Friday, 11 July 2014

Theatre studies workshop

Theatre studies - now would you say that was a subject full of threshold concepts?  Apparently, it is, the theatre studies teacher at an MK school assures us, and he gave us and his sixth formers an example: the difference between naturalism and realism.

We went into a school on Monday, four researchers, nay, five of us, following nearly a dozen kids as they struggled to understand these 'isms'.  Eleven students, either in year 12 or about to start year 12, came along to the workshop day, most of them having studied their teacher, Gary's, pencasts.  He'd put the pencasts together a day or two earlier, and emailed them to read them.  One student was in the classroom reading a pencast off her mobile device.  Another complained that she couldn't watch it and listen on a mobile device, so I guess they could get only the pdf form.  But they did like these pencasts, and saw them as something to watch, read and study independently, without having to be in the classroom, but also that they liked the familiarity of their teachers' voice, a personality that they knew.

Eleven students made up three groups of two fours and a three.  One group of four was all boys, the group of three was all girls, and the last group was mixed.  The adults included:
  • the teacher, 
  • our lead researcher, Anne,
  • the OU research associate, Gill who'd put together the tricky topic tool, about which more anon,
  • Liz who once worked for Catcher Media,
  • Canan who felt rotten ill and took notes and films all day,
  • Aba-Sah from Birmingham who wanted to provide table top software of the storyboard.
The tricky topic tool is a means for the teacher to analyse the stumbling blocks within a threshold concept (Meyer and Land's idea).  It requires the teacher to open a web page with options to pick and choice topics of interest, and then set up quizzes to test the students' understanding.  I've tried it and it takes ages to do because of the thinking, experience and analysis it requires.  The idea is to test students before and after they've worked on their video idea.  So the first activity of the day was for students to take their starting quiz.  No one worried what the mark gained was, just that we had a base line to compare with at the end of the day. 

Then we gave the run down on what the project was about - that the EU funded it and so on, during which they looked blank, bored or fazed.  To enthuse them, we showed a five minute video on juxtaposing, but it confused not enthused, and needs remaking. A new draft is available already at with the password 'Juxtaposing', and a further version at  Students were raring to go, ready to write, and though they didn't need the video but were polite about it, and it did give some of them some ideas. Perhaps theatre studies students see themselves as creative already. 

They sat around in their groups on the floor of what I assume is the drama studio, a dark room with black out blinds on the window - a shame because it was a beautiful day, and perhaps we should have opened the blinds in the morning, though later people were using the room to put their performances together. They sat and talked.  Within half an hour, ideas were flowing, multi-coloured penned words represented abstract ideas on the all-girls paper, biro crossings-out and stick men on other papers.  Then things slowed down, with little more action, apart from the odd late comer, student or researcher arriving. Gary told them they had half an hour more, no - only thirty minutes - and they had to be on to pre-production by then, allocating roles and sourcing assets.  They all groaned, but funnily enough within ten minutes were up and off, each student group with an OU borrowed flip video camera, and some with a tripod.  I suspect they were stuck creatively, and what they need is to do something active, try it out, find it doesn't work and return to the storyboard, which to some extent is what they did, except that they didn't return to the storyboard,  One group rather than spoil the storyboard, wrote on the back of the paper (the prompts were originally on the back - why weren't they?  Wasn't the paper printed double sided?) and kept changes in their heads!

The mixed group of four students (L, J, H and M) went down to the hall to use the stage.  Where Aba-Sah and I sat to observe and record (Aba-Sah's recordings are all up in a dropbox), we couldn't hear the students, not even when they were performing, let alone when they discussed.  I went up on the stage to eavesdrop, setting up my flip video camera.  But actually, a lot of the time they were quiet, thinking, not talking.  J tapped her finger nails.  They were pretty nails as were L's, and tapping drew attention to how pretty they were. Perhaps the tapping represented frustration, a not-knowing what to do.
However, eventually, Gary appeared, talked through with them again on what naturalism and realism was, and suggested they found somewhere quieter to record.  That hour was the students' learning hour, I reckon.  That was the hour when they stumbled and fumbled, realising that they didn't realise. 

Perhaps M didn't realise.  He'd taken charge of the tripod and the camera, and standing off stage wasn't in some of the conversations that the other three had.  Watching the recording of a major discussion, I observe he didn't contribute. Didn't he have a lower score on the second quiz?  That would imply that you need to join in the conversation,  at least be present, if you are going to learn.  M was apart; he wasn't present.

We had a hasty lunch on the floor of the drama studio, observed some more video production, then retired to a room full of OU laptops for the students to edit before doing the second quiz.  Gary promised them that those that scored highly would go on a trip, so there was some tension and angst.  Somewhat to their surprise, students who had struggled most with the concepts, students who felt they didn't have the perfect product, a viewable video, were the ones who'd made the biggest progress.   But that outcome pleased Gary and proves to the researchers that the process improves the learning. 

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