My Updated Drama Assessment Framework… And the role of the iPad in it?


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.

The Melodramatic Eight Week Task… Um, maybe we need to change it a bit?

I posted previously about this eight-week task in my ‘staging a play’ unit-of-work for my current year 8s and year 9s. When I designed the task-booklet, it seemed perfect for so many reasons:

1- it catered for different learning styles as there are written components (script, and story-map), visual components (storyboard, and set-design), reflective components (group-work log, rehearsal log, and reflection and evaluation at the end), kinesthetic components (rehearsals, and performance), and interpersonal components (the task is group-based).

2- it involved a highly-creative thinking exercise (of the high-order thinking type): reading a script excerpt, and then writing up a beginning and an ending for it.

3- it emphasized the importance of the process as opposed to the final product, which is the unit-of-work’s significant concept.

4- it had an interdisciplinary component where the students had to decorate masks that represent their character. This part was designed for the students who prefer the visual arts to the performing arts (since drama is a compulsory middle-school subject at the school I’m employed in).

Wow, these are all wonderful reasons for how ‘perfect’ the task is. Or so I thought?

Apparently, the task lacked a very important ingredient: student-engagement. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this task was not-so-perfect. These were some of the worrying signs:

1- the students were taking much longer than I had expected in the writing up of the beginning and ending for the assigned script-excerpt.

2- the students were playing up much more than usual, and certain challenging students were being more disruptive and uncooperative.

So, I decided to have an open chat with the classes, and asked them what was wrong. Here are some of the responses I received (modified for blogging purposes):

“Sir, it seems pointless to put all this time and effort in writing, only to perform a two- or three-minute scene!”

“Sir, we come to drama to perform and act, not write, and then write, and then write some more!”

“Sir, the script-excerpt you gave us is actually pretty hard to understand, let alone write a beginning and ending for!”

And this is when it hit me: yes, I did get too carried away with the written components of the task! The fact is drama is a performance-based subject, and should be very practical and hands-on too. I think I got too obsessed with asking students to demonstrate evidence of learning, and it came at the expense of wanting them to have fun! Also, because drama is a compulsory subject, I always get a large number of students who are too self-conscious and really don’t want to be there. For this reason, I always try to include written components to involve the students who dread performing and play to their strengths. However, the key is to keep a balance between the practical aspects and the written components of the tasks.

The students did enjoy the mask-decoration component, so I will definitely hold on to that for the future groups to whom I teach this unit-of-work again. However, I can already see a few adjustments that I can make for this unit-of-work:

1- Use much shorter script-excerpts with easier language, such as this script-excerpt which I found on this wiki.
2- Expect students to write only a small beginning and a small ending (only half a page each).
3- Pick a different step of the drama process to focus on for each week, and ask students to create a mini-performance where they have to demonstrate evidence of that particular step. For example, one week the focus could be on rehearsal, and the students would be asked to create a mini-performance for which they have to fill-out a rehearsal log as evidence of rehearsing. The following week the focus could be on planning, and the students would be asked to create a mini-performance for which they have to demonstrate evidence of planning, etc… This means that there will be more than one performance exercise throughout the term, not just one big scene, and the students experience the process of providing evidence for all the different steps of the drama process [planning, preparing, rehearsing, performing + giving/receiving feedback, and ongoing reflection + evaluation].
4- Give students options in what sort of evidence they choose to demonstrate. For example, as evidence of planning, students could choose to submit a mind-map, or a dot-point outline, or a story-map. Students could choose to submit a rehearsal log or annotated photos/videos as evidence of rehearsal. Giving students the opportunity to choose which evidence to submit gives them more ownership over the process.
5- Design each lesson to have a small performance component, and some sort of planning or preparation or rehearsal component before for which the students have to submit written evidence, and a reflection/evaluation component after the performance.
6- Rely more on portfolio-assessment for this unit of work, rather than task-based assessment. For this reason I would have to modify the rubrics for the assessment criteria so that they address a portfolio of collected evidence, rather than one specific performance-task. At the end of the teaching cycle, I would then have to conference with each student, allow them to self-assess, and then I will assess their portfolio.

I am glad I went through this experience and learned from it though, students can sometimes (or often) be the best teachers!