Assessment strategies for the theatre classroom

Assessment is part of the educational process. However, assessment can become an afterthought in the theatre classroom due to educator concerns that theatre is too subjective to assess successfully or that traditional assessment tools are not applicable to a performance-based discipline. Fortunately, theatre gurus, Susan K. Green and Stephen Gundersheim, have identified the following six sequential steps that educators can use to prioritize and develop effective theatre assessments.

Step 1 – Begin with the end in mind. Educators should define clear goals based on one or more of the Maine Learning Results. Beginning with the end in mind prevents curriculum from becoming a collection of random lessons, and it helps create the assessment founda­tion from which the skills and knowl­edge of students can be measured. Any theatre exercise has dozens of potential applications to standards and each one usually leads to subsequent, more complex activities. Often, teachers select classroom activities based on what engages their own interest or what they think students will enjoy. However, even a simple game can be linked to a learning goal and a theatre standard.

Step 2 – Create pre-assessments. Educators can determine what students already know with a pre-assessment that challenges but does not overwhelm students. Pre-assessment, espe­cially those that are informally included early in instruction, provides crucial information to guide later authentic assessments that address skills embedded in performanc­es and other learning activities.

Step 3 – Create scoring guides to assess mastery. We call these scoring guides rubrics. Educators can use rubrics to provide a more objective structure to your assess­ment. Make sure your performance cri­teria are clearly written in terms your students can understand. One way to decide upon a rubric is by first pos­ing it in question format. It is effective to show your students examples of high level work, either through previous student examples or ones you create yourself. After providing concrete examples and discussing what constitutes a good performance, have the students participate in creating levels of profi­ciency. Discussing the levels of profi­ciency in partnership with students will help them realize that your rubrics are valuable tools for documenting their progress and providing feedback for improvement. They will also perceive them as less subjective. Always review the rubric with stu­dents prior to beginning an assignment, so you know whether or not they un­derstand what’s expected of them.

Step 4 – Assess during instruction. Find ways to provide feedback as students learn. Formative assessment is a tool that directors use regularly. Directors are constantly giving feedback and notes on movement, delivery, etc. during productions. This strategy can be moved easily into the theatre classroom and is most effective when students are clear what the learning target is for the class. Be sure to follow feedback with the opportunity for students to try again.

Step 5 -Teach students to do peer-assessment and self-assessment. Develop students’ skills to self-assess and talk about their work. First, create prompts that use theatre vocabulary and are tied to the learning targets you have identified (Step 1). Model these prompts when assessing students during class. Gradually, ask them to use the prompts by themselves and with each other.

Step 6 – Assess your effectiveness as an educator. Educators can often figure out why they are succeeding or failing by watching their own teaching. One way for you to review your effectiveness is to videotape your own instruction. Watch yourself on these videos and also look at the reactions from the students. Sometimes, you can locate the moment when they get confused just by the body language of the students.

The bottom line on all assessment is that it should improve student learning. Effective assessment practice is synonymous with an increase in student understanding. It is amazing to see students perform better when they understand exactly what they are supposed to be learning and how they will be assessed.

Visit the links below to access more resources on assessment in theatre and all the arts disciplines, visit the links below:

For more information, contact Maine DOE Visual and Performing Arts Specialist Beth Lambert at beth.lambert@maine.gov.