Our project was the superintendent’s (thanks, PS) curricular spotlight at the June 20th School Committee Meeting, and I include the presentation / clip here.
June 24, 2016
June 17, 2016
I had students choose three of four prompts for their open response assessment of the project and I will include some excerpts here. I also include the prompts above the excerpts.
Prompt #1 Excerpts
- The play project was a success from an engagement standpoint; you all bought in more than I expected you to and, with few exceptions, remained engaged for the duration of the project. Do you feel that that engagement alone makes the project worthwhile? To put it another way, you were engaged. But what did you learn? What did you take away from the project? And is that take away enough to justify doing the project, i.e. is what you learned valuable enough / useful enough to warrant the project?
I personally think that engagement alone is not enough to count for the project. But I also feel that involvement is different than engagement. I was involved with building the car and making multiple marketing materials. I think this is enough to count for the project. The difference between this and engagement, is that engagement to me seems only like you are listening and following orders, you are not contributing to the overall project. I was very happy to have come up with the design of the poster and program and help on the car. This helped me work on my leadership skills and helped me develop the skills to work in a team. The teamwork itself and the fact that you are able to stand up for your idea and convey it to others is the core of what the english class covers. The only difference is that while in the classroom we write down these ideas and have their validity assessed. That is one of the many reasons why I believe that if a person is actively contributing to the project, then it is worth it to them, and covers similar material to the english classroom.
But not only do you learn to work in a team, you learn to organize. This is one of the best things about this project in my mind.. We organized ourselves into a sort of power structure with certain students telling others what to do, and this to me was very impressive that this could be done with only a minimal amount of bickering. This also taught the leaders of the group that it just as important to listen as to command. And that is a very important life skill that they will use everyday.
The combination of leadership, teamwork, and organization, makes this project worthwhile to me. I took a lot of important social skills away from this project and I think it would be valuable for the younger classes to do the same as us and take on this play project.
As for the usefulness compared to a conventional paper, doing the play project is in my opinion a bit more challenging. In a conventional paper, the student would simply read the book and write a paper connecting basic ideas from the story. Most students are capable of such a task, but a project like this requires both planning and preparation, along with research and consolidation of main ideas. To be able to take an ancient story, modernise it, and still be able to successfully communicate the main ideas of the story is worth enough to merit another iteration of this project. This type of work requires another kind of understanding compared to a paper or test, and it is also dependent on the types of people involved in this project; not everybody is cut out or even wants to participate in a project of this scale. Luckily for us, this class was prepared and had the right kind of attitude to successfully complete this project. For that, I think this was actually more useful than a standard paper.
I thought the play served as a good summary of what we did over the entire year. Over the course of the entire year, our main task was to read classical texts and interpret the language in a way that we could understand. The in-class essays and papers we wrote basically tested our understanding of the text. In this assignment, we basically did the same thing. We took a classical play, and translated it into something more easily understood by generations of today using modern language. We gave our interpretation of the play, using skills that we developed over the course of the year. Although while researching background information on the play I did learn some new information, such as the existence of stock characters, I was mainly using knowledge I had learned throughout the year. Therefore I didn’t really learn much, as someone typically doesn’t learn anything new when preparing/taking a final. The play acted as a solid review of the year.
I feel that this project taught me a lot that I could not have learned in a traditional setting. Firstly, I believe that working in large groups is an under-taught skill in school. Most often, work is done individually or at most in a group of 3-4 students. The large group setting presents its own set of challenges and has an entirely different dynamic than the small group. In a small group, everyone mostly works on the same tasks and fill the same roles. In a larger group, like that of our class during the project, different people need to take on different jobs, tasks need to be divvied up, and work needs to be delegated. This was a very important hurdle to overcome as a class. This meant forming task forces, communicating our plans with each other, and making sure everyone had a role to play in the project. Working in this type of setting is uncommon in school. For me, this alone made the play worthwhile. Additionally, the format of the project provided an interesting learning opportunity. Most school projects are narrow in scope and predictable in nature. Once you’ve done one PowerPoint/iMovie/poster, you’ve done them all. These projects are often more about matching the teachers rigidly defined guidelines for the project than producing an original product. Projects end up being guided more by the teacher’s vision than the student’s. In the case of the play project, we were really in charge of deciding the direction in which we would take our play. We had to make several critical decisions ourselves, as a group. Making decisions was an important skill to practice. Generally speaking, the play was well worth it. These lessons, while a departure from the norm, were a necessary supplement to the standards lessons of school.
I liked the fact that no matter what our role was in the play or how we chose to participate, we still covered the academic material we needed to. We all did research on Roman comedy in general and also on the Menaechmi and then debated it as a class as we would if we read a book. This was definitely a good first step for the project, because the final goal was really to achieve a better understanding of Roman comedy. It ensured that no matter what we went on to do for the actual production of the play, we would be able to bring our knowledge of ancient comedy into our work.
I feel that overall the play was a worthwhile project, although I do not directly account that to the engagement. It was definitely a project that hooked the majority of our class and really united us. Personally the reason that I felt the play was worthwhile was due to the fact that it was the most interested in a book I have been all year. While I did enjoy some of the other books we read throughout the year, I was never forced to understand them to a level that I did with the Menaechmi. Previously I didn’t need to learn specifically about the different characters and their roles in the play as well as the background and theme. Although I did need to understand that to a basic level before, this play forced me to go further into the book than I previously had this year. It was also a great first hand experience to learn about ancient plays. Before I had little to no understanding of them and although our play wasn’t very ancient, we tried to make it a similar for example with the three building background. However, I believe that the biggest take away was bonding with my class, including some kids that I wouldn’t normally consider myself friends with. This diverse group of kids came together to overcome the challenge of building a low budget stage with only resources that we could find within the school and in students homes. Overall I feel as though these add up to making the play very worthwhile and useful and would definitely recommend doing similar projects in the future.
I think that the engagement would make the project worthwhile because it would help bring the class together and help people how to work together as a team. I think that it was a valuable experience for the class. I think that this is worth more than a paper or other conventional project because it helps teach how to work as a team and we already have done several conventional papers/projects in the past. In terms of engagement, I was able to participate productively for a decent amount of the project. In the beginning of the production, I feel that I didn’t participate as much as I thought I should, but I’m not sure whether it was due to the lack of pressure from later deadlines (just plain failure to do work) or whether we didn’t have enough materials from the play-writing team to work. Engagement was adequate for the whole class and was worth it because it helped with teamwork (as I mentioned before).
To be honest, I didn’t learn that much in terms of traditional terms in an english classroom. This has helped with competing work before deadlines and a little on organization with deadlines for creation of certain objects for the set. The project helped with identifying what was needed to create the project. I don’t think that the amount of learning would be valuable enough to warrant the project, but the break from traditional work and the teambuilding and deadline work made the project worth it.
I will still be less likely to forget what I learned while doing the play specifically because it varied from the traditional ways, and so it will be something that will stick out in my memory for years to come. I might not remember everything that happened in the Iliad in ten years, but I will remember doing this play and everything that I learned while doing it.
While I was certainly engaged in the project I do not feel that I learned much. My role was merely to rewrite the play in a blander form. Unfortunately, as a result of the play needing to be school appropriate, short, and written by committee virtually all humor and wit was removed, and the play was cut to not much more than plot. This would have been fine if that were just the first step in the process of truly making it our own and we were planning to add the wit and humor back in later, but that regrettably was not the case, and the play that was presented was little more than the skeleton of what could have been a good play. This meant that I did not learn much because instead of writing truly lifelike and witty dialogue, which would have been a real learning experience, the dialogue that ended up being written did not do much more than move the plot along. In short, I certainly learned how to cut something down to its bones, but I missed out on learning how to build it back up afterwards, the part that I feel would have been the most valuable, and so I don’t believe that I learned enough to make the time put into the project truly worthwhile, at least for me.
Prompt #2 Excerpts
- Speaking of the future, should I do this next year? You all were particularly willing to undertake this project. I’d like to take credit for that but am realistic enough to know that my role in your engagement was likely relatively minor. We had a good combination of skills, personalities, and interests and that produced a good process and product. But is that good process and product a requirement for undertaking this? Is the project still valuable if a subsequent class does not buy in as much / does not produce as good (or a good at all) final product? Should that impact my decision to do the project again or not?
I believe that you should definitely continue this project into the following years. As I stated in the prompt before, this project was probably the most involved in class that I have been all year. It was also a great learning source for me as I learned in depth about the different aspects of the Menaechmi . For example I had to learn about the different characters fairly in depth in addition to the history of Ancient plays. Although I do believe that the class needs to be into the idea of putting on a play. If they don’t want to I would advise against it. You may be able to entice them with the idea that it is less work, which is admittedly the reason that I wanted to peruse to play. If they can buy onto this idea, I’m sure that they will come around and eventually enjoy the project. I also believe that the diverse group of students did help. Even without many drama kids or students who are frequently involved in the play, we managed to push our way through it. We had kids with an artistic side who could come together to make the masks and the set. We also had some kids to re-write the script. It seemed that there was a suitable role for everyone. Had our class not bought in as much I don’t believe it would have been worth it. It was only because just about our whole class actually cared about the project that it turned out the way it did and made it valuable. This combined with participation is why I feel the play was worthwhile and would recommend for future years. More specifically I believe that we should definitely do this again next year in Medieval, as the play was one of the topics I used to persuade friends to take Medieval next year.
I think it really depends. I personally think that it should be done again as it is a very fun experience and a new and fun way to learn. However, It really depends on how willing they are to do this project in the following years. Even if they are not as willing as us to do the project, if they at least have a little enthusiasm, I think it would be a good idea to do this project. If they have the enthusiasm, then even if the process and product are not good, I think it would still be worth it to do it. Even if it comes out badly, it would be a valuable experience for people in the class and possibly show them a new and more fun way to learn. I think that these things should impact your decision with people’s enthusiasm being weighted the most heavily. I think this because as you said, this class had a good combination of skills, personalities, and interests to make the play happen. Thanks to these, our play came out very nicely. However, other classes over the next few years may not have as good combinations of these. Even if they had just as much enthusiasm, or possibly even more, they still might not have as good of a final product. That is why I think that everything should impact your decision to do the project again, but that the classes enthusiasm should be the thing considered the most in your decision. I think that instead of making it your decision, it would also be a good idea to take the classes decision into account. You could have them vote on what to do, and then take that into account when making your decision.
I don’t think that you should do this project again because I don’t think that most of us learned very much. It was definitely a valuable experience for the actors, but I think that the rest of the class took away very little. Along with that, I think that it would be even less valuable for classes that do not want to do it, as they would be unwilling to put in the effort necessary for learning to take place. If, however, there is a class that seems very excited about doing the project I would let them do it, but ensure that there are activities outside of the production itself (such as research and interpretation) so that there are enough things to do for everyone to be doing something meaningful and educational.
I think that the end product is relatively unimportant as long as the process was meaningful. Putting on a play is wildly different from what any of the other English classes did and is something that was new experience for many of us in the classroom. I think one of the reasons we were so engaged in this project was because we agreed to do it as a class together. It was an idea that we embraced from the beginning. People tend to do things better when chose to do it themselves. I know that I am going to enjoy a book less when it is assigned no matter how good it is because of this mindset that it was something forced upon me. However, I choose to partake in this play, so my efforts were more self-motivated and authentic. We were willing to collaborate. So for next year, whether you put of a play next year depends on whether the students in the class are keen to the idea. We primarily did all of the work, but if a class doesn’t want to do a project in the first place, they aren’t going to go into it with much enthusiasm. I don’t think the project is as valuable if the next class does not buy into it because they will just be going through the motions. I don’t think that this play project is easily refused though. English class throughout the entire school system has been generally the same to whole time. Its a lot of reading and analyzing and not a lot of creativity. To be given the opportunity to do something new and innovative is something that a lot of people want. It also has that “look! our class is more interesting that yours” factor to it (although that could be applied to the whole of classical literature).
Prompt #3 Excerpts
- Let’s talk grading and work load. Describe your role / your work load for the project: do you think that it was an appropriate amount of work? Independent of that, how should you / could you be graded? Check-ins along the way, either in writing or one-on-one with me? How should the performance / final product factor in? Should the audience factor in, i.e. whether they are given some sort of rubric, whether they can ask you questions at the end of the performance, etc.? Do you think people in this year’s class don’t deserve an A? If yes, for qualitiative (i.e. the quality of the work they did)? or quantitative (i.e. the amount of work they did) reasons?
I think instead that each week you should check in with each person and make sure they have something that they are working on and that they have set a deadline as to when they will complete this. Or even better, get a student to keep track of this as this is yet another way for the students to be independant and self sufficient. Which I think is the best part of this project.
I was an actor in this project. However, I was also a writer in that I wrote a part of the script. I thought it was an appropriate amount of work for my role as I felt it would have been unfair if I had only briefly acted out a script I had no part in writing. We probably could have been graded based on check-ins throughout the project. Just to see if we had gotten an adequate amount of work done in the time given as well as how well we were managing our time. I personally would prefer the check ins be in writing rather one to one. In that case, the check-in can just be given to the class as a whole. I feel a one to one check in is a little bit excessive. The final performance should definitely factor into the final grade to some extent, but not as much as grading on the entire process. The final performance may not completely reflect the effort that went into the play by each participant. The audience factor may be an interesting thing to add next year. Although this play was most definitely fun, adding audience questions could make the project more challenging and students may be able to get more out of doing the play. I do not think anyone in our class necessarily doesn’t deserve an A. To be honest I don’t really know what half the class did exactly but in the end, everything ties together pretty nicely and the play went pretty decently. I think we all worked pretty equally hard in different ways and all deserve a pretty good grade.
There was an appropriate amount of work in that it took extensive writing and planning time in order to make the play a success. One-on-one check-in’s are a good way to see if everyone is doing their part. You could ask each individual how they have been working on the play itself and what they have been doing to improve it. I think that people should not just be graded by the outcome of the play and it’s success, I think that people should be graded by the amount of effort they put into the play itself. This does not just mean how much they wrote or whether or not they acted, if everyone was involved and doing their fair share I think that is how they should be graded, although it may seem like some people did more work than others I think everyone worked to make the final product a success. The audience’s opinion should not factor into the grading of each individual, but it should be recorded because it would be interesting to see where or if improvements were needed. Having the audience ask questions would also be a good thing to add, so that it gives people the chance to show their knowledge of the research that they did on the play.
The workload for the project was obviously less than that of normal English class. That was one of the main reasons we decided to do the play in the first place. However, I feel like workload and learning are often made to be a false equivalence. We certainly learned different things with the project than we would have in a standard class, but I don’t think we learned any less. I think being able to get the same learning out of less work is an ideal situation for school. Work for work’s sake is far too common in school. The biggest problem with the project in deciding how to grade it. Because the entire class is working together to produce a single end product, it is difficult to give different grades to different members of the class. Making it a pass-fail grade is one good way to go about it. If the class is successful in putting on a play, and you did your job, then you deserve an A. Otherwise, you have to start thinking about the fail part of pass-fail. Another way to handle grades would be to combine the final product with a student’s individual contributions. The bulk of the student’s points, say 80%, would come from simply producing a play at the end of the project. The remainder would be earned by doing the basic requirements of your role. If you’re an actor, you would get an A if you memorized most of lines. If you’re a writer, you get an A if you contributed to rewriting the play. This would allow for individualized grades based on the effort level each person puts in. I don’t think the actual quality of the play should have an impact on the grade, unless the play is truly horrendous. Grading in English class is already subjective enough; we don’t need to add more abstraction to grading. This year, I think everyone did their share of the work and deserves an A. There were days when there simply weren’t tasks for everyone to help with, but this was a result of the process itself rather than a lack of willingness from anyone. Everyone bought in and did their part. This was very evident during the final few days when the pressure was on. Everyone was racing around trying to get things done.
I think that the workload was quite light for this project and could be increased, which could also help with breaking up the grading. At least for the design/technical aspects of the play, it might be interesting if you required the students to present their designs/ideas. For example, if there is a team working on designing props, they could come up with a conceptual design and/or list of what they would use, then a to-scale design and/or finalized list, and then the final product. Through the designs, the students could show how they are taking different aspects of the story into account, and they could show their level of understanding of both the original and re-written texts. Having the design students present their ideas would also kill two birds with one stone: it would give those students a work load more equivalent to that of the students who are re-writing the play, and it would give you a chance to grade them on more than just a pass/fail scale. We did do some designing for the set, but I think it would be a good idea to decide on dates that the preliminary design would be due, and then when the final design would be due. Another thing that professional theatres do that could be incorporated next year (because I know that we strived for nothing less than professional) is the designers officially present their ideas to the cast and directors. This gives everyone an idea of the space they will have to work in and what props and other things they will have to work with. It could also be a part of their grades, just as the first read-through of the script could be for the students who re-wrote the play.
The only way of grading that I think definitely should not be adopted if you do the project next year is the audience rubric type of assessment. Especially for this project, the audience probably won’t be paying attention to the parts of the production that are the most meaningful for the course. I can imagine that if an audience member were grading our show, they would pay more attention to the quality of the acting or the set than they would to how we interpreted the original play and how the designs reflected classical Roman theatre with a modern twist.
Check ins along the way are a good idea, because they tend to be a wake up call for people who may not be doing as much work as they should. I think a face to face check in would be more effective, as it’s sometimes hard to get a full sense of someone’s ideas with direct written questions and answers. A face to face check in allows for follow up questions and it allows you to make the check in specific to the person. I don’t think that the audience should play a role in grading the students. Some audience members, probably friends of the actors, might not take the questions seriously and give out very bad of very good grades as either a joke or a favor. Other audience members might just grade on the acting, which is not what students should be graded on at all. In addition, the audience was not there for the rewriting process and the building of the sets, so they would have no way of grading people’s efforts in that area. As far as a rubric goes, I do not think one is necessary. The grading for a project like this, where most people are outside of their normal comfort zones, is a project that should be graded almost entirely on effort. Some people definitely did more work than others in the production, not necessarily through fault of their own. Of course, I am biased because I was an actor, but I think that the rewriting/acting process required much more work than making masks and preparing the set. I don’t think that this should necessarily be reflected in the grades on people who worked on the set, just stating an opinion. In the future, one option might be to require everyone to help rewrite the play, although writing a script with 20 people may prove almost impossible.
The grading on this kind of project would be tough in my opinion because there are so many roles that seem miniscule while still being greatly important. Certain roles definitely had enough work and for such a project, especially the writers, directors, and actors. In my opinion, I know the people making the sets and costumes were very important in giving the play its look and visual “appeal”, but I do think that they did considerably less work than the writers/directors/actors, since the actors and directors were pretty much the writers. For this reason, I believe that there should be a bit more than pass or fail. Maybe a third spot, for something in between the two. Again, I understand that there wasn’t much that they could of done, but I wish they did more than play games outside while we wrote the play and then throw some props together in the last week of preparations. It was somewhat frustrating, and made me regret choosing my role after seeing how easy they got it. As an actor, we were required to write our own lines, and rehearse/memorize them, in addition to performing the play. I believe that we definitely had the bulk of the project, with the directors in second for also writing and organizing the scenes and choreography. By the end of the performances, I was exhausted while I heard others who did set design talking about how this was such a breeze. In the end, I go back to my initial point. This is hard to grade, especially because some smaller roles, still play an important part, but there is a line, and I wish the set design group had participated in the “English Class” part of the play a bit more.
Prompt #4 Excerpts
- Assess the project. What do you think worked well? What do you think needed improvement or tweaking? This response shouldn’t be a list but rather focus in on one, two, at most three things, and develop your thoughts about them.
I’ve said it already and I’ll say it again, we overcame obstacles that would have been extremely challenging for 20 strangers working together. We thought creatively to solve our problems and worked as a team effectively, and when someone had advice to share, others listened in instead of immediately shutting it down. As so many people said in the survey that we took, we became closer as an english class, and we created a reasonable project that we can all put our names on in one place or another. I think that everyone in the project can be proud of the work we did, again considering all but one of us has knowledge in this field, because of the things we were able to accomplish as a group.
Although flexibility may be bad at certain times because people get stuck with making decisions, in this case it worked well. Due to the flexibility of the project, we were allowed to pick the project, pick the time setting, make the lines, and make the props ourselves. The flexibility caused some difficulties at the beginning as many people were lost in the beginning and not sure what to do. However, this was quickly fixed, and people found the direction to go in. Even though it was difficult in the beginning, the effort people put in more than made up for the time lost. If there was no flexibility in this project, then even if we had more time, the project still might have not been as successful as it was this time. Giving us the power to choose and work on it ourselves was a big gamble, but I think it paid off in the end.
Perhaps, if this project is introduced again, there should be days of reflection scattered throughout the weeks of preparing and rehearsing where you ask the class if/how they are understanding the deeper aspects of the greek play more and greek playwriting in general. This way, they will have any insights made within them during the process up to the production of the play. This could also help students learn more about the play than they would have before as the insights they made before would spark an interest or help to notice other things about the play. Such insights are half of the sole purpose of this play, to learn more about greek literature, so I feel that this aspect of the project should definitely be revised if done again.
Looking at the project now, I believe it was a really good idea. Although some aspects I felt were somewhat unfair, and learning that acting is not necessarily my favorite thing to do, I felt the project was much more fun than traditional class and definitely more memorable. I think the project also provided many experiences and insight into aspects of all the plays we read that we hadn’t understood before. It helps me understand the reasoning for different writing styles in the plays. The point of reading these plays is because they serve as a huge representation of the culture at the time they were made. If we want to study not only this, but the literary aspect as well, then It is important for us to understand the work and art put into executing such a performance. We need to understand the things that would physically happen in addition to just the story and plot. Without this, these plays become just another story that we read. Now that we learn about the other side of them, a whole new meaning emerges and lets us experience plays in a different and more traditional way, all thanks to the experiences in this project.
June 14, 2016
We’re discussing the efficacy of final exams at school (seems we’ve been doing so for a few years now) and, since my Latin course became a bit more project-based as the year went on, I decided to try a project for the final exam rather than a more traditional exam. It took me a while to come up with something that I felt would adequately encapsulate the scope of the year but I think the idea works and, in many ways, encompasses more of the year (the full year) than the final exam would (just the second semester).
Today was the day that the games were due and, if I’m being honest, I was actually a bit overwhelmed when I entered the room. I was assaulted (in a good way) by the panoply of color and figure and 3 dimensionality that the games represented. I didn’t even know how to proceed with the class and, in retrospect, will / would have allowed for more time to play the games. I almost feel as if the time spent with the games wasn’t appropriate for the amount of work that went into them (with that said, we did spend the last week of school working on them in class, so they had plenty of class time; they did too, though, put in a good amount of time outside of class as well). So I toured the games, having each individual or group present a basic overview to me, checking off the requirements as I went. And once that was done, the class dispersed to play each other’s game. It was a fun way to end the year.
June 11, 2016
On Wednesday and Friday of this past week (we rotated out on Thursday), we discussed the survey results (available here). It was a pretty interesting discussion, and one in which students were eager to participate. I’ll summarize, in no particular order, some of the things that came up below.
- Overall, a very positive response to the project. Based on the survey results, there is clearly one outlier who did not like the project. I did announce to the class that I would love to hear from that outlier (not in class but rather outside of class) and invited him/her to come see me. I doubt it will happen but I would be interested to hear (hopefully they will identify themselves in the open responses).
- We spent most of the first day, when we took the survey, discussing the content vs. skills tension, i.e. the extent to which they ‘missed’ or felt like they missed out on the content of a traditional coach.
- They said for the most part no, but also attributed that, to some extent, to it being an English course, i.e. they said they would be more concerned about missing out on content in a science or math course.
- They also seemed very nervous about an entire course (much less an entire school) being project-based in this way (not surprising).
- They did not view (pure) content as accessible via technology, i.e. they felt that certain things were not, or should not be, Google-able. Or at least that what they would find wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, take the place of a teacher.
- They felt my role was for the most part appropriate, that my ‘staying out of their way’ (their words) was a good thing. The one area they said they perhaps would have like more intervention was in the writing.
- By far the longest, and most engaged, discussion was about work load.
- For the most part, the class agreed that, while the actors did do more work, that was endemic to the role rather than any sense of resentment or bitterness to those who did (or were perceived to do) less. It was also acknowledged, again without rancor, that the tech crew did less work (or at least was perceived to do less work). I actually think that the tech crew did more work than the writers / actors think they did, but I wasn’t going to try to convince them of that.
- On the other hand, there was a lot of discussion about how the process could have provided more opportunities for more equal distribution of work.
- Much of that discussion centered around the initial division between writers / actors, who worked on the script, and the tech crew / non-writers / actors, who worked on the set.
- It was suggested that that division not take place initially, and that the whole class be involved in the writing process; only when the script is final should the division take place (if for no other reason than the tech crew needs certain information from the script before they can begin).
- The notion of too many writers (if the whole class is involved) was acknowledged and addressed in some interesting ways.
- Perhaps the most interesting suggestion was to divide the class in half and have each half put on a play (this was also suggested to mitigate the division that occurred between comedy and tragedy). Each play would be performed and the audience would choose which was better. This would also lend a bit more weight / importance to the process and, in theory, motivate them to do better work.
- We also discussed assessment / grading.
- Students did say that they would have been ok with / appreciated more input from me on the writing and/or a more structured approach to the writing, whether the scenes were edited and/or graded as they drafted them.
- They also said that, especially from the tech crew side, they noticed the absence of writing in an English course, one of the things I was wondering about.
- The suggestion above, about half the class each doing their own play and then having the audience vote on which they preferred, could tie in to grades.
That’s all I’m remembering right now. I’ll add anything that I remember but overall an interesting discussion that reflected their investment in and commitment to the project.
June 9, 2016
I administered the survey below to my Classical Lit class two classes after the performance (the class after we broke everything down). We’ve not discussed it much (had maybe 15 mins worth of discussion, which itself was interesting, so I won’t comment much on it yet. I will say, though, that it was pleasantly surprising in its positivity. I didn’t expect it to be wholly negative, of course, but I did expect a few more negative outliers. Students are also completing open-ended assessments of the project, which I will post here in excerpt form as well. The survey is of course anonymous; I did ask in the first question whether students were an actor or non-actor, largely because of the questions about work load.
And 1 is negative / no, while 7 is positive / yes.
June 6, 2016
So the project officially, I suppose, finished today. We performed the play; no more rehearsals, retakes, rewrites, descension into giggles (ok, maybe one or two of those), squabbling, painting, etc. We performed once in school, last block, to which I invited teachers to bring their classes, and which the superintendent and principal, as well as one assistant principal and maybe six or seven teachers without their classes, attended; there were maybe 70 or so people there. And then maybe 20 friends and family members at the 5.30 show this evening, as well as two other teachers.
I see, especially recently, frequent exhortations to ‘go outside of your comfort zone’ or ‘get uncomfortable’, and I’m pretty sure I checked that one off my list today. Especially for the afternoon show (largely, I suspect, because there were more people and more variables (mid-day for students, first time through, etc.) I was more nervous, I would say, than I have been in quite a while. And nervous is one of those emotions / feelings that I certainly don’t like to admit I ever feel.
With that said, both shows went well. I think the evening show had a bit more sympathetic audience, because it was largely parents, i.e. we got more laughs when we were supposed to, or perhaps better hoped to, get laughs, and the afternoon show was bigger but was perhaps expecting a bit more traditional (or successful) humor. As our drama director said to some of the actors on the way out, the moments they were improv-ing were their funniest (and he didn’t mean it in a mean way).
From an educational standpoint, and I’ll talk more about this in the coming weeks, but I did want to get a fresh, only-me take down before I start the debrief and review process with my class, this project has raised all sorts of compelling pedagogical questions. In no particular order, and with further explication coming:
- The play was a success from an engagement standpoint; the students bought in more than I expected them to. But does engagement alone equal success or pedagogical value? There is a yes argument to be made, that engaged students approach what they do with a primed engine, and that they will absorb whatever they are learning, even if it is more intangible, more deeply and more easily than content that is presented to them in a way with which they are not (as) engaged. But…
- What exactly did they learn? They were engaged, but what are their actual takeaways? And even if those takeaways are valuable, or at least not invaluable, are they worthwhile replacements for content and/or specific skills (albeit content and/or specific skills that they might not have learned as readily or as long-term-y because they weren’t engaged in the same way)?
- How should they be assessed? The easy-but-so-complicated answer is that they shouldn’t be, that they were engaged throughout the process and they produced a viable final project. If I could just pass them all I would, but that of course doesn’t quite translate into our grading system. And there were maybe between 2 and 4 students that I worried had distanced themselves slightly from the process in a way that made me wonder how I would / should handle that in the future, but they were not so distanced that I felt it negatively impacted the project or their participation in or appreciation of it.
- Speaking of the future, will I do this next year? This class seemed particularly willing to undertake this project. I’d like to take credit for that but am realistic enough to know that my role in their engagement was likely relatively minor. We had a good combination of skills, personalities, and interests and that produced a good process and product. But is that good process and product a requirement for undertaking this? Is the project still valuable if a class does not buy in as much? does not produce as good (or a good at all) final product?
- This year, for a first attempt, I was very careful to ensure commitment; I did not want to undertake this without the class’ commitment. I wanted this to be their project rather than mine. Can I or should I take the same approach next year? Is the project dependent more on my commitment to it or their commitment to it? And should that matter?
So those are some of the questions that I’ve been thinking about throughout this process. Would love to hear thoughts / input / feedback. I include here too some pictures I took from the afternoon performance.