Subjective and Objective Student Assessment- A Thought Experiment on Student Learning

What assessment is fair to every student?

Imagine for a moment – you are a student, learning in a subject that you find to be difficult. Consider a time that you struggled to grasp the content; but, you ‘failed’ the mid-term exam. Can you remember a time in your life or the experience of your students that the ‘failure’ to learn at the mid-term actually motivated a positive growth in learning. What would be in the best interests of the student?

  • How would positive based assessment impact a student?
    • Why mark down incorrect understanding?
    • Why not reward correct knowledge?
    • Assessment at any time?
  • What would be the impact of students choosing their mode of assessment?
    • Unless the mode of assessment (a writing task in an English class for example) is germane to the assessment, why should the mode matter?
    • Can students show their understanding in multiple ways?
  • Could a student be assessed fairly at any time?
    • What if the student completes the learning task late? Does that change the amount they have learned?

What would be in the best interests of the teacher? The teacher has a set time-frame to assess every student – a semester, a week, a day perhaps. What would be fair to all of the students? If the teacher allows for maximum flexibility in assessment, are they setting the path to every student achieving their very best? What if the student does not display mastery at the same level as another student simply because the modality of the assessment does not allow for some expression of knowledge?

Suppose a science class is finishing a unit on the water cycle. One student might choose to be assessed traditionally by completing a paper based test. A second student may opt for more flexibility in how the information is presented and create a presentation with graphics and written paragraphs that explain the content. A third, less talented writer with test anxiety, may opt to create a dance that demonstrates the water cycle. All three students may have the same understanding. The mode of assessment will reveal different sets of knowledge.

The first student will show a prompted understanding of the knowledge deemed important by the teacher.

The second student – assuming they are a good writer – will be able to clearly articulate what they understand to be important in regards to the water cycle.

The third may be a highly accomplished dancer – and compose a dance that could be interpreted with all the same content as either of the first two students, but it is dependent on the teacher’s ability to understand the dance.

It seems there is a line between subjective assessment and objective assessment. Clear criteria, the correct and incorrect answers are set in one corner. As is the case with student one, accolades are given for reproducing the answer exactly as instructed. It is clear which student has the information and which does not. Some may argue that test anxiety gets in the way – a re-test on paper or even orally may be the remedy.

This is set against the modality of the student that creates their own mode of assessment and tells the teacher what they know. The second student clearly has done this.

The third student may need to interpret their work for the teacher, which is ultimately an oral report (a hybrid of student one and two); perhaps the second two students can even assesses their own work for their own grade. At what point is the assessment fair? At what point does the assessment support the learning of the student?

In life outside of school – which all teachers must consider in the instruction of students – the later, student created assessment, seems to be more applicable to growth. The answer to a real world problem rarely has a clear single solution. With the drive toward soft-skills such as flexibility and creativity this mode seems to be the most relevant. It also allows students to test how they want to be perceived in the world and how their ideas my be received. However, for the sake of teacher-ease and transparent fairness to the students, a clear ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answer is clearly the way to go.

 

 

Reflection on PRESENTING in CLASS

I think presentation is essential. Therefore, I ask that my students do it frequently and the stress is lessened. All students are also rewarded with a single clap of respect from the entire class after every presentation, 1, 2, 3, *clap*. It’s just part of my expectations. However, I have provided accommodations for students gripped with fear. Accommodations have included, presentation in a seated position instead of standing in front of the class, written work read by another student on behalf of the shy student, small group instead of full class presentations, recorded at home and sent in presentations, and fully excused presentations as part of an identifiable medical disability. Any clearly seen accommodations like this are often accompanied with a class discussion about different abilities with fear and presenting – as well as why learning to talk in front of the group is important.

How to Evaluate Memorization

Memorization is a key skill in theatre and in life – but some kids need more or less support. Sometimes it even depends on their ability level. In my experience one point for each word becomes tricky – different students have different word counts and different memorization challenges in a particular script. Instead, I look at levels of memorization. It helps me direct student support for follow up.

Here is a general rubric that I like to use:

“Top Marks” – 10 points for being  Word Perfect

“Job Done” – 7-9 points for being basically word perfect. Maybe some transposition of words or dropped words. Perhaps a missed sentence (depending on length).

“Support Needed” 4 – 6 points, student missed more than a sentence, called for line or looked at script (1 – 3 times).

“Significant Revision Required” –  1-3 points for being unable to complete memorization or in need of more than three prompts.

I’ll assign a Student AD or SM to make notes on any missing or incorrect words by highlighting a revision script for the actors or by making line notes specifically for each actor.

Additionally, it is important to:

  • Give students memorization tools before giving them a memorization assignment (or make sure they have experience with memorization).
    • Tools include: writing and re-writing the lines by hand (speaking aloud while re-writing can also be helpful)
    • Writing cue lines on one side of an index card and the full line on the other side. Students can study like flash cards. Again, speaking aloud is preferred.
    • Memorizing line by line or sentence by sentence in what I call the A, AB, BC, CD, method so that what has been memorized gets linked to what will be memorized and the text is evenly memorized throughout.
    • Physical cues within text. Students can connect physical action such as blocking or character gesture to pieces of text. These gestures are fully implemented as part of performance whenever possible.
    • Sound cues in text. It helps students to use auditory clues such as alliteration, onomatopoeia, rhyming, and rhythm to memorize a text. Sometimes it takes a study of these poetic elements to cue into the memorization.
    • Memorization to a song.  Use an established song melody and fit the spoken words to that song. Play the song again and again.
  • Give students ample time to memorize their texts and scaffold the memorization so that it is not all due at one time. I often tie memorization deadlines to the rehearsal following completion of blocking for a scene. (Alternating in sets of four for rehearsal: 1) Table read and discussion of scene; 2) Blocking of scene, on book; 3) run of scene memorized blocking and lines; 4) working of the scene, “stop, work, fix, go”.

 

 

 

AUTOMATED or AUTHENTIC ACTING

Does acting in acting class need to be authentic to the student?  I recently came across this question in a professional forum.

Certainly authenticity is good – especially in theatre. It is a creative process; the product is best when it is personal to the actor. However – I contend that this may only be the desired end product.

A novice actor needs skills to build from – guidance even clear direction to develop with. Ready, set, create… GO! Open ended creation can be difficult. Giving a student a framework, blocking, gesture, vocal placement, clear direction is not only good teaching, it is a real-world occurrence. In doing so, the teacher is supporting the skill level of the student and scaffolding from that point forward. Yes in theatre education, there should equally be as many opportunities to collaborate, devise, and create in an open-ended forum. These are key skills that theatre can main-line to the student; these later skills, require a prerequisite of experience to build from.

Consider instruction in English Language Arts. In middle school and high school, writing instruction is often prescribed. A teacher may say, “use these sign post words” or “use a first person voice”; they may further say submit your paper in 12 pt font and MLA format. And in the execution of that prescription, the student learns the structure, the form,  the style required and then can learn to write in that mode authentically. But, their first prescribed may not be authentic to the student.

I contend that the instruction of an acting student does not need to be much different. I am curious to see what other teachers of theatre may think on this point.

This approach of prescribed movements and highly directed or choreographed work could also be described as an “outside-in” style of acting. Physically based styles are widely used around the world. Included in this would be the Lazzo of the Fly from Commedia and the stylized movement and voice of Kabuki. Here are some examples.

You can see in the Lazzo, the movements are very planned, even choreographed in response to the music.

Here you can see an example of a planned combat scene in Kabuki. It has been done in this exact prescribed style for the past 400 years.

 

 

 

Teaching beyond Facts…

What does teaching beyond facts mean? I recently read a fascinating article on soft and hard skills in the 21st century. Here is a summary of the article from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.  

The school system that most adults today grew up with should not be in the classroom of today. The memorization of facts is not the most valuable resource for a student. The analysis and understanding of information – using the information in a way that develops the student and prepares them for the future is more important.

We live in an ever connected world. The future that the children of today face is increasingly changing and complex. To prepare students for the world of tomorrow, a world we cannot fully understand, educators must teach 21st century skills. These skills include Social-emotional learning, Habits of Mind, character strengths and grit. But, these skills are often seen as “soft” or non-cognitive. How does an educator teach them in the classroom. A more interesting question is how does one know when the student has acquired the skill?

Students need to learn literacy and numeracy. These things are still important. Test scores reveal a piece of the puzzle that develops a student. But, teaching a clear skill such as multiplication or letter recognition is not the same as the application of the real-world math problem incorporated with constructing a building or the value that comes with understanding humanity when one interprets and analyzes a poem.

In a 21st century classroom, we distinguish between different types of thinking. We ask questions of varied complexity; from fact to analysis to an application of skills, students must learn to work in a variety of ways: critical thinking, creative thinking, communication and collaboration. These skills move the student from the foundations of fact into the potential to apply their “soft” skills in a variety of situations.

What is uniquely different about these skills is that they are continually developed. The school can give each student the opportunity to practice critical and creative thinking, communication and collaboration through project based learning that targets these skills.
The full article can be found at: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar16/vol73/num06/Hard-Thinking-about-Soft-Skills.aspx

A Case for Playwriting and Supporting Standards in Education

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.

Graduation 2015

The following speech was delivered to the class of 2015 on June 9, 2015 in Seattle WA.

1 All students all alike in dignity

2 In dear Seattle where we lay our scene

3 from ancient text to music harmony

4 We study things we know and things unseen

5 From the communal mind of what we know

6 Each student now walks across this great stage

7 To celebrate all that they’ve done to grow

8 and now to walk onto histories page

9 their wondrous passage into their high school

10 is now for everyone to take in stride

11 just please remember Our one golden rule

12 respect is how you live your life with pride

13 and with today as in all of your dates

14 go forth and make us proud dear graduates

My speech tonight is filled with quotes. Words of people I admire. Listen closely for the quotes. There may be hidden wisdom in them. Friends, Romans, Graduates, lend me your ears. It is an honor to have been selected to speak. Thank you. I would like to reflect on the purpose and path of education and why all of you are in an excellent position to succeed beyond your imagination. First, the teachers, faculty and especially your families have helped you to get to this point – please be sure to personally thank them. Then, be sure to thank yourself. Your work, all your efforts, has gotten you here- sitting in the garb of a graduate. Graduates oh graduates, wherefore are thou graduates? That is to say, why are you graduates? Culminating in walking across the stage today your education has been formidable. I know there has been struggle and angst; yes there has been the predictable blood, sweat, and tears of learning in Middle School. But, there has also been great joy that details your memories of EW. I will guess that you will look back on your time here and recognize the achievement of completing middle school at EW. It is an excellent preparation for any of the schools that you are each attending next year. I think that once you get out of the metaphoric woods that EW lives in, and start comparing your experience to other ninth grade students, you will see how vast and deep your education has already been. As you move from middle to high school, remember this, to learn or not to learn that is the question; to tank and fail – perchance to be in the zone and succeed. Ay there is the rub. Yes, the difference between learning and tanking is the task of the student. Ultimately – and I am sure this may spark great debate – it is not about the grade. Your memory of each score will fade, but the lessons learned will last longer and always be there to support your future ambitions. One of my favorite Zen quotes is, “The expert in anything was once a beginner.” I am reminded of the learning process daily. Not only as I watch the students of EW grow, but as I watch my own children grow too. My daughter, almost six months old now, has recently learned how to belly crawl across the floor. She illuminates the idea that learning is failing and then trying again. That is how you stay away from tanking. She, regardless of her failure to get her knees involved in the process of crawling properly, is in the zone and continues to work on the task of moving across the floor. I believe that the EW graduates align with this idea and Bruce Lee when he said, “I either win or I learn.” I hope that each of you can take that mentality with you in your future years as life continues to present the challenges and rewards of being an engaged life long learner. “You don’t always need a plan” I saw this quote recently posted online and read on. “Sometimes you just need to breathe, trust, let go, and see what happens.” The powerful moment here is the potential of each one of you. Through the following years each of you will earn, win, face challenge, experience success. These events will continue to shape who you are: A Nobel Lauriat; A social worker eliminating homelessness; A politician fighting for equal rights; An artist that addresses the concerns of society? Doctors that work across boarders; lawyers that advocate for the rights of everyone; the next inventor of the next tech revolution; Loving Parents; Loyal friends; engaged people that care about the world around them and a sustainable future? I hope so. I have said for a long time, “The essence of life is not about being perfect. In fact, perfection exists so that we have something to strive for.” This is at the heart of education, for me. There will always be someone that knows more than you; someone that can run faster than you; someone that will outperform you in one-way or another. Yet, for every person better than you, there is someone looking at you with the same thoughts. And, today, we are looking at you with pride in our hearts. Your achievement today, makes us proud. Regardless of who is better than whom, what matters is that you each run your own race and “don’t let your perceived limitations ruin your creativity.” Creativity is one of the greatest assets that you all have acquired at EW. From Drama to every other subject, creative thought is required. Every vocation benefits from creativity. It is our imagination that spurs ingenuity. It is one of my favorite parts of this school: creativity is held in the same regard as responsibility, confidence, and integrity. When students arrive here, in my class and every other, one of the other great lessons they learn is self-confidence. And, this is important because self-doubt is one of the most crippling forces. Self-confidence is one of the most empowering. EW Graduates know that have a voice that both matters and will be heard, because they have self-confidence. Education Researchers, Fay and Funk put it this way, “A positive self concept comes from feeling capable.” EW graduates are highly capable: from challenge assignments to an immersive curriculum that spans many of the most essential subjects, EW Students are empowered to take on the world. EW Graduates, you amaze me with your self-confidence. You are empowered to speak you mind, engage in civil debate, solve problems with elegance, change the world and address the problems that have been handed to you. Gandhi was smart and can give us this guide, “You can be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Rumi would add, “You should first change yourself.” I hope that I have not been too dogmatic here. The best teachers show you where to look but not what to see. To turn this idea around here Graduates, I predict that you will be showing the world where to look. In just one short decade, you will be entering the workforce as informed impassioned leaders. I would like to credit you time at EW as partially responsible for that. Regardless of where you end up, no matter where you are, how educated you are, how rich, poor, or cool you are, what matters in the end is how you treat people. Ultimately, this tells everything about you. Act with integrity and respect in all things. I know you graduates will stand up for what matters and for what is right in the world. I know it is in good hands. Vince Lombardi gives me my final words for you, “Every job is a self portrait of the person who did it. Autograph you work with excellence.” Congratulations graduates. I am truly proud of each and every one of you.

Know Thy Subject: Expect Diversity

There is great controversy in the world of theatre when it comes to casting. Analogous to this is the classroom task of putting on a play. The philosophical question is the same. Does the actor need to match the part? In other words, do you need an actor that is black to play Martin Luther King Jr.; do you need an actor that is Italian to play Romeo; are there times when you must pay attention to the diversity that the actor brings to the part and other times that it does not and should not matter? At least in the professional theatre there is a larger pool of actors, however, the pool of actors, like the classroom, is limited to the people that show up.

With children, it is even more of a challenge. Nearly every part in mainstream plays are not for children. Many parts that they are asked to play are adults. There are not many plays written for kids; the plays that are written for kids are often lacking in content with a simplified script. The content that I want to teach, and the content that my students are ready for, does not exist in a simplified script that is written for kids.

I have developed several instructional strategies to manage this problem. I let students shape their own narrative by literally writing the script that they want to work on. This eliminates any issues of adapting outside content to my students. I encourage them to work with the stories that they know based on their own personal experience. By doing this, I get a wide range of stories. From these stories, I select an evening of varied performances. One of my favorite plays ever written by one of my students was half in English and half in Spanish. Few of my students speak Spanish. However, the play was excellent and deserved to be produced. The entire class had to learn, memorize, and personalize the text written in Spanish. When students asked the inevitable question of, “Why do we have to do this?” I responded, “because it teaches you about the world around you; this came from your colleague and from your community; not everything needs to be easy and comfortable for you.” I can have this response because I know that every student, regardless of their comfort level with the material, will still be treated with respect; also, I had my eyes opened because of a play that I had to work on with a context that was not comfortable for me.

When it comes to casting, I generally practice what is known as color-blind-casting.[1] Rarely do I have a play presented that mandates an actor with a particular trait. I always have actors that are between the ages of 10 and 14; I do not always have characters in my plays with the same age rage. Further it would be educationally irresponsible of me to cast a student, based on skills and abilities in a part that they were not ready to play or achieve in the context of the project. I have seen far too many productions that featured an actor, with an obvious diverse trait, that was not able to perform in that part.

One prominent example of this was several years ago. I was invited to watch a production of Grease. As it happens, this was for a summer camp and most of the people that had signed up for the camp were girls. The director cast one of the few boys in the production as Danny, the male lead and romantic attraction for Sandy. The girl that was cast was about 14 years old; the boy was about 8. There was agony for the entire play. Much of the plot revolves around the relationship between these two characters. The director was unwilling to reimagine the casting and make Danny female or cast a female actor in a male part. The show was a tragedy and there were plenty of female actors that could have performed in the part of Danny excellently.

Casting should be based on ability and in an educational setting that can get tricky because of our diverse society and the history that we all carry with us. However, there are plays that mandate an actor with a particular trait that cannot be faked. If I had a play that was specifically about black character, I would have to cast a black actor. Without this I would be risking community outrage or worse yet my decision would go unnoticed and another minority person would be overlooked because the homogenized white culture had absorbed them.

Lacking that black actor, I would not be able to perform the script; or, I could discuss the script with my students and identify the challenge and create dialogue about the production. But, that is about as far as it could go. Even though there are many movies where ethnicities are faked and an ethnically ambiguous actor plays a range of characters from different cultures, I do not think that I should participate in the problem. I have learned that when it comes to casting (and to teaching for that matter), I must be flexible and adapt to both the script and the classroom pool of actors that I have.

When it comes to student assessment, I can adapt to each student in the classroom. I use a rubric that is based on skills rather than student interpretation.[2] This allows the personalization of a text to come to the performance. The powerful thing about theatre is that it can, and should, change with each performance and each performer.[3] One interpretation should be different from the next.

Lastly, so that all students have a sense of belonging, I have only three rules for my content area. Respect yourself; respect others; respect the space around you. I ask students on the first day of class what these things mean. I ask them to give examples of respect. This is one value that is universal. However, the way respect is shown changes from one year to the next. Students must participate in the shaping of the classroom culture. Doing this sets the tone for everything else; teaching is a partnership between the students and the teacher, it cannot be done in a homogenous melting pot. Rather, the partnership is formed anew with each new class in a new and beautiful way.

Know THY STUDENTS, linked here.

Know THYSELF, linked here.

Back to Prologue and Epilogue, here.

[1] Color-blind-casting is term that started with the idea that any actor of any skin color should be allowed to play any part. However, the term now applies to other identifiers such as, gender, physical ability, and age.

[2] Interpretation is one of the largest areas of bias an artist can have. As one who identifies as an artist, I recognize this and allow my students to express themselves through their bias and not my own.

[3] It is interesting to note though, this idea that performances change by the day is held primarily in Western Culture. In Kabuki, a Japanese form of theater the performance is passed on exactly from one master to one apprentice. This has preserved the art form for the past 400 years so that a performance today is nearly the same as it was when the art form first started.

Cross Content Collaboration

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.

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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.

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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.