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!

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!

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

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.

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.

http://www.showme.com/sma/embed/?s=mdzhqhk

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.