I’ve been working in the field of youth theater for the past decade. I find that when it comes to training acting skills and getting specific with young actors about the skills they are learning such as voice, speech, physicality, using objectives, and general analysis of a character plot and given circumstances, Drama games do not cut it. Drama or improvisation games are good for general, unspecific, and inferred skills that actors use every day in theater. However, to break through that and actually transfer knowledge in an explicit way, Young actors need formative lessons that are equivalent to a musician playing a piece of music. Similarly, you cannot train a classical musician through jazz improvisation. Drama or improvisation games are good. But, I do not rely on them anyway to actually teach my students. Drama and improvisation games are good for days when I want to depart from a lesson sequence. Yes, fun is essential in learning and especially in a creative discipline such as theater. However, it is difficult to engage student voice and ask students to articulate what they have learned in a drama game. Learning should be based on formative lessons with specific skills that are being practiced in improvisation or a script.
What are standards in education?
Briefly, standards are agreed upon learning points in specific disciplines that are specific to a grade level and the skills that the average student in that grade should acquire. Standards can be found in every content area from English and Math to Physical Education and Theatre Arts. There are different groups that have organized and authored standards. In Washington State there are the Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALR) that are comprehensive for every discipline in Washington State Schools. Nationally, there are the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for reading, writing, and mathematics. These standards have widely been adapted across the states so that the education of one child is (ideally) the same as the education of another child in a different part of the country. In general every public school and many private schools have adapted the use of the CCSS into the regular curriculum. There are also National Standards for the Arts that are comprehensive for all grades, K – 12, and the four major artistic disciplines of Theatre, Dance, Music, and Fine Arts. Given the movement to standardize the content of the classrooms across the country it is a best practice to, at the very least, integrate the national standards into the local standards of the classroom.
How do teachers use standards?
Most importantly, standards do not tell teachers what content to use for their instruction. Standards are simply a list of skills that students should develop. For example, when studying plot structure, the teacher may ask the students to read a grade level appropriate book or craft a narrative that includes essential plot points. The teacher may integrate a historical lesson about the Fraytag Pyramid or use a modern construct such as the five and eight part story structure.
Standards help to measure student performance. They do not need to be summative (resulting in a numerical grade). These measurements can be formative (descriptive of the student’s work) in either a formal or informal application from the student, peers of the student, or the teacher. That is to say, students should be made aware of the standard and be asked to evaluate their work in the context of the standard. They will gain two important things from this. First, the students will be accountable for their own learning. Second, they will not be caught off-guard when that standard reappears in another format or when the instructor discusses their work in the context of the standard.
Using standards is only a small part of being a great teacher. It is still up to the teacher to fill the gaps left in the framework that the standard provides. Standards are benchmarks on the roadmap to learning. There may need to be alterations, backtracking, fast-forwarding, or absolute disregarding of the standards to make sure that the learning of each student is addressed.
Why use standards?
The arts continually fight to be justified in the context of traditional education. By utilizing standards at the state and national levels for both the arts and the areas of overlap in the common core, teachers and artists can justify the existence of arts programing in a school. This is especially important today when arts programing is cut and when often teachers with low qualifications to teach art are at the helm of a dwindling arts program.
Second, standards are used to clarify and support the education of each student. Think of each standard in the same way that you would think of a painter learning the primary colors, or a ballet dancer learning proper alignment, or a drummer learning to count the rhythm, or an actor learning the difference between stage left and stage right. These are all basic standards in the arts. You can think of standards as the building blocks of knowledge, the rules of the art form, that help artists create.
As it is well known, one must learn the rules to break the rules. Artists are no exception. Standards are the rules that the creative spirit can use or break to create new and interesting pieces of art.
How does playwriting fit into all of this?
Writing a play is the ultimate task in writing. It requires the author to be both creative genius and literary technician. The CCSS addresses both aspects of writing, though it does more heavily cover the technical aspects of writing well. The playwright must learn to tell a story, develop a character, use contrasting points of view, follow the syntax and format of a play, use established writing structures, and most importantly follow the arduous process of writing, rewriting, revising, peer editing, critiquing, and then writing again. These are all found in the common core state standards.
Teachers must prepare students to be responsible citizens in an environmentally sustainable, globally interconnected, and diverse society; without such preparation the teacher is negating one of the prime directives of education, preparing students to be the future citizens.
When it comes to the social environment there is a vast amount of diversity to consider. To prepare students for a sustainable future, with a diversity of people that must interact through an increasingly interconnected world, the teacher must acknowledge and prepare students for the broader world outside of the classroom. To do this the teacher must be both self-aware and culturally responsive to the students in their classroom.
Through my coursework in diversity I have examined both my own history with diversity, my relationship with culturally responsive teaching, and the issue of diversity as it pertains to my content area.
In a set of blog posts I reflected on both personal narrative and academic research to examine both my personal biases and my desire to be culturally responsive to my students. It was not until I went through this process that I understood how little I like the idea of a melting pot. It is in the melting pot that we all start to look and sound like each other. I much prefer a world where everyone is proud of their cultural identity. Learning to differentiate between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, I wrote:
Reflecting on my relationship with students, I also examined how I have historically interacted with cultural metanarratives and how I can better integrate student interests into my curriculum. One example of this is the student one-act play project that I have developed over the past several years that asks each student to respond to the project by writing about what they know.
Further responding to industry trends and the teaching task of casting a play, I examined the relationship I have with casting students through non-traditional means, colorblind casting, and culturally specific casting.
It is only through this through process that I can better understand who I am as a teacher, respond to my students needs, prepare curriculum that is culturally responsive, and prepare my students for a diverse and multi-cultural world.
When I teach in a diverse classroom (and every classroom is diverse). I must understand both what diversity I bring to the table, how students may initially view me, and what bias I also bring into teaching. By doing this I can respond to the needs of each student and check my bias before it enters my curriculum.
Some of the important lessons that I have learned, going through this coursework, are:
- Understanding my cultural identity allows me to talk authentically about culture
- Every student, regardless of ethnicity, has belonging to both minority and majority groups (race, gender, ability, economics, education, and more)
- Talking about diversity is difficult; acknowledging that I am not perfect at it both gives me permission to make mistakes with my students and gives my students permission to make mistakes as well
- There is no clear answer about what “the right” thing to do is when addressing diversity; for me the only thing I must maintain is respect for everyone in the room
It is my hope that students will be able to mirror and advance my understanding of diversity and culturally responsive teaching. While I may never actually teach a unit on diversity and our multicultural world, we must learn to sustainably work with people that are different from our own self.
Students learn from the environment around them. I can be only a part of that environment. I may or may not actually embrace the messages that they receive in their homes. I may create a conative dissonance for them; I may reaffirm what they already know and practice. Regardless, I believe I can and will model a path to a multicultural world where differences are embraced and built upon.
I would like to continually work to reflect upon and refine my personal understanding of both my cultural identity and my culturally responsive teaching. Specifically in my classroom, I will continue to demonstrate respect for and honor the multi cultural environment that we live in, continue to be culturally aware when I cast productions, begin to involve students in the decision of casting when it is culturally specific character, continue to encourage students to write from a place of cultural awareness and personal meaning, and challenge myself to work against my biases in the classroom.
Giving students the opportunity to access classroom content in multiple ways is an essential practice of an effective educator; learning content specific academic language can be difficult for both advanced English language speakers and English speakers that are still acquiring fluency, the effective educator will give students multiple opportunities to learn the same content in different ways so that students of different backgrounds can be served equally.
In theatre arts, learning the academic language associated with blocking (the physical movement on the stage that is comprised of entrances, exits, and moving about the stage) can be difficult to master. In my classroom, students are given multiple opportunities to interact with, process, and perform their understanding of the content. This can be especially effective for students that are English Language Learners, struggling readers, or struggling writers.
A primary strategy to instruction of blocking is through a flipped classroom model. First, blocking can be difficult to understand because it is comprised of a coded language that makes the process simpler if the user understands the code. Consequently, I put together a set of instructional videos that mirrored instructional lessons so that the students can take the time to comprehend the information at a pace that works for them. These videos both teach the code of blocking, the reasons for the codes, and how the student can use the blocking.
Further videos allow the students to document the blocking that will be used in the production. These videos have both auditory instructions and the blocking written out for students to copy down; most importantly, students can pause and rewind the video at any point so that they can catch all the information that they need. Students get to both see the code and listen to the fully spoken explanation of the blocking. Any questions that students have are answered in class.
The second strategy, now that students have a written record of the required blocking for the production is to process that information through performance and rehearsal. Students demonstrate their knowledge by actually doing the blocking on stage. This critical step takes the information away from the abstract representation and transforms it into a physical practice that anyone, regardless or reading or writing level, can perform.
Lastly, students explain in their own words why their character is completing the movement in the blocking. Allowing the student to personalize the information, this step makes the information memorable. Because, blocking is more than the set of codes that represent locations on the stage; blocking is the physical expression of the actor.
These multiple modalities represent three best practices in teaching content area language. Students get to learn through multiple forms of the text (recorded audio, recorded video, in person class time) at an understandable rate; students get to perform and demonstrate their understanding of the academic language; students get to personalize the information to finalize the memorization process and relevance.
This was the first year that I presented theatrical blocking through a flipped classroom. The approach is unconventional. Some of my more experienced theatre students resisted the concept. They wanted to quick coded language (ex. Bob X DSL, R O Sam, EX USR instead of Bob crosses down stage left to the right of Sam and then exits up stage right) that they could pick up on the spot. However, students that took more time to learn this content (my sixth grade class for the most part) really enjoyed the process of learning blocking through the flipped classroom because it gave them time to both understand the blocking and process their understanding in class.
The implications for student learning are significant. Presenting the blocking and academic language associated with it through an online format allows students to go back to the information at any time that they choose. I had many students comment that they enjoyed being able to reference both the primary instructional video and the actual blocking videos.
Further iterations of this project may include multiple videos of the blocking. One video would be the quick coded message version, so that more experienced students could sort through the content quickly and a second version for students that needed a more thorough explanation. This would address the concerns that my more advanced students had with the approach while maintaining the online resource for my students.
Can a writing workshop work for any subject? Yes. Although, this assumes the liberal definition of a text, where anything with meaning, including but not limited to written words, can be composed or written. The “text” in question could be a traditional essay, a painting, or even a performance that eludes a fixed form.
The writer’s workshop allows for students work in relationship to a text by asking a strong question. For example, is Shylock, in Merchant of Venice, a hero or a villain? Students can build buy in by forming their own opinion about that question; they way they perform the text with the acting and character choices that they make will form a unique opinion that is expressed through a performance. The same is true for music. Students may be asked a question about the interpretation of a musical composition, or even be asked to compose an original score in response to an existing piece of music or in response to another piece of art. The performative interpretation becomes the student’s response.
A writing workshop depends on students setting their own goals. With a performance this is simple. The student must select artistic elements and skills that apply to the project. Individual work time is also a critical and simple step. With the given project of creating a performance in response to the question students can work on developing the selected artistic elements in their performance (such as character physicality or musical accent) by performing for each other and reflecting on the performances.
Through focused mini-lessons, derived from teacher observations, the teacher can direct the rehearsal process with a differentiated approach to the content. Further, guiding the meta-learning for the class, the teacher can introduce and model the learning target for the day as it relates to the project of answering the question. As students work, the teacher can provide one-on-one conferences with students by watching their work and asking guiding questions.
While this may not be a traditional writing workshop, it is certainly an effective adaptation for the performing arts. Likely, it would also work for Physical Education or any other skill based content that relies on a demonstration of skill rather than the presentation of knowledge in written form. I have seen it work in my class and can easily see it work in others.
Collaboration within the school community can be an effective way to reach students across content areas and to help create new and renewed engagement for students and teachers; to do this teachers must collaborate across content areas and use appropriate communication to do so.
My most recent collaboration with a teacher outside of my subject area is an improvisation and health project. In the project, students must investigate and research health issues that are relevant to their lives and then use that research to build a character in drama. The characters then come together for a “community meeting” and discuss the issues of relevance in their improvised lives.
This project started with student research; this research was summed up in a inter-disciplinary meeting that shared the outcomes across content areas between drama and health. These pictures represent the research compiled by the students.
This information, generated by the students, was then summed up and shared with all the participating teachers so that it could be used in three ways. First, by using the foundational knowledge the health teacher is able to bring additional resources to the students so that their information that they use in drama can be more substantial.
Second, the students generate characters in an improvisational-based format that utilizes all of the research and gathered information. Based on the content from health class, students must create a back-story for their characters, character objectives and relationships, and character traits such as vocal and physical patterns.
Lastly, this information, in addition to the work in class and the additional research in health class, is used to create a joint rubric. Students will receive a single summative evaluation that addresses their learning in both classes.
Every piece of written information is shared via Google drive so that both of the associated teachers can easily add and adjust content as the unit progresses.
This project exemplifies collaboration within the school because it is a unit that has and will continue to grow together. It allows students to combine their knowledge across content areas; this project further demonstrates this standard because it requires both of the collaborating teachers to communicate professionally in both written and verbal forms.
In summary, this project created a powerful effect on my students. They reported that the best aspect of the project was the integration of multiple subjects. Placing the health content in an improvisational format allowed them to explore the issues in both meaningful and personal ways. Further, this project created an excellent template (in both communication and lesson planning) for collaborations that I am sure will follow between the health teacher, other teachers, and myself.
In future iterations of this project, I will be sure to communicate with other teachers earlier in the year. While we had ample time to complete the project, the planning late in the year gave us undesirable timing when it came to the shared class time for the initial collaboration and the community meeting that the students jointly participated in.
THE PROBLEM: The problem with American Textbooks is that they are often bland and outdated. The textbook replaces the standards that the teacher should use to derive original and refreshing lessons that are relevant to the student population. A textbook is a homogenous text that is made for universal appeal. With a mandated textbook, teachers are left to either follow the textbook in full (which is hardly teaching) or assemble their lessons around the required components. A textbook, when used as a primary or exclusive teaching device, is equivalent to letting another teacher (the author of the textbook) into the classroom and puts the primary teacher into a position of student management monitor.
THE SOLUTION FROM THEATRE AND ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS: Fortunately, both of these subjects have a broader range of choices than the average science or math class. These highly structured fields contain a set sequence of information that the student must master from one year to the next (Daniels and Zemelman, 2014). However, with English Language and Theatre Arts, the instruction has a spiral structure (Daniels and Zemelman, 2014). Students are required to build on past (and similar) learning experiences with the same structure and processes from one year to the next. In English Language Arts, students read texts (ideally in a wide array of genre) and respond to those texts through writing and other interactive activities (such as group discussions). In Theatre Arts, students study a new play each time they go through the process of performance; the text is always changing and the skills build upon the past experience of the student. Both of the subjects are focused on the personalized application and interpretation of the content.
THE QUESTION FOR EDUCATORS: Where does the information for your field live? Suggestion, take a cue from the humanities. Knowledge lives in the student; by capturing the student experience as they interact with the primary source of information, knowledge is formed. A textbook in science can be a reference tool for an educator because it contains the “required information” for the grade level. However, a textbook in Theatre Arts does not exist and a textbook for English Language Arts is seldom used. Further, students will learn and retain more information when the teaching is not exclusive to information processing (a.k.a. regurgitation). Information is retained through a personalization of the information – that is how it turns into knowledge. Lastly, this is how literacy can be build, across the subjects. Literacy must include the ability for one to personally translate, utilize, and generate information within the content. That cannot happen if the information is merely being read, memorized, tested, and forgotten.
Daniels, H., & Zemelman, S. (2014). Subjects matter: Exceeding standards through powerful content-area reading (Second ed.).
Technology is becoming ubiquitous with everyday life. Students and teachers should use technology in a way that is effectively integrated into the classroom so that learners and teachers are technologically proficient.
Through an investigation of the ISTE standards I have brought multiple avenues of potential development to my classroom. Integrating the arts and technology together in education is a difficult thing to do. Many other subjects have pre-loaded content, websites, and platforms that are dedicated to the education of students through technology. However, the arts do not have parody with these resources.
My existing work with technology in teaching supersedes the work that many of my colleagues are doing. One example of this is my development of a flipped classroom. This approach allows me to deliver lecture, collect survey/test data, and support class content through a use of my website, screen casts, and the Google Platform (including Google Docs, Google Forms, and other associated Google Apps).
Given that I already deliver tests and assessments online, I wanted to verify the validity of self-administered testing and self-assessments through technology. I found that testing through technology provided valid and reliable data; surprisingly I also found that self-assessment through technology provided increased learning. I intend to engaged this approach in my future teaching be integrating more self-assessments through my web site.
For ISTE 3 I was able to find an app, ScenePartnerApp, that would assist me in modeling digital age learning in my classroom and content area. Students using this app will be able to upload their script and use the text reader as a scene partner when memorizing their lines. This technology provided the discipline specific resource I needed to teach with technology.
Given the lack of resources that I found that are discipline specific I leave my research with two action points that I intend to pursue. First, I will continue to integrate screen casts and self-produced material in my classroom. It has proven to be, and I believe will continue to be, an effective pedagogical tool. One new aspect of this will be teaching students about digital citizenship.
Second, I will use online communities (such as LinkedIn) to connect with teachers from across the globe. I have already started to do this through LinkedIn; the results of this outreach have been effective. Not only have I been able to ask questions of teachers in multiple disciplines, including theatre, but I have been able to present my research to these groups and offer my expertise to other teachers.
By using technology in my classroom I am providing the needed tools to my students so that they can participate in a digital future. Teaching digital literacy and citizenship is the civics class of today and a needed part of every classroom.
Lastly, I plan to create a theatre curriculum that is entirely supported online. I would like to pilot a remote learning theatre program that will allow students from across the globe to connect through theatre performance. This would go a long way towards providing the resources – to other educators – that I struggled to find for myself.