Year 12 Drama teachers in Victoria, Australia, who either read with interest this post or added comments themselves … here is an update on the situation.
I have begun Stage 1 of the process of discovery last week by having a 2 hour meeting with Helen Champion, the VCAA Curriculum Manager, Performing Arts.
It appeared last year’s Year 12 final grades in Drama, particularly the Solo Performance examination were, as I have blogged, “out of kilter” with previous years. No one is really going to quibble over a grade or so difference from what was anticipated, but strangely in 2008 I have heard numerous examples of half-baked efforts receiving A’s, coupled with outstanding, skilful performance exams receiving B’s or worse.
My meeting with Helen was very productive and she is happy for me to blog about it here in general terms. It should be noted, however, that Helen’s brief is more to do with how the Drama Study Design curriculum document translates into effective classroom teaching and this, of course includes the Solo Performance examination at the end of the year.
We therefore discussed practical ways of possibly tweaking the Study Design tasks and Outcomes for its next formal revision, due for implementation in 2012. While some may think discussions about the next version of the Drama Study Design are too far away, this is not the case.
I summarised all comments made by teachers on the original blog post on this topic and discussed them in the meeting as data and possible recommendations for the future. Of particular concern to me was how do we reward students who produce solid and effective play-making techniques in the development of their solo performance in Unit 4, when the solo performance Outcome is only an ungraded S/N (until exam day when students are at the mercy of external assessors)?
We also discussed all “issues” with the solo performance examination process as it currently stands, that teachers have concerns with. No system is ever going to be perfect, but this dialogue was definitely a step in the right direction.
In regards to questions teachers had about what happened with many of the 2008 final solo performance grades appearing skewed last year compared to other years, I will soon start Stage 2, which will involve a letter to the Examinations Unit at the VCAA. Of course, I am not doing these things for myself, but am wearing my hat as the current President of Drama Victoria and am seeking clarifications for all VCE Drama teachers here in Victoria.
One small step at a time, we will get there. My aim is to help strengthen our Study Design teaching document even further in VCE Drama, coupled with continued effective professional learning for teachers, feeding directly into external performance exams, like the solo, in which teachers can have faith in the process from start to finish.
We must continue to be positive with our teaching of VCE Drama. It truly is a wonderful subject to teach and our enthusiastic students surely are proof of that. We must continue to set rigourous and challenging performance tasks for our students and push the envelope of their knowlegdge and skills.
I have blogged a couple of years ago about two of my students who formally complained about me to two Deputy Principals around solo performance time in Year 12 Drama. They both got little compassion from my school administration, as they both complained I was working them too hard in the lead up to their solo exams.
On the flipside, a few of my current Year 12 students discussed with me last year after their Year 11 ensemble performance task that the structure / topic I gave them to research, script and perform wasn’t challenging enough for them! Yep, they were right. It was too easy and so I took their suggestions on advisement and will “up the ante” with my upcoming ensemble task in my current Year 11 class this semester. Students know when we set them a great task or a slack task or a boring one. They’re not idiots, after all. Challenge them at every turn and the world’s your oyster!
And so it is with our solo performance exam in Year 12. While it is disappointing it is so damn hard for our students to get an A+ in this exam (I now understand the A+ range for the solo was even harder last year than previously), we must be realistic. We are never going to tell one of our students she or he has a great chance of getting into the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney, simply because we know 2,000 people audition for 25 or 30 positions in the course. The solo exam is the same. The highest grade range is very, very difficult to achieve. Our students must not lose faith in this awesome task, yet know this is the case from the outset.
Meanwhile, practical and positive suggestions for change in the future are the only way to go. Thanks to all those who suggested ideas for tweaking the way we do things in Year 12 Drama and I have passed these on to Helen.
I’ll get back to you with another update after I detail specifically last year’s Solo Performance exam result concerns in a letter to the Examinations Unit at the VCAA soon.
Our subject of VCE Drama is already a great one. Together we can make it an even better subject to teach in the future.