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!

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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.

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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!

Aside

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.

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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Student self-assessment: capitalizing on its benefits?

Assessment is a recurring theme in my blogging. I think that is because it was my biggest challenge when I started teaching. I wrote before how I thought that teacher-training programs do not prepare us sufficiently for our role as assessors as they do for our role as teachers. This blogpost will focus more on self-assessment and how I came to use it in my classroom. I am now a lot more comfortable with my use of student self-assessment in class, but it didn’t start as such. I would also like to invite other educators to comment and suggest other ways to fully capitalize on the benefits of student self-assessment.

The context is a unit of work on improvisational theatre for my year 7 drama classes. I always post the main content on the board for every lesson (imagine writing this four times a week for about six weeks!). Below is a copy of the whiteboard with the main learning material posted on it. Basically it is a simplified list of the features of the best improvisations and what the best improvisers do. We refer constantly to those two lists when the students give each other feedback on their performances, and when the students assess and evaluate their own performances.

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After having practiced improvisational skills for about five or six weeks through playing various improv games and theatresports, the students are given this task sheet that will be used to assess Criterion B (Application). They are told that this MYP Arts criterion is used to assess ideas, skills, techniques and processes. The students are then given a prompt for their improvisation, and the performances are filmed. After all performances, the students watch the video of their improvisations and then use the checklist in the task sheet to assess their performance.

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The last step required of the student is to use the self-assessment column in the rubric below to give themselves a mark out of 10 for Criterion B (Application).

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Last year, this process was already in place for me. However, I didn’t really know what the next step should be. I didn’t know how to fully bridge the gap between the student’s self-assessment and my own teacher’s assessment of their work. I did a lot of reading and professional learning on assessment, and I finally came across a fantastic alternative assessment tool: conferencing with the students. It seems very common-sensical, but in actual fact it wasn’t for me.

What I learned to do after the students use the checklist and the rubric to assess their work, is to conference with each one of them. I use this 2-3 minute chat (which I build into class-time), to probe further reflection. I ask questions such as: “Why did you give yourself this mark? What suggestions for improvement do you have for yourself?”. I also constantly remind them to refer to the guidelines for successful improvisations/improvisers written on the whiteboard for their oral reflection during the conferencing. Students are often (though not always) quite capable of evaluating their own work and formulating their own feedback for improvement. Of course, you will come across the students that under-assess themselves and those that over-assess themselves. I always remind the ones that under-assess their work that they are being too hard on themselves and focus on highlighting the positive aspects of their work. I also probe further reflection from those that over-assess themselves and ask them to see how they can improve. Using their performance, checklist, rubric self-assessment and the conference, I finally arrive at my own teacher-assessment, which I add to their rubric in the teacher assessment column, reminding them to use this discussion in the conference as their feedback for improvement.

I am now much more comfortable with the way I administer the task and assess the students, and with the way I allow students to assess themselves and evaluate their own work. However, I believe there is always room for improvement. I would like to invite teachers and educators to share their thoughts, views and suggestions.