Thoughts About Arts Education

Less is More | Minimal Scripts As An Entry Point Into Character

Today I just spent some time planning the ADA 10 Grade 9 Dramatic Arts course with a colleague.  It was an excellent exercise in reflecting on what works best for our student learners, focusing on how the dramatic activities will bring about our key learnings in the course: communication, collaboration, confidence and critical thinking.  

As we were going through the course and outlining the units, we landed upon minimal scripts as an entry point into character and script work.  Starting small but using clues in the text to develop: 

  • character relationships

  • character building based on the facts found in the script

  • confidence in lines and memorization

As an arts educator, I'm gearing my lessons everyday for my students to build confidence.  I honestly believe that we need to help students learn their parts.  By encouraging students to be "off book" from the beginning of the year, especially with short burst activities such as minimal scripts, it will help the students to gain confidence in longer sections of material.  For memorization has two main components: confidence and accuracy.  Both concept are rooted in the idea of knowing one's character, relationship, objectives and motivations inside and out.  

I have linked a handout and activity to minimal scripts to the Dramatic Arts resource page.   In terms of planning where minimal scripts could go in your curriculum, consider the following: 

  • at the beginning of a script writing unit to study character voice and what needs to be said in order to get the message across

  • during the elements of drama units to bring out concepts of physicalization, staging, communicating character's reactions between the dialogue lines

  • as a warm-up activity to extend characterization

  • anywhere else where it fits.

Remember: minimal script doesn't have to be a beginning activity.  It could be used to dive into characterization at any point in the process. 

Also remember that this is a great technique to develop student voice and confidence.  Give the students prompts and encourage them to place these lines into a context that is relevant to their lives.  When you are reflecting on the activity, how did the text allow the students to enter into situations that matter to their lives?  What is the difference between what is said on stage and what can be inferred by body language?  What context does the audience need to understand the storyline?  Be direct with your reflection questions and prompt the students to develop their literacy skills in their response to the activity (both as performers and audience members). 

A warning to all of my fellow drama teachers and directors out there in the world: be careful of timing with minimal scripts.  You need to schedule enough time so the students feel confident in their decision making and choices, but not too much time so rehearsal becomes unproductive.  In an Ontario curriculum 75 minute lesson, you could totally use this sample lesson as your action portion of the lesson plan with a characterization minds on and a performance reflection at the end.  

Less is more.  How can you use minimal dialogue and have maximum impact on stage?  Encourage your students to round out their characters using physicalization.  


Active Reflection Linked to Authentic Need, Not Dictated Activities

How many of us explicitly use reflection tasks to link professional development to our school/classroom goals? Take the 3-2-1 comments from the exit card and apply those comments to daily work in the classroom?

What if we flipped and incorporated these reflection tools into our pedagogy and not as a “check the box activity” or for performance appraisal purposes? But to make explicit links through our reflection tasks on how their daily practices are addressing the school’s goals and urgent student learning needs.

A good place to start is through professional development. After identifying the key learning from the professional development, ask:

  1. How do you take the theory and/or examples and then turn them into action?  

  2. How do you drive the learning forward in away that will not only uphold strong pedagogy, but address the learning needs of the students in your classroom?

  3. What else do you need to keep learning as an educator while addressing the learning needs of your students?

  4. How will you monitor the impact on student learning through the work?

Through my experience leading activities on school improvement, quite often hear (or read on feedback forms) that a barrier to completing this work is “not enough time.” The teams needed more time to talk, more time to gather data, more time to reflect. In fact, “more time” was the number one requested resource.

Let’s just face it, there will never be enough time.

What if we switched it around, made time and structured reflective conversations that aligned with our professional development into our long range planning time? Instead of “pop reflections” where we pose a question and encourage five minutes or focused discussion, encourage educators to bring data to frame the conversation. Build on that data to create next steps and then apply those next steps in the classroom.

In order for this to be truly successful we need monitoring systems that work for the individual teacher. Methods where the teacher doesn’t only collect the data, but uses their own framework to analyze the data and plan next steps. In this framework, the teacher can synthesize all of the observations/conversations and funnel them into actionable next steps.

Create a sustainable monitoring system that works for you. There are lots of options - from running log using a Google Doc to physical portfolio of student work. Pick one that works for you and set aside some time to link your professional development with addressing the student learning needs.

I encourage educators to start moving away from “pop reflections” and reflecting when someone tells you to do so. Being explicit, and setting goals the merge your professional development, data and student learning needs, will have great, positive impact not only on student learning, but your own pedagogical development.


Globally Minded Education | Theory, Practice, and a Response to the 6Cs

This post is in response to Junior AQ (Administration Focus) analyzing the Fullen article with a SWOT lens.

"Students are the agents of change."  But we, as an educational community, need to work together to sow the seeds of globally minded education.  

In Michael Fullen's article, "Why Helping Humanity Should Be Core to Learning," he states that students are, "catalysts for changing teaching and learning; they are also partners in changing the school and forces for change in society itself."  

Students wanting to do "good", studying humanity to make positive changes in their environment, is nothing new.  The motivation to do good is wired in our DNA, inherent in our nature.  A perfect example is my two-year-old niece and her desire to help with any task.  

My two-year-old niece also knows how to make Facetime calls. An example of how technology and connections dictate our behaviour in 2018.  Hence the need to look at the 6Cs as a foundation for education, focusing on the following as a foundation for navigating the world:  character education, citizenship, collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking. 

According to Fullen, teachers play an essential role, "helping students focus, giving them scope to engage with each other, examining learning designs, assessing results and deriving lessons for improving learning."   By focusing on learning, and looking at the process of how students learn and make meaning of their learning, the lessons can speak to these skills, and not only the memorization of concepts.  

The strength of looking at education through the lens of helping humanity as a core learning concept is that we are developing students with self, group, and global reflection skills.  In our connected world, students need to be able to analyze what is being presented.  High-quality resources, such as the World's Largest Lesson, will provide educators with adaptable lesson plans around globe key issues, such as hunger, poverty, and access to clean water.  An example of a lesson, Hunger is Not a Game, is available by clicking here.  

A potential weakness and/or threat to the notion of educating the whole child is "theory vs. practice."  In theory, all educators believe that they are teaching transferable skills that will allow students to develop the 6Cs competencies and their notion of what it is like to be a human in our ever-connected world.  Yet, putting the theory into practice can be difficult or inconsistent.   To teach the 6Cs means that educators need to adapt lessons to explicitly meet the 6Cs.   The barrier to this is a fixed mindset around "transferable skills" and "curriculum."   All too often, we hear educators say "must get through the curriculum and get through the material so we can have an assessment."  I have had first-hand experience with a resiliency project geared towards student health and well-being where educators were asked to adapt the resources to their subject matter.  In theory, we created a series of tools that would make learning resiliency skills explicit within any subject - just needed adaptation from the classroom teacher.  Yet, not all of my colleagues saw the importance of teaching resiliency skills as the lessons took away from their curriculum and the planning took away from marking time.   In theory, we are aware that in order to have real progress, educators need to spend time carefully examining if their lessons are speaking to the core of who students are as people, allowing them to develop these important human skills through the lens of the individual subject.  Educational districts can support this work by granting release time, resources and access to successful 6C lessons and/or unit plans across all disciplines.  

The opportunity for enriched learning is huge.  The world is moving quickly, and the demand for digital literacy, understanding, and comprehension is high.  Using collaboration, visual thinking techniques, global resources and reflection, the community can work together to help students build their knowledge of the 6Cs, which will, in turn, help them reach out and help the world in whatever way they see fit. 

So, let's nourish the seed of humanity and use explicit strategies to grow the community's approach to 6C competencies, so everyone can benefit from the garden of the world.  


Travel Thoughts

Art + travel = life (with a few cute cats thrown into the mix).

Click here to access the travel blog, which includes some thoughts from my global adventures. The blog opens in a new window.