Stage 6 Drama – Group Performance – Newtown High School of the Performing Arts – Teacher reflections

[MUSIC PLAYING] My name is Daniel Kavanagh, and I am the head of drama at a department of education performing arts high school. I run a department of about six drama teachers and we have quite a large cohort of students. Our intake is primarily local students with an audition stream as well. And so we have a very diverse range of students that we cater for here at our school. And an average HSC cohort for us would be anywhere up to about 50 or 60 students, so we manage quite a few of them.

OK, so the work that we do in year 11 with the students is really important in engaging them in what we actually achieve in the GP in year 12. It’s important to think about the strengths of your class and look at those when you’re in the preliminary course and devise units of work there that you can then feed into the work that you might want them to produce in year 12. So it might be great to lay the groundwork in terms of some physical theater, or maybe looking at transformational acting and incorporating texts that are going to help you with the way that you frame your work in the GP in the HSC.

The GP is introduced to students usually in term two. Now, you’re not supposed to work on it before then. But, of course, your students are going to be thinking about it and doing some preliminary planning before that. But ultimately, you’ve got about a term to get the whole thing together before you start assessing the students formally. And so it’s quite a condensed timeframe. But if you’ve got your students organized and if you know what you’re doing and where you’re heading with it, it can be quite a manageable time.

The process that we use here to formulate our groups can change from year to year. Quite often, there is some sort of negotiation. But it’s quite important that the teacher has a really strong voice in terms of choosing the groups because you’ve got a perspective with students that they don’t necessarily see themselves. It’s really important to let the students feel as though they’ve got some ownership over the groups. But it’s really also important for you to make sure that you’re making decisions that are going to satisfy the whole cohort, and not just individuals.

The way we facilitated lesson time during the GP period was that we spent a little bit of time at the beginning laying the groundwork. So we spoke to students about the processes of play building. That is, of course, generating and exploring, then selecting and structuring, and then finally, rehearsing and refining. So we split out term two up into those sections so that students were aware of what they’re expected to do and when they were supposed to have an idea on its feet.

So breaking it up into small chunks like that made it really manageable for us, and of course, it gave them a really nice framework so they didn’t feel unsafe or unsure of where they were heading. The GP logbooks are a really important part of the process, and they really help documenting and managing the student choices that you make throughout the process.

We’ve been experimenting with new forms of doing it, particularly this year, seeing as we’ve had such a push for online learning. Students have been much more keen to experiment with online ways of collating their work and collaborating together, and we encourage that. But some students still do prefer to work with that concrete book in front of them, and we’ve got kind of half and half going on here.

It’s important to make sure that students are maintaining a balance in terms of the work they’re producing and the things that are being kind of brought to them from other group members as well. So it still is a very important tool for assessment, and also to help them kind of make those moves forward when they get stuck.

The support of the broader school community is really important throughout the HSC, particularly in terms of practical assessment and, of course, the practical exams. Communicating across the school to all of the different faculties and making sure they knew when those exams were coming up and when the trial was was really helpful to us so that teachers in other areas of the school were able to support the students and wish them luck. So it really made the students feel as though everyone was supporting them as well.

Of course, communicating to parents and letting them know what was happening as well is really important. And having our showcases gave all of the students an opportunity to show their parents and friends what the work was that they were working on. And so there was a real sense of occasion to that which really helped them on the final day.

Along the way, you often counter complex challenges, particularly in terms of group dynamics. Now, no group is going to work perfectly all the way through– even the groups that insist that they’re best friends and that they’ve been best friends all the way through school. And so being on top of that and making sure that you’re approaching those situations with care and with the students’ best interests at heart is always a really great way to start.

Conflict is going to happen, and trying to avoided at all costs can also give you a lot of stress and anxiety. So I find naming the problem when it happens and being able to calmly get through those with students can often– nine times out of 10, you’ll be able to manage that and get through it.

Of course, things can happen. Students drop courses. Students pull out of courses. That can send your class into a tailspin. But if they know that they can trust you, and that you’re going to do the best for them , and if you set that up at the beginning of the course, they’ll trust you when you need to make those decisions that can sometimes be difficult along the way.

Formative and summative assessment are both very important parts of the HSC course. You can’t just rely on those formal assessment tasks in order to give students feedback. And I would never be waiting until those. Very few of those along the way do occur in order to give the student some assessment.

So I’m always giving feedback during class, informal feedback. Getting students up to show you a minute or two minutes of what they’ve got, getting the class to actually give each other feedback, and listening to the groups and the feedback that you are giving each of the groups is always a really great way to have them hear what’s going on in the room and let each other kind of teach each other.

We often use a lot of peer assessment as well, so groups get to perform for each other. And it takes that anxiety out of showing the work. And, of course, the logbook is the perfect place for them to be writing all that down when you’re giving it to them along the way.

We are limited in terms of the summative assessment that we can give students in the HSC. And, of course, that’s to minimize their stress and anxiety. But I think the way you manage those and getting feedback back to students in a timely manner and in a way that’s positive is a really great way to keep them confident throughout the process.

Some advice that I would probably pass along to anybody who is launching into this process, particularly teachers who are doing this for the first time, would be to seek out your networks. Look at the other professional learning that’s going on in your area. Talk to other drama teachers. Call other schools. Ask for advice. Drama teachers are so helpful, and we’ve got this really great community, I would say more so than many of the other subject areas.

Because we understand how isolating it can be as a drama teacher in a school where there’s not any other teachers that teach your subject, or maybe only one other. And so everyone’s always really keen to share. So don’t be afraid to say, I need some help and I’d really like someone just to let me know that I’m doing it the right way. And I think anyone starting out, many teachers who are experienced are always really willing to lend a hand.

Being a drama teacher, of course, is a bit of a roller coaster. You have the highs and you have the lows, and you quite often have them at the same time when it comes around to the HSC time of year. But I think it’s one of the most rewarding parts of being a teacher. I think it’s an opportunity for you to get to see students at their best in a way that teachers of other subjects don’t.

Like, I mean, English teachers don’t get to watch kids sit and write essays. But we get to sit and watch our students perform. And quite often, we get to see them growing as human beings, which is so much more important than just the exam. So please just remember that as well.


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Content updated 22/9/2020

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