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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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.

 

 

 

Year One, Term One: Reflection

After ten years at Explorer West, in Seattle, I transitioned my teaching career in one of the most drastic ways possible. I left a secure teaching position – one where I knew the ins and outs of each day – one where I knew the faculty and the community exceptionally well – and I took a position at a growing school in Casablanca Morocco.

My teaching was tested. I was tasked with setting up a new program in a school that was still finding its way in secondary education. A growing middle school program was my first charge; teaching new content and new lessons my second. Three content classes at three different levels made for six different preps and plans. Plus I had an additional course in advisory and community service. The program was growing. I was the only teacher dedicated to the secondary program. We lacked a math/science teacher. The position was filled by the Head of School while a search was under way.

It took an entire term to find the replacement. The first term we were metaphorically treading water. We were making the best choices we could to keep the program going. We wanted to create a community that was student driven – empowering students in a community that fostered intrinsic learning. But the challenges of building a secondary program from the ground up  was tremendous.

The work changed when a math/science teacher was hired and collaboration could truly begin.

Youth Theater Needs Lessons – not simply games

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.

Classroom Philosophy

Individual Management Philosophy:

 

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My management philosophy for the classroom is student centered. With my approach I want to empower the students to not only make good choices but to also retain the ability to make good choices when I am not around. For this reason, I emphasize a principles based approach.

The classroom should remain safe for all students, especially in an arts classroom; students are asked to make creative choices that may involve taking chances and ‘putting themselves out there.’ They must feel free to take these creative risks. Because of this I have only three rules.

One, Respect yourself. Students cannot put down or belittle their own work or potential. However, they must respect their abilities in the present and make choices that stretch their learning appropriately. They must have the respect for themselves to motivate their own work and take on appropriate challenges. These are all aspects of respecting ones self.

Two, Respect Others. Students are not allowed to insult the work of another student or decide that they have something better to do when another student has the stage. Students must respect each other through a mutual engagement and appreciation for the creative process.

Three, Respect the space. This could be rephrased as “leave the classroom in better shape than when you found it.” Students are expected to clean up after themselves and their peers. This includes putting away and returning things that they did not take out in addition to things they did use in class.

Following these three rules will create the model student and help to maintain a safe environment. It is only in an environment that is safe and respectful that the students are able to learn. Students that are not able to follow these rules will be reminded of them, asked to determine an appropriate response for their actions, and may be also asked to leave the class.

Through classroom management – based in my three rules – I can create an environment that allows every student to learn at their own pace, take on challenges with the content, and interact with the ideas of theatre.

THE ALL POWERFUL RUBRIC

Standards Based Education is an essential component to effective teaching practice; teachers must use learning targets that are connected to the standards and effectively measure student progress toward those standards.

I have come to embrace the rubric as an essential standards based teaching tool. Used correctly, the rubric can:

  • Guide student learning throughout the lesson.
  • Support student self-assessment.
  • Proved feedback for future student improvement.
  • Direct teacher assessment that is qualitatively and quantitatively equal from one student to the next.
  • Align to standards and measure desired outcomes.

In teaching my introductory monologue unit for sixth grade drama, I utilize a rubric that is effective in all four areas. The rubric provides simple statements that describe student achievement across five essential areas of acting. I expect that all five of these areas will continue to progress across the three year sequence; consequently, I do not expect students to achieve a perfect score in their initial performances.

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 10.59.48 AMMany teachers will use a rubric at the end of a unit to grade a project. While this is an effective use of the rubric, there is often a missed opportunity to use the rubric throughout the lesson. In my sixth grade drama class I use the rubric to guide student learning. Students that pre-view the levels of achievement in the rubric have the opportunity to stretch their learning into the desired category. I purposefully include levels of achievement that are beyond typical sixth grade achievement. I introduce the rubric as “level based” and not point based. Using the metaphor of Karate Belts, students can conceptualize the idea that different students will be achieving at different levels. Pre-viewing the rubric will also give students an understanding of the entire project in advance of starting any work. This pre-view will help students make connections from one area of assessment to another and plan accordingly.

A well-designed rubric can be easily read and understood by each student. I take the time to explain the content in my rubric for this unit and ask that students explain it back to me. The student voice component here is an essential element of assessing the student achievement in relationship to the learning target aligned to the lesson. The rubric also includes the content of each learning target that is included in the unit. Because of this, a rubric will also help students to self-assess their progress throughout the lesson or unit. Students that work from the rubric can see where they are fully completing the task and where they need to continue to work (O2).

During the process of the project, the teacher can use the rubric as a quick method of assessment and feedback for the student. They can ask the student where they believe they are at any given level, reflect to the student on their observations, and use the rubric as a common language. The teacher can also point to work on the rubric that would take the student to the next level. If the rubric is organized for learning, each step should follow a logical progression of skills.

Regarding formative and summative assessment, the teacher can use the rubric for assessment. This assessment will clearly have a quantitative value where points are assigned across a number of categories. However, the categories can also be viewed with qualitative assessment in mind. I can use the rubric to describe the academic journey of the student.

Lastly the rubric includes the content that the learning targets support. If students work with the learning targets in each lesson and demonstrate developing or basic mastery of each learning target, they will easily score in the mid to high range of the rubric.

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 12.32.03 PMIn future editions of the rubric, I plan to increase the effectiveness and include the actual learning targets for the unit within the rubric. This will increase the connection for each student form the individual lessons to the culminating project of performing a monologue. It will also assist students to assess their daily progress in relationship to the rubric and the learning targets simultaneously.

Socially Responsible Practices of Theatre Education: Sign Three

Journal Entry from October 20, 2014 for Theatre Methods

 What is…

At this point I have a decade of experience under my belt in youth theatre. I have a firm grasp on “what is” in my program. This grasp has been continually transforming over the years and has certainly shifted from a more idealistic to a more realistic perspective on what is possible and achievable. Some of the most cumbersome constraints include administrative oversight and school policy, student interests, and limited instructional time.

In my class, as I often describe, I try to create an atmosphere of respect. One benefit of this is that it serves as a backbone for socially responsible actions. We, society, must respect the identities of the people we interact with. We, each individual, must also respect our own history and identity. Too often in theatre, we take licenses to transgress boundaries that are present in society. Sometimes it is very appropriate; it can provoke discussions that allow society to progress. Sometimes, in middle school, the students are not ready to take on those discussions; to cast Romeo and Juliet with two boys, for example, may provoke content that students are not comfortable discussing.

IMG_2248 Continue reading “Socially Responsible Practices of Theatre Education: Sign Three”

Student Empowerment: Sign Two

Journal Entry from October 12, 2014 for Theatre Methods

When I consider the voices in my classroom – the voices that are shared with the performance space, my first thought is that of the playwright. I believe that the actor, in training or professional, has a duty to the words; the actor must bring the text to life. My second thought, as a teacher, is that the voices of my students must be heard. It is their learning experience; if a student can own the work – put their own name on it, there is an incentive to the student for increased ‘buy-in’ to the process. It is exactly this engagement that brings the words of the playwright to life in new ways. My students have the freedom to approach a text with a fresh and empowered perspective. That is why I am in theatre arts – I relish the empowered perspective of a student that demands full participation of each student. This was certainly true of my education; I received a high school theatre training that emphasized my full participation.

Reflecting, specifically on my high school theater experience, my teacher (much beloved) had a style that emphasized projects – often projects that he did not do much or any teaching for. The teaching in his class came after two weeks of practice. Students would present their scene and he would critique for twenty minutes after each scene. Sitting from the back of the theatre, in his bully pulpit, he lectured on the merits and faults of what we presented. He offered little in the way of technique. What he did offer was a drive for his approval. As far as I was concerned, my theatre teacher was the guru of art. For an angst-ridden teen this was exactly what drove my passion for theatre. Getting the approval of my theatre teacher was more valuable than gold.

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Level 8 (Lazarus, 2012)

Nearly, two decades later, how does this experience reflect and resonate in my classroom? Now that I have been teaching for several years, I have developed a style that is very hands on; my style is almost the opposite of my high school theater teacher. For example, I often base a lesson in a specific learning target that includes a specific acting or performance skill. I Continue reading “Student Empowerment: Sign Two”

Theatre Changes: Sign One

Journal Entry from October 5, 2014 for Theatre Methods

IMG_2406On the theme of reflection and change, Lazarus (2012) proposes a series of questions to engage with Appreciative Inquiry. The first question: what is it that has changed in the last year of my teaching; what has stayed the same? The simplest of my answers, I have enrolled in graduate school, MAT and certification. After seven years of developing my middle school drama program and ten years of teaching youth theatre, I have chosen to take this climactic step so that I can change my practice of teaching: in doing so it is my hope to become a better teacher with increased efficacy, increased student impact, and increased knowledge regarding the implementation of best practices.

This does not mean that I have lacked impact over my teaching career. I have had Continue reading “Theatre Changes: Sign One”