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!

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!

End-of-unit Commedia Dell’Arte Assessment Task…

To wrap up our unit of work on Commedia Dell’Arte, I have designed a summative assessment task to assess Criteria B and C of the MYP Arts Assessment Criteria. We have already introduced Commedia Dell’Arte and researched its elements (to assess Criterion A), we have explored status relationships and their importance in Commedia Dell’Arte, and also had a look at the stock characters, lazzi, the use of masks and physicality in acting.

The end-of-unit assessment task is planned to run over three weeks, and is a task where the students build a portfolio (using their iPads) to demonstrate evidence of every stage of the drama process: planning, preparation, rehearsal, performance, and ongoing reflection and evaluation (the acronym I use is PPRPORE). The first four stages (PPRP = planning + preparation + rehearsal + performance) are used to assess Criterion B (Application of ideas, conventions, skills, techniques and processes), while the last stage (ORE = ongoing reflection and evaluation), which is actually intertwined with all the other stages, is used to assess Criterion C (Reflection and Evaluation). Here are the task sheets given to the students: Criterion B task sheet and Criterion C task sheet.

During the first week of the task, the students move into groups of four or five (one writer + one director + 2-3 actors) and have to demonstrate evidence of planning and preparation. To help the students, or give them some sort of structure, I gave them this ‘Story Map‘ graphic organizer, and I hung up a list of lazzi scenarios and a poster showing brief descriptions of ten of the main stock characters in Commedia Dell’Arte. The students were obviously given the opportunity to demonstrate evidence of planning in other formats they may prefer such as a mind-map or a bullet-point brainstorm, and were also given room to create their own lazzi to incorporate them into their performance. All group members, regardless of their roles, are asked to keep the same evidence of planning in their portfolio.

Once the planning phase is finished, the group members are then assigned a different task based on their roles in the group: actors have to start their character analysis based on the stock character they’re playing and using this ‘Character Map‘, while the writers start turning their planned performance into a written script. Once the script is finished, the directors and their teams cooperate to storyboard the performance and block it using this handout: Storyboard and Set/Blocking. The actors are instructed to keep evidence of their character analysis in their portfolios, the writers are instructed to keep their scripts as their evidence of preparation, while the directors are told to keep evidence of their storyboarding and blocking. This concludes the preparation phase, and is often finished by the end of the first week.

The second week of the task kicks off the third stage of the drama process: rehearsal. The students are spread around the room, and some groups are given space outside in the courtyard. The groups are then asked to rehearse and document their rehearsals using photos and videos, and also using this ‘Rehearsal Log‘, which achieves both documenting rehearsals and reflecting on them at the same time. I also often give the directors certain rehearsal strategies that they can use to help with different aspects of their direction: such as getting the actors to rehearse the scene as a ‘silent movie’ if they want to bring out more expressive body language and facial expressions from the actors, or rehearse the scene in ‘fast-forward’ if they just want the actors to focus on the blocking and movement in the scene etc… Rehearsals are often very fun, and I enjoy circulating around the groups and jotting down some anecdotal records to help me with my final assessment. Sometimes, I also use checklists of observed behaviors to guide my observations.

The third and final week of this task involves the actors performing the scenes in front of the class, while the writers and directors take video footage of the performance and photos to add to their portfolios. After every scene is performed, the audience are asked to give feedback to the group members (positive comments or useful suggestions only!). After all performances are finished the groups are then instructed to spread around the room and watch their performances on their iPads (to help with their reflection), then write their four-sentence reflection, written self-evaluation and use the self-assessment checklist and rubric to reflect on and evaluate their performance (using this Criterion C task sheet).

All students are then given some time to collect all the evidence in their portfolios (using Evernote notebooks on their iPads). After the portfolios are finalized, I call each student up to my desk, give them a few minutes to demonstrate their portfolio to me. I then ask them to refer to the Criterion B task sheet, and use the checklist in the task sheet to self-assess the whole process, give themselves a mark out of ten in the student-self-assessment column of the rubric, and then justify that mark to me in a few sentences. To conclude the conference with the student, I then assign them my mark for each criterion and give them some oral feedback.

I believe it is a rather big end-of-unit assessment task, and may be quite overwhelming for some students. However, I do try my best to offer sufficient scaffolding through every stage, which is why I give so many handouts. Additionally, while it is a group-task, each student is assessed individually. To help me with this individual assessment, and to encourage ongoing reflection and evaluation, I give all group members a copy of this Group-work Log at the beginning of the task, where they record their progress and concerns at the end of every stage of the process.

Overall, I think it is a carefully designed assessment task that engages the students in all stages of the drama process, and allows them to demonstrate evidence of their skills, techniques, processes, reflection and evaluation.

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!

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.