fully ‘understood’ by students, starting run-throughs earlier as well as earlier tech-runs with lighting, sound, props and sets.

The decorated entrance to the theatre 🙂

Overall, I think I did a good job, considering that it has been a few years since my last middle-school production (only been directing productions outside school for the past few years, and working with professional/paid actors, where the dynamics are completely different).

More ticket sales = Happy Director!

While I like to believe that working with middle-school actors requires a lot of encouragement, support and patience, I have to admit it is much harder when you are under a lot of pressure and the students have not yet fully learned their lines, and it’s less than a week until Opening Night! So, next year I will try and emphasize line-memorization strategies and just have lots of workshops for learning lines and practicing them.

Also, as a director in a ‘school’ production, in a new country that I only recently moved to, I’m pretty pleased that I managed to establish contacts with local suppliers for making costumes, getting props and so much, and hopefully this makes it easier for next year’s production, which I’m thinking will be a musical!

The School Production: My Nightmare!

So, I’ve been working on my Middle-School Drama Production since October! Opening Night is one week from today!

The drama production is called ‘Princess Who?’, a fractured fairy-tale comedy purchased from Pioneer Drama. The script is quite funny and combines a lot of fairy tale characters in random and bizarre situations. The website ‘Theatrefolk‘ has also been a great help because of the tips, tricks, articles and posters that it provides for drama teachers!

So, why are school productions ‘my nightmare’, as the title of this blog-post suggests? Well, being the reflective teacher that I am, I know that school productions are the biggest test for my shortcomings. I am aware of the fact that I can be too much of a ‘control freak’, and I’m not the best at ‘sharing responsibilities’. However, one person alone can not pull off a school drama production, and I know that very well!

Moreover, it’s hard for me to be nice when I’m stressed, and nothing stresses me more than the school production! I have to put in the extra effort of being nice to the cast members, even when it’s one week to go until opening night and they haven’t yet fully memorized their lines (I kid you not!). Sometimes I just throw in the towel and bring out the mean-nasty-diva-director in me (I can sometimes be the ‘Piers Morgan’ or the ‘Gordon Ramsay’ of school productions :P). It’s harder when you’re working with teenagers and young adults because you want to give them feedback but not damage their self-esteem!

However, I’m grateful for a lot right now: the costumes are finished and ready, the set is finished and ready, I have a great team of two assistant directors and a stage manager (all three from Grade 11), I have the support of many teachers, the sound cues and light cues are set and ready to go, posters and tickets are printed, so much is actually falling into place and I’m starting to get excited!

Let’s see what happens in the final week of rehearsals!

Curricula or life-skills?

DIAMUN

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of supervising a group of Grade 10 and Grade 11 students at a Model United Nations (MUN) conference at the Dubai International Academy. It brought back many memories and made me feel very nostalgic for my own MUN days.

Walking around and entering every council/committee, and seeing the students engaged in debate and rebutting each other’s points, and amending resolutions etc., also made me think about how such an experience teaches them ‘life-skills’, because I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t learned such life-skills from things like MUN, participating in plays and musicals, the school band, the basketball team etc…

It also made me reflect on my teaching, and how far I have come from starting off as a teacher of economics, business studies and statistics, to becoming a performing arts teacher who teaches both drama and dance. Several times I get asked “why did you make the switch from teaching economics and business studies to teaching the performing arts?

My only answer is: I got tired from teaching curricula and teaching to a test/exam, and I prefer to teach life-skills. Having taught subjects at the senior level in both IB and IGCSE, realistically my main focus was preparing my students for the exam at the end: how to interpret exam questions, how to structure the perfect answer to get the full mark, how to write the perfect extended response etc… But life is not an exam. Learning how to interpret exam questions is not a life-skill, it’s an academic one, and it only prepares students for university. But there’s so much more to life than going to university. 

However, as a performing arts teacher, I present my students opportunities to work cooperatively in groups, to improve their verbal and non-verbal communication skills, to develop their reflective abilities, to develop their self-confidence, to practice empathy, to learn how to give constructive feedback, and how to receive feedback; and these are all life-skills that they will use no matter what their path beyond school becomes.

One of the most inspiring people in my life is my younger brother. He is my best friend and one of my role-models. My brother is just not academic, and he hasn’t been very successful at university. But at a very young age, he decided to start-up his own business: a company that trains and prepares delegates for worldwide MUN conferences! He took his passion and love for MUN and decided to make money out of it! How inspiring is that?

While I still enjoy teaching economics and business studies (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t), I am grateful to be a teacher of life-skills, and not just a curriculum.

My brother and I 🙂

iTunesU BOOTCAMP?

So, our school provided a team of teachers an opportunity to attend a great training/PD delivered by Apple-recommended trainers. We attended intensive trainings in iBooks Author, iLife apps, as well as iTunesU.

The one that stood out the most to me was the ‘iTunesU bootcamp’, as the school dubbed it. Having been an iPad coordinator at my previous school, most of the iBooks Author and iLife stuff I knew from before, but iTunesU was completely new and unexplored territory for me. 

As trainees, we were expected to have come out from the bootcamp with a fully designed iTunesU course that we can start delivering in the near future. As a drama teacher, at first I sort of struggled: how do I create an iTunesU course for my drama/performing arts classroom?

However, eventually I got inspired and created my first ever iTunesU course covering improvisational theatre and Commedia Dell’Arte, over a period of ten weeks. The process of creating the iTunesU course and delivering it through that platform really forced me to evaluate how I already use iPads in my drama classroom. While I’ve always made use of students’ iPads to allow them to document evidence of their rehearsals and performances, and to self-assess and peer-assess each others’ work, the iTunesU platform allowed me to streamline the process into one that facilitates the process of building a portfolio of all their work throughout the course. I created a template for that portfolio on ‘Book Creator’, which the students will download and ‘open in’ Book Creator, and then add all their work throughout the course on that portfolio template.

I must say I really enjoyed the bootcamp and the whole process of designing the iTunesU course, to the extent that I’m already designing my second one!



Why I created this online teaching portfolio…

jacket mr moI have been teaching for about 8 years now. In those eight years, I have taught in three different countries (on three different continents). I have taught Economics, Business Studies, Statistics, Humanities (History and Geography), Performing Arts (Drama/Dance), Global Studies and English/ESL. I have also organised Model United Nations (MUN) conferences, directed school productions, ran extra-curricular clubs and been on many school camps. I have also been an eLearning Leader and iPad Coordinator, a time where I published with Oxford University Press on their English Language Teaching Blog, delivered several workshops and presented in several seminars and conferences. I have also successfully finished a Master of Teaching (incorporating a Postgraduate Diploma of Teaching) at the University of Melbourne, Australia. I was also awarded a ‘Top Performers’ Award – Silver Category’ in 2013 during my employment at the Australian International Academy – Melbourne Senior Campus. I have done so much, and I am very proud of my achievements and successes.morning routine

For this reason, I wanted to create a portfolio that documents my journey as a teacher, showcases my skills and strengths, highlights my main achievements, but also serves as a journal for my reflections as a teacher. I do not believe I would have grown so much and achieved so much if it wasn’t for my ability to reflect and learn from my mistakes (and I made many :P). I still have a lot more to learn and a lot more to achieve, but I know that with my commitment and passion, and my willingness to reflect on my mistakes and experiences, I have nothing to worry about 🙂

I hope you enjoy browsing through my website/portfolio!

eFeedback: ICT tools I use to give my students high-quality feedback

A blogpost I wrote for the Oxford University Press ELT Blog about how I use different ICT tools to give quality feedback to students in my classroom.

Oxford University Press

Using Evernote on an iPhone Image courtesy of Heisenberg Media via Flickr

Mohamed El-Ashiry takes a look at four online tools that have helped him deliver high-quality feedback to his students.

Upon introducing tablets into my classroom, the biggest gains I have received have been in assessment and feedback. In my experience, ICT tools facilitate the process of giving timely, relevant and effective feedback to my students. Brown & Bull (1997) argued that feedback is:

… most effective when it is timely, perceived as relevant, meaningful and encouraging, and offers suggestions for improvement that are within a student’s grasp.”

Black & William (1999) wrote that:

… improving learning through assessment depends on five, deceptively simple, key factors:

  • the provision of effective feedback to pupils;
  • the active involvement of pupils in their own learning;
  • adjusting teaching to take account of the results of assessment;
  • a recognition of the profound influence assessment has on the motivation ​and…

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