The Melodramatic Eight Week Task – Part 1…

Yup, you read it right! It is an EIGHT WEEK-LONG task! This is the longest assessment task in my history of teaching (which isn’t that long really, six or so years?). I’ve designed this task as part of a unit of work about the process of staging a play, with a focus on melodrama as a theatre genre. The task will be used to assess [Criterion A – Knowledge & Understanding (using a peer evaluation)], [Criterion B – Application], [Criterion C – Reflection & Evaluation] and [Criterion D – Personal Engagement] from the MYP Arts Assessment Criteria. I wrote previously about how I introduced the unit of work to the students. The students were given this task booklet which they will use for the whole duration of the task.

Image Attribution: Honoré Daumier [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The assessment task basically requires the students to read an excerpt from a melodrama script, write up a beginning and an ending for that excerpt, create a mask to represent their character in that excerpt, apply character-analysis and rehearsal techniques to rehearse their scene, perform their scene in front of the class, give and receive feedback to and from their peers, and then reflect on & evaluate the whole process. The students have to demonstrate evidence of every step of the process, as the unit of work’s significant concept is: The process is just as important as the product. Additionally, I will be assessing the students throughout every step of the process, as I walk around with my Evernote notebook and write anecdotes and fill-in quick checklists.
We have already been working on this task for two weeks, and the students have brainstormed in their story maps, and started writing up their beginning and ending. It has been rather challenging for students to decode the scripts’ meaning as they were given only a few pages right from the middle of the chosen scripts. I did have to intervene and scaffold them slightly, maybe next semester I will find easier and simpler script excerpts.
An example of student work – story map and script-writing

An example of student work – story map
This week we will move into the art room and get artistic with the mask decoration. We have blank white half-masks, feathers, beads, glue, coloured tissue-paper, sequins and scatters. I’m very excited!

A lesson on status relationships in Commedia Dell’Arte!

Over the past two weeks, the year 8 and 9 groups were expected to demonstrate their “knowledge & understanding” (Criterion A of the MYP arts assessment criteria) of Commedia Dell’Arte. They did so through a research & oral presentation task.

This week we started the practical aspect of the unit of work. The learning objective for this week’s lesson was “to identify and apply some elements of Commedia Dell’Arte” (Criterion B – Application) and “to practice reflection and evaluation in drama” (Criterion C – Reflection & Evaluation). The focus for this week was on status relationships and the role they played in Commedia Dell’Arte performances.

The lesson started with a warmup called ‘Status Conversations’, where the class was divided into pairs; each pair starts improvising a conversation as equals, and somewhere during the conversation one of them has to regain a higher status. Once a student achieves a higher status, they must stand up while the other student sits down. At any point during the conversation, the one with the lower status can regain the higher status and thus stand up while the other sits down. It was pretty interesting seeing how often the status shifted between the student pairs.

After the warmup, we had a whole class debriefing about this warmup exercise and ultimately linked it to the lesson’s learning objective. I then went on to explain the importance of status in Commedia Dell’Arte and how characters were either Masters (highest status), Lovers (middle status), or Servants (lowest status). I also gave examples of each type. I told the students that we’ll put aside Commedia for this week, and just focus on status relationships for the performance exercise to follow.

The students were then divided into groups of four, and each group was given a list of characters in decreasing order of status (e.g. ‘Principal, Head of Department, Teacher, Assistant Teacher’ or ‘Sheriff, Sergeant, Detective, Cop’ or ‘Manager, Agent, Secretary, Cleaner’ etc…) They were asked to prepare a one-minute scene to show and exaggerate these status relationships. The students were given ten minutes to quickly prepare and rehearse their scenes.

During the performances, the students filled a peer-evaluation Google Form that was sent to them through our Edmodo class-page. These peer evaluations helped give meaningful feedback to the performers after their scene. Here is a screenshot of the Google Form used:

After all groups finished their performances and received audience feedback, the students were then asked to individually write their four-sentence reflections using the reflection help-sheet. The students had to write these on paper (not on their iPads). Each student received my initials on their reflection after I read it (this helps with my formative assessment).

To conclude the lesson, the students accessed their Edmodo group through their iPads and had to complete an exit-slip as a comment on my post. Here is a screenshot of the exit-slip prompt I used:

Overall, I think it was a very busy but successful lesson which had a performance aspect, a reflection aspect, and a peer-evaluation aspect. Thus the students practiced three essential drama ATLs (approaches to learning): peer evaluation, self-reflection, and performance. The students seemed very engaged with the warmup and performance exercises, and the peer evaluation forms seemed to really focus the feedback the performers were given and make it more specific. However, I have yet to devise an efficient way to distribute the peer-evaluations back to the students being evaluated.

Next week, we move on to other elements of Commedia Dell’Arte: stock characters, use of half-masks and lazzi. I’m looking forward to it!

Demonstrating their knowledge and understanding of Commedia Dell’Arte…

So, last week I wrote about how we started off our 2013 academic year with our new units of work. The students were all introduced to the Area of Interaction focus, the Significant Concept and the MYP Unit Question for each unit of work.

To begin the units of work, the students were assigned a research and oral presentation task that will be used to assess Criterion A (Knowledge and Understanding). The students started on this task last week, where they had to do some research, take some notes and keep a bibliography/list of references. This week, the students finalized and delivered their oral presentations. There were two year 6 classes presenting about Mime and Pantomime, two year 7 classes presenting about Improvisational Theatre, and four classes from both years 8 & 9 presenting about Commedia Dell’Arte (here is the task sheet and rubric used for the year 8 & 9 classes).

This is the first time I am teaching the Commedia Dell’Arte unit of work, therefore I will try and document every step taken in that unit of work, and reflect on what worked and what might need tweaking. So far, the students’ oral presentations showed an impressive level of understanding. Some groups wrote flash cards, some groups designed posters, others prepared PowerPoint/Keynote presentations, and others used ShowMe or even iMovie (our year 8s, along with years 6 & 7 have iPads).

I have found that giving students this bibliography template worked really well, as it forced them to record all their sources and in the proper format, and scaffolded them through the process. I have also found that giving them a choice of how to deliver their presentation really engaged them, as opposed to forcing them all to deliver in the same format. However, some of the questions I asked in the task sheet were not as clear as I hoped they would be, so I might tweak the wording of the questions sometime before the next group comes in term 3 (drama is a semester-subject).

Here is a ShowMe prepared by a group of girls from one of my year 8 classes, and some snapshots from a Keynote Presentation prepared by another group of year 8 girls.

T conclude the lesson, I asked my students to write their exit slips and post them up on my class’ Padlet/Wallwisher wall. This really helps me with my formative assessment, and helps me set the starting point for the following week’s lesson. Here is a screenshot of one of the year 8 classes exit slips.

Slapstick Comedy: wrapping up the drama process!

This term, the year 7 and 8 classes studied a unit of work on ‘Slapstick Comedy’. I have posted previously about how we explored the concept of humour in general, and how we defined slapstick comedy. Three weeks ago, we kick-started the drama process and began brainstorming for our performances, and we had the opportunity to write up the scripts and draw up the storyboards for the performances. We also had the opportunity to rehearse for our performances
Last week, we finally had the opportunity to wrap up this process and move into the final two steps: ‘performance’ and ‘reflection & evaluation’. The lesson’s warmup was a quick physical and vocal warmup followed by a final run-through rehearsal outside in the courtyard. After that, the students formed an audience and we watched every performance. The audience were asked to give feedback to each group of performers in the form of positive comments or useful suggestions for improvement. Each performance was recorded using the iPad for documentation purposes, and also to help the performers themselves reflect on and evaluate their own performance skills (as it is much more meaningful to see yourself acting in order to spot your strengths and weaknesses, and hence reflect on them). 
After all performances were presented, the students were given a chance to view their short slapstick scenes, and then use the reflection help-sheet to write their four-sentence reflections and the task-sheet evaluation checklist to evaluate the process as well as the final product. For the year 7 classes (who have iPads), I allowed them to record their reflections orally and attach them to their Evernote group-portfolios/shared-notebooks. After the lesson, I looked through all group-portfolios and I attached my written and oral feedback, and final assessment. 
Overall, I think the task was very engaging for the students. This was the first task where I agreed to allow some students to just be writers and directors for their group’s performance, as many students did not really seem to enjoy performing or were too self-conscious. I believe these students were a lot more engaged with the task.
Below you will find a video-tour of one of my year 7 portfolios for this task, followed by some screenshots of evidence attached to the some group portfolios to document every stage in the drama process: brainstorming, preparation (script-writing/story-boarding), rehearsal, performance, reflection & evaluation.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, concludes our year in the drama classroom! Summer here we come!

A screenshot of the final portfolio
A written outline/brainstorm for the performance
A visual brainstorm for another performance
The script writing-phase
A storyboard (shared as a PDF file with the students and they used an app called Type on PDF to annotate over it)
Another storyboard – these students preferred hand-drawings and then inserting them into the storyboard through Type on PDF
Blocking the main actions/movements in the scene
Adding evidence of rehearsal using a rehearsal log and some pictures
Evidence of performance – video uploaded on class YouTube channel and hyperlinked in portfolio + adding screenshots of parts of the video
Video of performance on YouTube (set on private or unlisted depending on parent permissions)

Oral reflections and evaluations by group members

Written and oral feedback given by teacher

Radio Drama: Create your own horror radio play (Part 2)

This term, the year 6 classes are studying Radio Drama. I have posted previously about how they created radio commercials to explore the creative potential of the voice. We also had a chance to perform poems to apply characterisation techniques to voice. Then we attempted to develop better enunciation and articulation by performing tongue-twister poems in this tongue-twisting lesson. The class also had the opportunity to explore voice projection and create their own radio interviews.

To sum up this unit of work, and to allow for summative assessment of MYP Criterion B (Application), the class will have the opportunity to create their own horror radio plays (as inspired by Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds). The task’s learning objective is to apply the skills, techniques and processes used to create a radio drama performance. This task was planned to span over two weeks (one double-period per week). Last week, I posted about the first week of the task, where the students wrote their stories and brainstormed possible sound effects and background music to accompany the narration.
This week, we moved on to the next part of the drama process: to apply rehearsal strategies  and to reflect on and evaluate our artwork (process and product). The warmup for the lesson was a radio drama rehearsal game that I always enjoy: the students move into their groups and rehearse their radio plays five different times, each time with a different focus: once in normal speed, once in super slow motion (to force them to clearly pronouncing each vowel and consonant), once in fast forward (a very fun and tongue-twisting articulation and enunciation exercise), once as a comedy (to get them to think about tone and emotions in voice), and once as a musical (to help them warmup their voices and think about tone and emotions in voice). The students were encouraged to record their rehearsals using their iPods, listen to them and reflect on their characterisation, enunciation and voice projection. This warmup exercise achieves several objectives: to help students warmup, to rehearse for their performances, and to become more confident and ready for performing in front of the audience. The debriefing that followed the warmup was designed to ensure that the students take meaning out of this exercise (other than it just being ‘fun’) and reflect on it.
After the warmup and debriefing, the students sat in front of the performance space and formed an audience. Each group subsequently hid behind a curtain set up for the task, and delivered their horror radio play. The audience would then be asked to think like critics and give feedback (positive comments or useful suggestions) for the performers. Each radio play was recorded using my iPad. After all performances, the students were asked to bring out their task sheet and rubric from their drama folders (handed out to them last week). We then heard all the recorded performances through the class projector to help each student reflect on and evaluate his/her performance. Each student listened to his/her group’s performance, used the self-assessment checklist in the task sheet to self-assess, and then gave themselves a mark out of ten using the rubric attached to the task-sheet (in the ‘student’s self assessment’ column). 
After the self-assessment and evaluation, I had the opportunity to quickly conference with each student (for one or two minutes) and allow them to reflect orally on the process and product and justify their self-assessment. I concluded the conference with assigning each student his/her mark in the teacher self-assessment column and giving them oral feedback. 
It was a very busy lesson, with lots to do! However, I believe the task as a whole was a huge success and the students seemed very engaged with it. I believe this task can also be adapted and used in a non-drama classroom: English/ESL, LOTE, even Humanities classrooms where students create radio plays about social issues.
Below are embedded clips of the best three performances, as well as screenshots of the self-assessment checklist, the adapted MYP rubric used, and the whiteboard.

Slapstick Comedy: Step three of the drama process!

The year 7 and 8 classes are studying a unit of work on ‘Slapstick Comedy’. I have posted previously about how we explored the concept of humour in general, and how we defined slapstick comedy. Two weeks ago, we kick-started the drama process and began brainstorming for our performances, and we had the opportunity to write up the scripts and draw up the storyboards for the performances
This week we moved on to step three of the drama process: rehearsal. The lesson started with a quick warmup called Status Pictures, where the students form still-images depicting situations involving characters of different status. This warm-up was chosen to get students thinking about status relationships and how they are used in slapstick comedy to create humour. After the warmup and debriefing session that followed, I recapped on the theoretical part of the unit which was written on the whiteboard (pictured below); then the students moved into their groups (or ‘theatre companies’) and were each given a rehearsal handout (A4 size) and an A3 size Rehearsal Log. I circulated around each group to check their progress and to recap over the rehearsal process: what is its importance and how can it be used effectively?
The students spread around the drama room (some groups moved outside into the courtyard) and they each rehearsed a few times. The groups were told to choose a different focus for every rehearsal (e.g. body language, or blocking, or voice etc…), to fill out the rehearsal log after every rehearsal to reflect on it, and to document their rehearsals with photos and some video footage (using smart-phones/iPods for year 8s, or iPads for the year 7s). The students were also told to keep evidence of their rehearsal in their portfolios: e.g. annotated pictures from rehearsal (printed from classroom printer) and the rehearsal log. For the year 7 students, who all have iPads, this evidence was just added to their shared Evernote notebook which they used as their group portfolio
The rehearsal process seemed to go rather efficiently, and everyone had a meaningful role as each student was either acting out in rehearsal, or taking photos/shooting video, or filling out the rehearsal log. The groups also seemed much more committed to the rehearsal process due to of having a different focus for every rehearsal. Below are some snapshots of the rehearsal logs of a couple of ‘theatre companies’, a snapshot of the whiteboard, and a screenshot of an Evernote portfolio from one of the year 7 groups.
Next week, we move into the final two steps of the drama process: performance, followed by reflection and evaluation. Stay tuned ladies and gentlemen!