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”.

 

 

 

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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.

Three Tiers of Words: Three Reading Strategies: Increased Personalization and Understanding

At the heart of great teaching is differentiation; this teaching tactic of differentiation inside of the teaching content area applies to language acquisition, stages of language, and academic language development; this work will help students across multiple content areas (P2).

In researching this teaching topic area, I reflected on two effective techniques for teaching academic language through a differentiated approach.

FIRST: Three Tiers of Words for Differentiated Instruction

  • Tier One includes vocabulary that the student already knows; teaching these words will help the student activate their prior knowledge.
  • Tier Two words are important over many years in many disciplines both your own and others; examples include parallel, theme, and base; teaching these words will help students make connections to ideas outside of the content and reinforce the meaning in the content.
  • Tier Three words are technical with narrow definition; these words should be taught for the lesson and looked up for further clarity; a student will engage the text at an analytical level.

SECOND: Three Levels of Reading for increased meaning and differentiated instruction

  • Level One, read for general understanding (identify words in all three tiers)
  • Level Two, making personal connections to other content areas
  • Level Three, extending the text to connect and converse with other texts

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(LINK TO POST)

Breaking the academic words into these three tiers allows both the teacher and the students to strategically approach the task of learning. By emphasizing the vocabulary early in the process of learning it can be reinforced at every step of the lesson.

In pre-reading students can identify words across tiers and note their meanings.

In connecting to personal experiences, a second stage of effective reading, students can connect their experiences of each word (especially Tier Two Words) in other classes to the text that they are examining and use the Tier One Words, words they already know, to build their knowledge and connection to the new text.

Finally as a student reads for deeper meaning, they are ready to ask bigger questions about the words and their interconnected meanings. By engaging in a process of inter-textuality, they will solidify the understanding and be able to comment on the text in relationship to other texts they have read.

Academic words in all three areas continually emerge in both Theatre Arts and English Language arts because both content areas examine texts from multiple sources with multiple narratives. I often tell my students that my class is not simply a drama class. Rather, my class is every class in the disguise of a drama class. Students must be prepared to speak about any topic that they know about. Because of this, they build their understanding of both of the first two tiers. Some common examples of these words are: inner-monologue, character development, and memorization.

The third tier words are then used most commonly through the language demand and are particular to the performance assignment. One simple example would be, blocking (the specific movement of actors on the stage).

Because of my research into the three tiers of academic language and three common phases of reading, my instruction has changed. I am more apt to point out academic words that make a connection between subjects and encourage students to read a text three times for increased clarity and deeper meaning. With each reading of the text I can guide the student by suggesting that they look for general understanding on their first time through a text, connections between the text and other subjects on their second read, and the conversation between one text and another in their third reading.

By using this three tier and three read through strategy, students are more likely to fully understand and personalize the text. Because a central practice of Theatre Arts is personalization and finding increased meaning, these strategies are invaluable to the students (and to myself). Further, different students will be reading at different levels. Knowing which level a reader is working on will allow myself to differentiate my instruction for that student.

One consequence of using this technique is lost time. It will take students three-times longer to complete any reading assignment. Because of this, reading assignments must be both shortened and be given in class time for guided completion. However, the benefits will outweigh the cost. Students will generate more connections inside of my content area and in content areas outside of my classroom.

Expect Diversity: Prologue and Epilogue

Expect Diversity in Teaching:

A Collection of Personal Stories and Reflections from Teaching that Mirror Multicultural Research

Know THYSELF, stories and reflections found here.

Know THY STUDENTS, stories and reflections found here.

Know THY SUBJECT, stories and reflections found here.

PROLOGUE

The parent of a former student of mine told me the following story. This story has had me thinking about my bias, as both a teacher and as a parent, for the past decade.

I think about this story often. How would I have reacted to the same situation? I want to raise my children without racial bias. I want to teach my children that the world is filled with good people that have a multitude of identities. I want my children to know that it is the diversity in the world that makes our world great. But, I understand that my bias (both inherited and developed) can come out in the most unexpected moments.

EPILOGUE

Returning to the story about the dinner guest, Ernie, I should tell the rest of the story because I wonder how I would have reacted. What if I was that father, standing there with my daughter? What if my friend ended the conversation there, turned and walked away in disgust? I would have ran after him and not been there for the rest of the story.

This former student of mine expected diversity. She expected Ernie to be orange. It was the bias of her father – and my bias hearing the story for the first time – that anticipated a social problem because of Ernie’s racial identity. I should expect diversity in my classroom too.

Know THYSELF, stories and reflections found here.

Know THY STUDENTS, stories and reflections found here.

Know THY SUBJECT, stories and reflections found here.

References:

Banks, C.A.M. (1996). Intellectual Leadership and the Influence of Early African American Scholars on Multicultural Education. In J.A. Banks (Ed.), Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action (pp. 46-63). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Hillis, M. R. (1996). Allison Davis and the Study of Race, Social Class, and Schooling. In J.A. Banks (Ed.), Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action (pp. 115 – 128). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Howard, G. (1996) Whites in Mulitcultural Education: Rethinking Our Role. In J.A. Banks (Ed.), Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action (pp. 323 – 334). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

McIntosh, P. (2008) White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. In A.V. Kesselman, L. D. McNair, and N. Schniedewind (Ed.), Women; Images and Realities: A Multicultural Anthology (pp 388 – 392). New York: McGraw-Hill Companies.

Mvududu, N. (Director) (2015, May 1). Class Lectures. Diversity in America, Spring Quarter. Lecture conducted from Seattle Pacific University, Seattle.

Textbook Fail and Finesse

The lessons learned from years of teaching are rarely all put together into one lesson. Here is one example of many best practices for teaching literacy inside of just one lesson – watch to see why any teacher needs to know about them.

Here is a link to the full lesson: To Read or Not to Read

Equal Access to Academic Language and Classroom Content through Flipped Learning

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.

How To: Writing Workshop for Performing Arts

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.