Informal Assessment In Drama

In a contemporary curriculum obsessed with formalised and structured assessment, it seems the importance of informal assessment has almost been forgotten. Informal assessment in a subject such as drama is critical and should be a key component of the teaching and learning process at all levels.

Teacher Observation

Sit back in the corner of your drama classroom once a week and you’ll be surprised how much you’ll learn about your students. I often observe my students from a distance when they are focused on an activity and unaware I am looking and listening. It’s not spying – it’s teacher observation! It is so fulfilling to hear a senior student use the language of drama to debate the qualities of a theatre show with one of her peers, or watch a junior drama student dart across the room with enthusiasm, smiling as she goes. Teacher observation in drama allows you to get a gauge of where your students’ skills and abilities are at any given moment, but in a casual manner. There is no pressure on the teacher, so relax, sit back and take it all in. I can honestly say some of my richest moments in drama assessment over the years have sprung from informal teacher observation in the classroom. Sometimes, I even tell my students exactly what I have been doing while they rehearse their plays in the classroom. At least they know they are being assessed in more than just their performances. A good way of structuring this informal assessment is to include a criterion into the final performance that actually assesses a student’s participation in the rehearsal process.

Discussion and Reflection

Academic discussion in drama is critical to a student’s understanding of the art form. Students of drama should regularly reflect upon theatre making of their own and that of others. This may involve reflecting upon performances by other students in the classroom, student performances from another year level, the school play or musical, a theatre-in-education group, or work of amateur and professional companies. Reflective discussion can also be about any aspect of a drama course and does not have to involve the process of theatre making. Personal reflection is a key method of student improvement in drama; analysing and evaluating weaknesses and areas of strength. Discussion in drama is often marred by students who do not contribute and is therefore occasionally dominated by a few enthusiastic participants. Effective teaching strategies should be employed to encourage an even contribution by all students to classroom discussion.

Class Participation

Class participation in drama can include games, exercises, role-play activities, rehearsals, brainstorming, scripting, improvising, researching, group or whole-class discussion, storyboarding, hot-seating, reflecting and more. All of these forms of participation in drama are informal assessment. Getting the quieter students to participate in some of these activities can be a challenge for the teacher, but we all know drama is the very subject that will give shy students the confidence to participate … in drama …. and every other subject on the curriculum as well! Without the activities listed above, drama wouldn’t exist. Without assessing many of them, drama loses its credibility.

Drama Journals

After many years of having my own students write regular drama journal entries, I am no longer a fan of this traditional method of informal assessment in drama. By their very nature, drama journals are often largely unstructured. However some teachers also set very organised drama journal writing tasks for their students. Either way, they are still a method of informal assessment. My preferred method of journals these days is online blogs, which can be very effective for journal keeping in drama and can be informally written, read, commented upon (feedback) and assessed 24/7.

Homework

In drama, homework can often involve informal activities that are sometimes assessed by the teacher upon return to the classroom. For example, line learning for classroom drama plays can easily be undertaken at home. If a student does/doesn’t know his/her lines by an agreed time, then this informal homework can easily be assessed by the teacher (a student either knows those lines or they don’t!). No structured criteria sheet is necessary and a single method of learning lines should not be mandated. Some students learn lines with music on in the background, by recording themselves on an iPod, by writing lines out, by placing their hand over lines on the page, plus many other methods. This just confirms how informal line learning in drama really is. Over the years, I’ve had student learn lines on the train, at the gym, in their sleep … you name it!

Is there a fear in education circles that informal assessment is less rigourous? Certainly my experiences in drama teaching over more than two decades have been that our subject easily accommodates many types of informal assessment and these kinds of assessment offer valuable learning experiences for our students and pedagogically rewarding situations for the teacher. Informal assessment is underrated. Get on to it in your drama class tomorrow!

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5 Responses

  1. Matthew Weekes says:

    I have been working on applying phenomenological research methodologies to “informal assessment”.
    I believe that the reality is that in the Drama classroom, the cognitive process of the Drama teacher working in the space with students often informs assessment in an ongoing process loop.
    Indeed “performance” taking in a broader context of the word includes playmaking techniques (including rehearsal) and can be seen as performative processes that occur during the whole time a student participates in class.

    Phenomenological assessment is actually more rigorous than rubrics, written exams, performances and various other things that pass for assessment, which are often far more subjective than most educators and academics would like to admit. The greater number of subjective assessors actually increases subjectivity not reduces it. Subjectivity piled upon subjectivity does not make something objective.

    Practical phenomenological processes such as bracketing allow the teacher to enter a state of objective observation without the codification and expectation of the student’s work.

    This formalises the so-called “informal assessment” in a classroom environment. The phenomenological descriptive responses of the teacher can then lead to qualitative and then to quantitative assessments.

    What makes art “art” is often not criteria, but the individuality of the art. In other words, how the art transcends or “breaks” the rubric.

    • Interesting comments Matthew.

      Objectivity in drama assessment (or any art form for that matter) is, I believe a big problem. After investing so much teaching time into a student over many weeks, months or years, then trying to be completely objective when assessing his/her drama performance is a difficult task. The teacher has to ignore a myriad of subjective factors (personal advice about the art being created, student effort, creative decisions, imaginative choices, etc) that can stain the pure, objective assessment that needs to take place.

      I, for one, detest rubrics in drama education. They do my head in. I find myself dissatisfied time and time again in using them as an assessment tool.

      I agree with you that the drama teacher working with students informs assessment in an ongoing process loop. Excellent way of describing our reality in the drama classroom!

      Thanks for your comments Matthew.

      – Justin

  2. Grace Berne says:

    Sometimes discussion and reflection is like getting blood from a stone.
    But every so often someone will revel something to show they have been doing ‘secret reading’ away from the perscribed work.
    I was told the other day by a student that we should go on a trip to the US to undertake some ‘second city’ workshops!
    My my, off we hop then. Maybe we could do the double and hit the ‘upright citizans brigade’ as well???

  3. Ha! That’s great to hear Ayesha.

  4. AyeshaC says:

    Cash!
    It’s so great that whenever I check your blog I always find a post so relevant to my uni work! Doing subject on literacy across the curriculum at the moment and a lot on authentic assessment- this post is a great help 🙂

    Hope all is well

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