iDoceo: work smarter, not harder?

  

So, up until this current academic year, I have always taught drama in schools that use a ‘rotations’ system. This means that in Grades 7 & 8, where drama is compulsory, the subject would be timetabled for one term only per class, so that the classes ‘rotate’ around the Arts, Music and Design/Tech subjects. So, the most number of grade 7 classes I had at a time has been two, and the same for grade 8.

However, this year the school decided to get rid of the ‘rotations’ system, and timetable every class for the whole year, just less frequently. So instead of seeing a Grade 7 class for one term but three doubles a fortnight (we have fortnight-timetables), I would see all Grade 7 classes for the whole year for one double-period a fortnight, which means I teach them for a longer time period just less intensively.

One of the challenges that new system brought for me was that automatically the number of classes I had to teach effectively doubled (last year I had 8 classes maximum per term, this year I have 16!). Additionally, suddenly it became a real challenge to stay organised and on-top of each class’ lesson-planning, assessment and documentation.

That was until I was introduced to iDoceo… Now I don’t work for iDoceo and I do not receive a commission for what-effectively-sounds-like-a-promotion, but truly iDoceo changed my life! OK, I may be a little bit melodramatic there (I’m a drama teacher so I’m allowed), but seriously iDoceo made my job much much easier! IDoceo is essentially a Swiss-army knife for teachers, it’s a lesson-planner, calendar, to-do-list, gradebook, seating plan organiser, class-notes-collector and resource folder all in ONE APP! Wow!

It takes a hell of a lot of time to set up initially (took me a whole weekend), but once it’s set up it can be pretty amazing! Here are some of the ways I use iDoceo to stay organised:

  1. The ‘Planner’

  

One of the biggest advantages of the iDoceo planner is that it is fully customisable: days of working week (we work Sunday to Thursday), times of periods/lessons, week numbers in each term etc… Once I import all my class lists and enter my timetable in the ‘Schedule’, the ‘Planner’ is good to go! I love that I can see a visual snapshot of all my lessons for the week at once, and also pinch the screen outwards to zoom and make it look bigger, or pinch it inwards to make it fit on the screen. The planner can also be viewed in weekly or daily mode.

2- The ‘Classes’ Tab

Once you tap on the ‘Classes’ tab, this is where all the magic happens! After setting up your classes, this is what you see:

  

As shown in the image, you can see the I have two ‘Pinboards’ for collecting resources called ‘Drama Warmups’ and ‘Friday Knight Fever’ (that’s our musical production for this year), I also have two ‘Notebooks’: one for documenting ‘PD/Trainings’, and one for documenting ‘Meetings’. Then I have all my classes listed, and each class has a different colour. At the right is my ‘Reminders’ list.

So, let’s tap on a class:

  
I love the iDoceo ‘Gradebook’! You can create as many columns and tabs as you want, you can use numbers, text and icons like cute smiley faces! You can also perform calculations, just like an Excel spreadsheet!

  

The iDoceo ‘Timeline’ tab allows you to see all your lesson-planning for that specific class as a timeline! You can also attach pretty much anything, my favourites are: voice notes to reflect on how the lesson went, and full integration with GoogleDrive and Dropbox so I can attach my PDF worksheets and PowerPoint presentations etc…
  

The ‘Gradebook’ feature in iDoceo also allows creating ‘Attendance’ columns, which is really most useful for me during rehearsals for our musical production this year! 

 

In the iDoceo ‘Classes’ tab, each class also has a ‘Diary’ where I use to reflect on my lessons or rehearsals for the production! Again you can attach voice notes and anything from GoogleDrive/Dropbox.

  

The ‘Seating Plan’ feature is also really cool. The seating plan is automatically populated with the students’ names once you import the class-list, then you just drag and drop where you want them to sit. There’s also a cool ‘random-picker’ feature which can be useful for discussions in my Business Studies classes.

 

The last feature of the ‘Classes’ tab is the ‘Pin Board’. You can pin pretty much anything on the pin board: files from GoogleDrive/Dropbox, photos from camera roll, videos, links, voice notes and much more. It’s really a great resource collection-board for each class!
 

Lastly, because iDoceo allows you to create separate ‘Notebooks’, not just within ‘Classes’, I have created a ‘PD/Trainings’ and a ‘Meetings’ notebook to document my PD and notes from meetings. My favourite feature is the cool icons I can use to categorise my PD and meetings, as I highlighted below:

    

So ladies & gentlemen, I basically use iDoceo as my lesson-planner, class resource folder, attendance-checker, gradebook, notebooks for notes/reflections about classes, notebooks for documenting PD and meetings, seating plans organiser, student random-picker, class pin-board, and so much more! I told you it really is a Swiss Army-Knife of tools for helping a teacher stay organised and basically work smarter, not harder!

Last day of school: Celebrating one full academic year at VISS!

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So, today is the last day of school for the teaching staff! I’m super-pumped because I have an amazing summer planned and it’ll be awesome! But I also like to use this day as an opportunity to reflect on the year: What progress have I made? What challenges have I faced and how I overcame these challenges? What lessons have Iearned? And also use it as an opportunity to celebrate my achievements!

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Firstly, what progress have I made and what achievements can I celebrate?

  1. Having moved to and settled in a NEW COUNTRY and NEW SCHOOL! Moving schools is challenging enough, imagine what it’s like in a completely new country?
  2. Having built excellent rapport with the students at VISS and established meaningful relationships with them.
  3. Having successfully directed a middle-school production.
  4. Having created two iTunes U courses.
  5. Having delivered two presentations at the SPARK Conference and a workshop to the school staff. I generally enjoy delivering PD to teachers.
  6. Having launched my own website and online teaching portfolio.
  7. Having made great friends and become part of a supportive and diverse community of teachers.

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Secondly, what challenges have I faced (and overcome)?

  1. Directing a production requires establishing contact with local suppliers for making costumes, buying/building props etc. That was a challenge for me as I was in a new city and in a new country.
  2. Changing the students’ perceptions of ‘drama’ or ‘performing arts’ from viewing it as an ‘activity’ to viewing it more as a ‘subject’ that adds value to their learning journey at school.
  3. Balancing between my commitments to the Arts faculty (as a performing arts teacher) and the Humanities faculty (as an Economics, Global Studies and Humanities teacher).
  4. Balancing between building rapport and relationships with the students but also establishing boundaries. This is a challenge I face quite often, and I sometimes need to be clearer about which lines cannot be crossed and set clearer boundaries, so that I am ‘friendly’ with the students, but not wanting them to see me as their ‘friend’.
  5. Staying positive at times where I had some tough struggles in my personal life, particularly this year.

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Lessons learned?

  1. It’s ok to let go of control a bit in the classroom and allow students to have some fun in drama. I’ve been described by a fellow staff member as the ‘strictest drama teacher’ they’ve ever seen! I have to admit, I can be a bit of a control freak and I need to relax a bit more in a subject like drama. I have even tried to give students more ownership of the lessons and got them to organize warm-up games and performance activities.
  2. Have fun with productions! They can be stressful and very testing to anyone’s patience, but again there’s no need for being too controlling and it’s easier to just let go for a bit and enjoy the process (with its ups and downs).
  3. I am stronger than I think!
  4. Hard work always pays off!
  5. Everything really does always fall into place, even if it falls out of place first!

Mr Mo, I could not be any more proud of you! Now go out there and have a great summer!

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Reflection: an important life-skill to teach?

John Dewey wrote: “We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience”. I couldn't agree more with this statement.

Being a performing arts/drama teacher, reflection plays a very important role in my subject and in my classroom. In fact, when I was teaching IB/MYP Performing Arts, 'Reflection & Evaluation' was a whole criterion of assessment on its own.

In my classroom, I always tell my students that there are seven main 'buzzwords' under reflection: Progress, Challenges, Easies, Strengths, Weaknesses, Improve, and Feedback.

So, the main questions for reflection are:

1- What is your Progress?

2- What Challenges did you face? How did you overcome those challenges?

3- What was Easy about the task/process? Why was this easy?

4- What are your Strengths?

5- What are your Weaknesses?

6- What do you need to Improve on?

7- What Feedback did you receive from your teacher/peers? What is your response to this feedback and how can you use it constructively?

A few weeks ago, we were given a staff training/PD about reflection in our classrooms. The photo used in this post was one I snapped of a slide from the PowerPoint used. It's a checklist to help the teacher 'audit' their use of reflection in their classroom practice.

So, here's my audit of the use of student reflection in my classroom practice:

1- Do I tell the students what they're going to learn rather than what they're going to do?

I always post the lesson's learning objectives and learning activities up on the whiteboard at the beginning of the lesson. However, my learning objectives can sometimes be more geared towards what the students are going to do, rather than learn. For example, sometimes I may post this as a learning objective: apply rehearsal strategies to rehearse for our performance, or perform our scene and give/receive feedback. I may need to rethink the wording of my learning objectives, according to this audit. I usually base my learning objectives on action verbs along the Bloom's Taxonomy.

2- Do I use the learning intention and success criteria as the basis for feedback to students?

I try to do that whenever I can. For example, if the learning intention is apply rehearsal strategies to rehearse for our performance, I would definitely have a debriefing with the students about the different rehearsal strategies that they used and which ones were effective or not so effective. If the learning objective is apply the elements of mime through creating a short mime scene, we would base our feedback on the performances on the elements of mime explored through the class.

3- Do I try to avoid grade only feedback and tick only feedback?

Absolutely! In a subject like drama/performing-arts, it is very important to give clear and specific feedback about students' work. I make use of peer-feedback sessions after performances, checklists for self- and peer-assessments, rubrics and conferencing with students in order to give them meaningful feedback on what they did well and where they can improve.

4- Do I include in my feedback to students recognition of what they have achieved and advice about how to improve?

Yes, in my drama classroom, during the feedback sessions after every performance, students give each other positive comments (something they liked about the performance), as well as useful suggestions for improvements. I also model giving constructive feedback by doing the same. I also provide the students with sentence starters for positive comments ('I liked…') and for useful suggestions ('Next time I would suggest…').

5- Do I make use of wait time and thinking time?

I try my best to include as many students as possible in whole-group discussions. Wait-time or think-time is very useful because it allows students who may be hesitant a little bit more time to think and formulate their responses. I believe I make good use of think-time with the younger students, but may need to use it more with the older ones too.

6- Do I ask open-ended questions?

This is one area where I still have lots of room for improvement. I do admit to sometimes using questioning to lead students to the answers that I want to hear. I believe I should make more use of open-ended questions to encourage critical thinking and discussion.

7- Do I encourage peer feedback?

Absolutely! In the drama classroom, we always have peer feedback sessions after every performance, and sometimes during rehearsals as well. Students give each other oral feedback, and sometimes fill out peer-assessment checklists or write up peer evaluations. I also make use of it sometimes in my humanities classes where students read each other's essays and give each other feedback during the drafting phase, or where students comment on each other's oral presentations.

8- Do I encourage student self-assessment and self-evaluation?

Definitely! In the drama classroom, students watch their performances (as performances are filmed to be added to their electronic portfolios), and then fill out a self-assessment checklist and write up a self-evaluation about their scene.

In my humanities classroom, students also self-assess their own essays using rubrics and checklists to help me with the grading process.

To conclude, according to this audit, I believe the main areas for improvement in how I use student reflection in my classroom practice is by asking more open-ended questions; trying to reframe my learning objectives more as what students are going to learn, rather than do; and making more use of think-time with my older students.

 

The Drama Journal?

As a drama teacher, I feel that my biggest challenge is the assessment and evaluation of student work and their progress. When I get the students to work on a scene as part of an assessment, I try to give them clear guidelines for them to receive a high mark, but I also do not like over-prescriptive steps that diminish the students’ creative expression. It’s not easy to find that balance.

Another balance that has been hard for me to find since I embarked on my career as a drama teacher is that of the Drama Journal: how much balance should there be between the theory and written part of the drama class and the practical and fun part? The drama journal is a great tool because it documents evidence of the student’s progress through the course, it serves as a medium for reflection and evaluation (self and peer), it can be used by the teacher for communicating assessment results and feedback, and it records research and theory.

I have to admit though, at the beginning of my drama career, I paid very little attention to the drama journal because I just wanted my subject to be ‘fun’ and ‘unlike other subjects’. During those days, I struggled to assess the students’ work because I relied solely on performances, and very little on student reflection/evaluation and self-assessment/peer-assessment. Then I started to make a switch to the extreme opposite: being obsessive about the drama journal, and spending way too much time with students working on it. During that time, I found it difficult to motivate students to do the written work, which created a whole lot of classroom management issues for me.

It’s been a process and a journey of trial and error. However, I have to admit that the introduction of iPads in the classroom has made it much easier. I have experimented with electronic journals or drama e-portfolios on Evernote, Notability and Pages/Keynote. What I like most about iPads is the ability to embed video recordings of rehearsals and performances, as well as photos and voice-notes/audio-recordings without any hassle, something which a paper-journal can not do. Recently, the iPad coordinator at my school recommended that I use an iPad app called ‘Book Creator‘, and it has been a great suggestion so far!

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I have created a ‘template’ for the drama portfolio/journal on ‘Book Creator’ that I export and share with the students in ‘epub’ format (to allow them to edit and add their artifacts to the portfolio). This book-template is structured as a series of tasks: reflection prompts, self-assessment checklists, peer-assessment checklists, research task instructions, rubrics for assessment etc… Students are also encouraged to add photos, videos and audio-recordings in their portfolios. ‘Book Creator’ also allows writing with a pen which can be great for checklists and rubrics embedded in the portfolio. Some of the task instructions also require students to use other apps like ‘ExplainEverything‘ or ‘Puppet Pals‘, all of which allow exporting output as videos that can later be embedded into the student’s portfolio. At the end of the course, the students export the portfolio as an ‘ePub’ and can then be viewed on iBooks with all the pictures, videos, voice-notes and annotations in it.

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Since I started using ‘Book Creator’, I have also made several adjustments to the tasks in the template, as initially I was too ambitious and put way too many tasks, but now slowly trying to find a better balance. Moreover, at our school, we are required to slowly migrate our courses and set them up on iTunes U, which along with the portfolio template on ‘Book Creator’, has really changed how I deliver my drama courses, mostly for the better!

If you would like to see an example of a drama journal template that I compiled, you can access it by clicking here (it is in ePub format).

The School Production: it’s over!

So, it all happened last week! We had our final dress rehearsals, Opening Night, Matinee Performance and Closing Night! Wow, it was a very action-packed week!

The Poster!

I’m somewhat relieved it’s over because school productions really really test my patience and drain all my energy. The performance nights were a success, but lots of lessons to learn and reflect on for next year’s production.

Firstly, I need to chill, relax and enjoy the process a little bit more. Towards the end, I was getting very tense about many things, but it all fell into place. I didn’t like becoming this cranky, snappy, short-tempered director, especially because I’m working with middle-schoolers!

The Ticket Box!

Secondly, the team you start with from the beginning is very very important! I was fortunate because I started with two great assistant directors and a great stage manager from the onset of the process. Also, I had many teachers who supported me with all the technical stuff and I’m very grateful for them!

Princess Who?

Thirdly, I need to have a clearer timeline from the beginning regarding rehearsals, because I feel like I could have made better use of the rehearsal process: more line-runs at the beginning where students just sit in circles and run lines, blocking can wait a bit longer until lines are fully ‘understood’ by students, starting run-throughs earlier as well as earlier tech-runs with lighting, sound, props and sets.

The decorated entrance to the theatre 🙂

Overall, I think I did a good job, considering that it has been a few years since my last middle-school production (only been directing productions outside school for the past few years, and working with professional/paid actors, where the dynamics are completely different).

More ticket sales = Happy Director!

While I like to believe that working with middle-school actors requires a lot of encouragement, support and patience, I have to admit it is much harder when you are under a lot of pressure and the students have not yet fully learned their lines, and it’s less than a week until Opening Night! So, next year I will try and emphasize line-memorization strategies and just have lots of workshops for learning lines and practicing them.

Also, as a director in a ‘school’ production, in a new country that I only recently moved to, I’m pretty pleased that I managed to establish contacts with local suppliers for making costumes, getting props and so much, and hopefully this makes it easier for next year’s production, which I’m thinking will be a musical!

The School Production: My Nightmare!

So, I’ve been working on my Middle-School Drama Production since October! Opening Night is one week from today!

The drama production is called ‘Princess Who?’, a fractured fairy-tale comedy purchased from Pioneer Drama. The script is quite funny and combines a lot of fairy tale characters in random and bizarre situations. The website ‘Theatrefolk‘ has also been a great help because of the tips, tricks, articles and posters that it provides for drama teachers!

So, why are school productions ‘my nightmare’, as the title of this blog-post suggests? Well, being the reflective teacher that I am, I know that school productions are the biggest test for my shortcomings. I am aware of the fact that I can be too much of a ‘control freak’, and I’m not the best at ‘sharing responsibilities’. However, one person alone can not pull off a school drama production, and I know that very well!

Moreover, it’s hard for me to be nice when I’m stressed, and nothing stresses me more than the school production! I have to put in the extra effort of being nice to the cast members, even when it’s one week to go until opening night and they haven’t yet fully memorized their lines (I kid you not!). Sometimes I just throw in the towel and bring out the mean-nasty-diva-director in me (I can sometimes be the ‘Piers Morgan’ or the ‘Gordon Ramsay’ of school productions :P). It’s harder when you’re working with teenagers and young adults because you want to give them feedback but not damage their self-esteem!

However, I’m grateful for a lot right now: the costumes are finished and ready, the set is finished and ready, I have a great team of two assistant directors and a stage manager (all three from Grade 11), I have the support of many teachers, the sound cues and light cues are set and ready to go, posters and tickets are printed, so much is actually falling into place and I’m starting to get excited!

Let’s see what happens in the final week of rehearsals!

Curricula or life-skills?

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Yesterday, I had the pleasure of supervising a group of Grade 10 and Grade 11 students at a Model United Nations (MUN) conference at the Dubai International Academy. It brought back many memories and made me feel very nostalgic for my own MUN days.

Walking around and entering every council/committee, and seeing the students engaged in debate and rebutting each other’s points, and amending resolutions etc., also made me think about how such an experience teaches them ‘life-skills’, because I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t learned such life-skills from things like MUN, participating in plays and musicals, the school band, the basketball team etc…

It also made me reflect on my teaching, and how far I have come from starting off as a teacher of economics, business studies and statistics, to becoming a performing arts teacher who teaches both drama and dance. Several times I get asked “why did you make the switch from teaching economics and business studies to teaching the performing arts?

My only answer is: I got tired from teaching curricula and teaching to a test/exam, and I prefer to teach life-skills. Having taught subjects at the senior level in both IB and IGCSE, realistically my main focus was preparing my students for the exam at the end: how to interpret exam questions, how to structure the perfect answer to get the full mark, how to write the perfect extended response etc… But life is not an exam. Learning how to interpret exam questions is not a life-skill, it’s an academic one, and it only prepares students for university. But there’s so much more to life than going to university. 

However, as a performing arts teacher, I present my students opportunities to work cooperatively in groups, to improve their verbal and non-verbal communication skills, to develop their reflective abilities, to develop their self-confidence, to practice empathy, to learn how to give constructive feedback, and how to receive feedback; and these are all life-skills that they will use no matter what their path beyond school becomes.

One of the most inspiring people in my life is my younger brother. He is my best friend and one of my role-models. My brother is just not academic, and he hasn’t been very successful at university. But at a very young age, he decided to start-up his own business: a company that trains and prepares delegates for worldwide MUN conferences! He took his passion and love for MUN and decided to make money out of it! How inspiring is that?

While I still enjoy teaching economics and business studies (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t), I am grateful to be a teacher of life-skills, and not just a curriculum.

My brother and I 🙂