End of first trimester at St. Timothy’s – A self-evaluation :)

So, it’s the end of my first trimester at St Timothy’s School this coming Friday (Nov. 18th 2016)! And what a trimester it has been…

As part of our employment agreement, we have to submit a “self-evaluation identifying three strengths, three areas for improvement, and an action plan to support our professional development”, so here goes!

Three strengths:

1- My rapport with the students and the ability to establish relationships with them: I love the students at this school, and I feel like I have quickly built a solid connection with them all…

2- My use of the classroom facilities and resources: I have quickly embraced the new work space, I love that I have a massive National Geographic World Map in my classroom (picture below):

This map allows me to integrate lots of World Geography in my teaching of World History and makes it much easier to connect both disciplines (which are absolutely interdependent). My use of the technological facilities is also another one of my strengths: I enjoy using the EnoBoard and EasiTeach to create notes for my students to access after class or if they’re absent, as well as of course my expertise in integrating iPads in the classroom (all students have iPads = woohoo)!

3- My embrace of the community duties and responsibilities: I believe I have a very positive attitude and I have readily embraced the extra duties that come with working at a boarding school like roaming duty on certain weekends, organizing activities like dance classes for students, putting on performances for International Festival etc…

Three areas for improvement:

1- Using more differentiated teaching methods: I believe I do an ‘ok’ job when it comes to differentiating my instruction. However, now that the trimester is over and I have gotten to know my students better and assessed a lot of their work, I’m starting to see more differences in learning styles and learning needs and I need to reflect on and adjust my instruction accordingly.

2- Providing more support for my advisory group: I believe I can sometimes get bogged down with all the grading, lesson-planning etc, and forget to check up on my advisory group members, though I enjoy being their adviser very very much!

3- Allowing for more inquiry in my classes: I sometimes get carried away with how much content I have to teach in my IB DP classes, and would like to better plan my lessons to allow for further inquiry. In my MYP classes, I do sometimes stress about the content I have to cover and miss out on plenty of opportunities for further inquiry, even though the MYP class should not be so content-heavy. However, I have a rigorous curriculum I have received upon arrival and there is an expectation to go through ‘most’ of it.

Action plan to support my professional development:

1- Undertake MYP training as soon as possible: I enjoy online IB training modules and need to undertake MYP training soon to allow me to improve my instructional and assessment methods in the MYP classroom.

2- Continue building my library of instructional videos for IB DP Economics: I believe I need to make more used of flipped teaching methods to free up class time for further inquiry, and this means I need to update and add to my library of instructional videos on YouTube (an example of a playlist is here).

3- Attend a workshop or undertake an online training module on incorporating inquiry in teaching IB DP Economics: I believe networking with other teachers and see what they do to incorporate inquiry in the DP classrooms may benefit me a lot and give me plenty of ideas.

This Friday is the end of my first trimester at St. Timothy’s School and also my three month-iversary since arriving to the US. Here’s to another great trimester!

Warning: Drama Teacher Burnout!

It’s been a while since my last post. I have had one of the busiest terms I have ever experienced in my whole teaching career! I have also had one of the most draining. A huge part of that ‘drain’ has been more a result of my ‘perfectionism’ than anything else. I am very aware of that, and I now realize more than ever that it needs to stop otherwise I will experience burn-out, because I am very close to it…

I take a ‘drama process’ approach to teaching drama. I coined the steps of that process as follows: planning, preparing, rehearsing, performing, reflecting & evaluating. Previously, I used to expect students to produce written evidence for every step of that process for one major performance at the end of the unit-of-work. However, that disengaged students because it was “too much writing” for only a two-minute performance, and I have to agree.

This term, I tried to adjust my expectations a little bit. I started only asking for evidence of planning or preparing or rehearsing pre-performance, and of reflecting or evaluating post-performance. So an example lesson would look like this: a quick warmup followed by a debriefing, then a discussion of the new content/concepts, then a quick performance task to apply the new content/concepts. All students would have to prepare a quick brainstorm (as evidence of planning), or write a short script or draw a storyboard (as evidence of preparing), or fill-out a rehearsal log (as evidence of rehearsing). After watching all performances and giving/receiving feedback, all students would then either write a reflection or self-evaluation or use a self-assessment checklist (as evidence of reflecting & evaluating).

This seems like a very manageable lesson plan. However, I only see the students for one double-period a week, so that’s a total of 86 minutes. For me to get through that whole planned lesson in 86 minutes, I would end up being very cranky and snappy and rather impatient, which is unfair to the students. Drama is a noisy and loud classroom, and is a highly-stimulating subject for both the students and teacher. Students take time to think and then write and then transition between activities. While I have managed to get through the planned lesson several times with many classes, I would end up feeling very tired and drained by the end of the lesson. This is worse on Tuesdays, where I have three double-periods of drama in one day! Also, the lesson does not necessarily cater for all students’ learning styles as I’d like to believe.

So I have decided:

1- I will not to be over-ambitious, not because my students can’t handle it, but just because it will burn me out.
2- I need to let go of control a little bit, and relax.
3- I need to give students more time to enjoy the practical activities and the noise and loudness associated with them.
4 I need to give students more choice as to how they want to produce evidence of their learning: one group member might want to write a reflection after performing, while the other might prefer to draw a storyboard before performing. I need to allow those choices, as opposed to force everyone to write a script, or draw a storyboard. Students learn differently!
5- Every week, I will alternate between pre-performance evidence, like brainstorms, scripts, storyboards, and rehearsal logs; and post-performance evidence, like self-assessments, self-evaluations, and written reflections.
6- When asked to demonstrate pre-performance evidence, I will allow students to choose, even if they choose different things within the same group: one group-member might choose to write the script, while the other to draw the storyboard. Students learn better and are more engaged when they are given more choices.
7- Since the MYP requires reflection to be ‘on-going’, I need to incorporate a short reflection exercise for every step of the drama process, not just post-performance. A fellow teacher pointed out that it is best to get students to reflect about what they have just done as opposed to only after their drama performance: so if one student is drawing a storyboard, I can ask them to answer some reflection questions about that specific storyboard like ‘how did the storyboard help you in preparing for your performance?’ and ‘what was the most challenging thing about preparing your storyboard?’

I hope these reflections, and the decisions taken as a result, lead to more engaged students and a much less burnt-out teacher (ME!)…

Image credit: By LaurMG. (Cropped from “File:Frustrated man at a desk.jpg”.) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons from Wikimedia Commons

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 year 8s & 9s will have a very melodramatic term!

Last term, the year 8s and 9s did Commedia Dell’Arte. This blog follows that specific group’s journey because they are the group with whom I trial my new units of work, as they were the first group in the school to take drama as a subject with a curriculum created by myself. This blog allows me to document their learning progress (and my teaching progress) and also reflect on my lessons, units and tasks. Last term’s unit of work on Commedia Dell’Arte was a huge success, and the students enjoyed it a lot.

When I was planning the unit of work for this term, I had lots of different ideas. I was interested in exploring horror as a genre, directing skills, and script-writing as a process. However, I decided to focus on the process by which the director and actors stage a play. In all other previous units of work, the students would write up their own scripts and performances. So I decided to give them a new experience: staging a play based on a script written by someone else. This will introduce new steps to the process of character-analysis and character-development.

I started searching for simple, cheap/royalty-free scripts online. At first, it didn’t really matter what the genre was. But over time, I thought maybe melodrama as a genre would flow naturally from Commedia Dell’Arte (which they did last term) and Slapstick Comedy (which they did the term before last). In both the Commedia and Slapstick units of work, students were encouraged to exaggerate body language and actions, and explore status relationships. In melodrama, exaggerated actions and dialogue is a key feature, and the students are exposed to different character relationships: villain, victim, hero, sidekick. Also, melodrama is a genre that we can all relate to because we come across it very often on TV and in movies!

I found a couple of Melodrama scripts online that were simple, fun and easy to perform: ‘Love, Sick and Montezuma’s Gold’ and ‘Truth and Consequences’, both by Daris Howard (I purchased them from Amazon for about 99cents each!). Since the plays are only performed in class for educational purposes, it falls under fair use of copyrighted material. I decided to select small excerpts from each play, get the students to use these excerpts to analyze and develop character, then write up a beginning for that scene-excerpt, and an ending. The students will then create masks for their characters, rehearse their scenes and perform in front of the class. The audience will provide feedback for the performers, and then each performer will write up a detailed reflection and evaluation. This is a lengthy assessment task that will last about 7-8 weeks, and will be used to assess all four MYP arts criteria.

The MYP Area of Interaction for this unit of work is ‘Human Ingenuity’ because it follows the highly creative process by which a performance is made alive from a written script. The Significant Concept is: The process is just as important as the product, and the MYP Unit Question is: How does the quality of the process affect the quality of the final product? I decided to focus a lot on the ‘process’ as many of my students tend to pay a lot of attention to the final performance that they neglect a big part of the process which is the documentation of written evidence (in their rehearsal logs, for example) and the ongoing reflection and evaluation. Therefore, this unit of work was created to give students the new experience of performing a script written by someone else, to expose students to a new genre which is melodrama, and to highlight the importance of significant steps in the process leading up to the performance that students tended to neglect in the past.

During this week’s lesson, the students were given this student handout to introduce them to the unit of work and the weekly plan, and also to encourage them to set three personal learning goals for this term. After that, I used this fantastic one-page script-excerpt to introduce the students to melodrama and brainstorm the features/elements of melodrama (I found this script-excerpt as a part of a year 7 Melodrama unit of work on this website). We read the script-excerpt once together, then I asked some students to dramatize it in front of the class. After the dramatization, we had a quick brainstorm on the whiteboard to highlight the features of melodrama as demonstrated by this script-excerpt and other melodramas that the students can identify from TV shows and movies.

Image credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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.

Kick-starting the drama process: Slapstick Comedy!

So, over the past few weeks, the year 7s and year 8s were exploring humor in general and then moved on to defining slapstick comedy. This week’s lesson was an introduction to the slapstick techniques that they can incorporate in their performance: the trip, the slip, the collide, the stuck, the double-take, and lazzi (comic accidents). We discussed each of these techniques and we got a chance to apply them. We also highlighted the importance of slow motion to add dramatic effect and for the actors to stay safe.

The warm-up for the lesson was a One-Sentence-Story with the title “The Worst Day of My Life”. We all sat in a circle and every student had to add one sentence to the story. This warm-up was chosen to get them to think about accidents and mishaps, which is what slapstick is mostly about, and as a preparation for the assessment task to follow. The students then moved into groups and were told that we will start the first step of the drama process this week to prepare a slapstick comedy performance titled “The Worst Day of My Life”. They had to decide on who is going to be the group’s writer and who will be the director for this performance. The students are aware that the first step of the drama process is to brainstorm, and I used this story-map graphic organizer from Education Oasis to get them to think about their performance. Here is a snap-shot of one of the groups’ story-maps.

During the course of the coming few weeks we will move into the remaining steps of the drama process, which is to prepare a script and a storyboard for their performance, followed by the third step, to rehearse and polish their performance, then to perform in front of an audience and receive feedback, then to reflect & evaluate. Each of these steps will require certain evidence being documented in the group’s portfolio for this task. The year 7 students are also doing the same task but they are using their iPads to prepare their portfolio.

Stay tuned for next week’s lesson, where we move on to scripting and story-boarding the performance (some groups already started this step because they were so excited)! We will also focus on the role of costumes, personality traits, and status in slapstick comedy to help the students create slapstick characters when writing up their performances!