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!

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.

Kick-starting the new academic year!

Wow, it’s been a while since my last post! But I’m back! I have been trying to shake-off the holiday mode and get back into the routine, partly because I love routines (to a certain extent), and partly because I miss the routine too!

So, 2013 is a very exciting year for us in the drama classroom! During term 1, the year 6 students are studying a unit-of-work on Mime & Pantomime, which is designed to help them explore the creative potential of their bodies. The year 7 students are studying a unit-of-work on Improvisational Theatre to help them explore and harness the human ‘natural abilities’ to improvise and use them in drama. The year 8 and year 9 classes are starting off with a unit-of-work on Commedia Dell’Arte, with a specific focus on how this historical theatre genre has drastically influenced modern comedy.

The academic year kicked off with an introduction to the rules, procedures and expectations in the drama class (or a refresher for the returning students), as well as an introduction to the MYP unit-of-work for the first term, particularly the Area of Interaction Focus, the Significant Concept and the MYP Unit Question. Each year-level was then asked to set three personal learning goals for this term. Here are the student handouts that outline the unit-of-work for each year level: year 6, year 7, and years 8 & 9.

During the second week, all classes were assigned a research & oral presentation task which will be used to assess Criterion A (Knowledge & Understanding). I always tell my students that it’s important to start off with the ‘theoretical’ part of the unit-of-work to set strong foundations for the ‘practical’ components.

The students are all asked to conduct a simple research about their chosen/assigned topic, and either present it as a poster to the class along with their oral presentation, or record their voices using a screen-casting app like ShowMe, or present their research in an iMovie video, or in a Keynote presentation (as we now have three year-levels with iPads: years 6, 7 and 8). The task spans over two double-periods (two weeks), the research being done in the first double-period, and the oral presentations being delivered during the second double-period (next week). I am very excited to see the students’ oral presentations, and to use them as the basis for my teaching for the rest of the term. Here are the task sheets for each year-level’s Criterion A task: year 6, year 7, and years 8 & 9.