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”.





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.

Modeling Digital-Age Learning in a Participation Arts Based Classroom (ISTE 3)

ISTE Standard 3 states that teachers should exhibit knowledge, skills, and work processes that are representative of an innovative professional. My content area, theatre arts, is based in human interaction; these interactions must occur in the moment and in person. An actor must learn to act and re-act. Taking the content of theatre arts into the technological realm is equivalent to making painting class into a digital photography class. However, there is a great deal of content that can be delivered in a flipped classroom format; there are digital tools for teachers, students, and actors that are becoming increasingly common place.

Because the world is increasingly tech-enabled and tech-enhanced, how can I as a teacher of theatre arts, demonstrate technological processes that both enhance my curriculum, increase productivity, and build technological capacity in my students?

Kennedy (2009) speaks to the need for educators to rethink education and align learning environments with real world demands so that learning is flexible and can be utilized anytime and anywhere. One of the most tedious tasks of the actor is to memorize lines. One digital innovation seeks to change that. ScenePartnerApp ( is one of many emerging tools for actors to use when the need to memorize their lines. Any student with an iDevice can download existing scripts or upload their own. This makes the program highly adaptable to any classroom, especially mine because much of the theatre work that my students engage with is written by the students in my classes. However, when we do get to the published works (such as Shakespeare), we can simply download the text.

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One of the greatest highlights of this app is that it allows the user to hear only their lines or only the lines of their scene partner. This ability to repeat the text and use a digital scene partner is invaluable. Without this, the technique of memorization with a partner would need to happen in class. By using this app many of my students, those with iPods and iPads, have a highly effective solution that not only saves time for my classroom, it adds digital flexibility for my students. This app is one clear example of how I can integrate emerging digital technology into a classroom based on human interaction. In fact, because of the time I save (due to students memorizing their lines outside of class) I can increase the amount of human interaction in my class.

Theatre arts is not alone when it comes to time saving digital tools. Now because of the Google Institute (shared by Lida Enche in Google+) students can save travel time and virtually visit art across the world. This too increases the human interaction because in the classroom, teachers and students can talk as much as they want. Google Institute can be found at, I encourage everyone to check out both of these new digital tools that help arts classes.


Kennedy, K. (2009). Volume 7, Issue 2 Distance Learning 21 Cross-Reference of Online Teaching Standards and the Development of Quality Teachers for 21st Century Learning Environments. Distance Learning, 7(2), 21-28.

Classroom Philosophy

Individual Management Philosophy:



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.


A teacher is a practitioner of education. Because of this, their understanding and contextual information continues to grow. To nurture this growth, they must collaborate with colleagues, reflect on their experiences, and evaluate their progress based on the feedback from their collaborations and reflections.

One deep aspect of reflection that I engage with continually is the relevance of arts education. Continue reading “STEM v. ARTS?”

Essential Theatre Standards in Washington State

Context: In 2002, the arts were identified as a core academic subject in the State of Washington by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA); this act defined the arts as consisting of four distinct disciplines: dance, music, theatre, and visual arts (Dorn, Joseph, Vavrus, 2011). ESEA essentially established that the arts were equally important to all other subjects because only a well-rounded education can increase the academic development of every student. Because of this, standards were created for each of the arts (O1).

The learning standards for the arts, including Theatre, can be found on the website for Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). They can be viewed online or downloaded as a PDF or Word document.

Searching for standards is easy, providing that there is an existing knowledge of the Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALR) for the arts. The first EALR is centered on student understanding of arts knowledge, the second focuses on the student artistic process of creation, the third emphasizes student communication through the arts, and the fourth demands that students make connections across the arts and other disciplines (Dorn, et. al, 2011). A comprehensive chart of the four EALR can be found at the conclusion of this document (see Figure One). Continue reading “Essential Theatre Standards in Washington State”