Stage 6 Drama – Portfolio of Theatre Criticism – Ballina High School – Teacher reflections

[MUSIC PLAYING] BYRON CHRISTIE: My name is Byron Christie, and I work in public education in the Northern Rivers. I’m at a reasonably large high school with a quite diverse student population and very supportive staff. To prepare students for the individual project in year 11, we did two things. First of all, the students did a mini version of the project in year 11. So they got to have a bit of a go at something they were either interested in or something they thought they were good at and wanted to see how well they would do in it.

The second thing they did was they experienced a lot of live theater. And they had the opportunity to write reviews as part of the assessment process. And that gave our students who maybe hadn’t thought about that option the idea that maybe they would look at some of those other options.

Students first hear about the individual project when they pick drama as a subject, probably the 10 into 11 Subject Information Night. It’s one of the parts of the subject that we kind of sell. We say, look, you get to work on this individual project. So students already know about that. And when it comes to the interview 11 after they’ve already had an experience of the individual project– like a mini version of it– then they’re in a good headspace for where they want to head for the more protracted project.

To help support individual student needs, I had a lot of one-on-one conferences with students while they’re working on their projects. It was quite a diverse class, and a lot of students had a lot of different needs. With Jason, he was a student who had exceptional English skills, and he needed to be pushed.

So it was a case of he would often present me with drafts of the theater reviews he’d written, and I’d make suggestions. And he would go away and probably give me a draft the next day. And so it was a regular revision process, definitely, for the theater reviews.

To support and facilitate the instruction of the IP, we had one less than a fortnight– so one lesson per cycle where we focused specifically on that project. There was also an opportunity during the group process after Easter when, if group members are away, students can work on their individual project. That’s a really good time to check in with individual students about how they’re going with their– on that progress.

The individual project logbook is a really vital part of the whole process. From the very beginning, students make initial choices, and they start to basically form up their ideas. And because there’s a record of that, you can go back after students have made some progress and look back and see how far they’ve come in their project.

Because quite often, students will hit a brick wall in the middle of their process and just start pulling their hair out going, why am I doing this? When looking back at the process, you can say, well, actually you’ve come a long way. A lot of students even change their mind about the project they’re doing.

So in the production and development of the IPs, the school community is very important. In fact, the local community is really important. For example, we have students who do design projects, so we go to theaters and look at spaces. So the Byron Theater were really helpful with that. With Jason’s reviews, obviously, because the– quite an intellectual level, I was very keen to get the advice from other teachers on the staff there. So they were very helpful in providing feedback to Jason, as well.

Jason didn’t encounter too many challenges with this particular project because he got started quite early. The nature of the theater reviews are that you need to watch four productions. So he knew he needed to get started early and go and see some productions. Perhaps the only challenge that we had towards the end was deciding which reviews to include because he did more than four.

One of the productions was more of a performance art piece called Aura, based in the streets of Brisbane, which was a little bit more like performance art. In the end, it was a really good choice to include that one because it showed that he could write about a whole range of productions.

To improve student outcomes in the drama course, I’ve used formative and summative assessment. In terms of formative assessment, you need to have regular check-ins with the students. So I would have regular check-ins with Jason just on how he’s going with writing his reviews and also about how you describe certain happenings on stage. I think it takes a lot of experience of a lot of productions to be able to describe things that happen on stage. So that’s certainly part of the formative process.

In terms of summative assessment, students did do an assessment in year 11 which gave them the background to writing theater reviews. For the same reason, being able to describe those live experiences is really important for a drama student. So that was the beginning of the process. In year 12, students have to do an individual project development assessment.

So we set that up so that students present a snippet of that work. So it might have been a review, for example, for Jason, or the example of a scene for one of the lighting designs, or a two-minute part of a monologue performance. So that’s certainly part of the assessment process. And of course, students have to do the final trial examination prior to the exam.

For the successful completion of the IP, I think it’s really important for students to sign some form of contract at the beginning of the process. Now this contract might include deadlines for when they will have work due, the idea being that they are basically making a contract with themselves, saying that they’re going to commit to this project and work on it, particularly because we start the process in term 4 of the HSC year, and then there’s a massive break over the holidays.

And quite often students will do nothing after that break when, in fact, they could actually make a lot of progress then. Drama is a really vital subject, particularly HSC drama because it provides students with those skills of critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration that’s needed in today’s society.

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Content updated 22/9/2020