My Drama class consists of a group of misfits all in one room with the sole goal of working together and creating a piece for an audience. It isn’t a spectacular, award winning show, but it is usually funny, organized, and the kids show dedication and perseverance. Throughout this journey each semester, my students don’t ask me for marks. As we end each important unit, I update them with a rubric and some feedback. They usually nod their head and get ready for the next unit. Even more surprising, is that they rarely ask me for their overall mark. They are usually content with whatever grade is tossed onto the report card. There is no rebuttal and no argument.
What is it about the Drama class that possesses students to learn and grow and improve in their skills and not care about their mark? How can I harness this same learning mindset in my academic classes?
Let me take you on a journey, a typical chunk of time in a Shannon the Drama teacher, and how reflecting on this journey has impacted my gradeless and growth mindset in my academic classes.
First of all, some of you might suggest that Drama is an elective and so all my students want to be there. End of story. They care so they don’t care about scores. Let me assure you that there are many students plunked into my Drama classes who don’t want to be there. Thanks to the the Fine Arts graduation requirement and limited course choices, I am always riddled with a spectacular array of students who both don’t want to the be there and will take every opportunity they can for the first few weeks to make sure I know it. For me, I have to perform a pretty awesome song and dance routine just to keep these bodies in my room and instead of teaching, I am often herding these folks, like cats, into my theatrical craziness, praying they grab on and decide to hang out for a while. It is about trust, play, and fun. We run around. We goof around. It’s like kindergarten, but bigger bodies and even bigger attitudes. I try to break down the walls to find the inner little kids still lurking.
Do we do this in academic classes? How can we break down those same barriers in an academic class? How can we still cover the curriculum and have fun with it?
Secondly, I spend the first month working on skills (mime & moviement and voice & speaking). Throughout these units, I am constantly reinforcing that it isn’t a competition in the class. It is about where you are, skill wise, at the start of the year, and where you get to at the end. Every student is on their own, distinct journey. I also emphasize that improvement in any skill area that can be reassessed at any time. Just because a unit is technically complete, doesn’t mean a student can’t show me they have improved their vocal skills or figured out how not to block other characters. They get to try and fail and try again.
Do we do this in academic classes? Do students get a chance to try without penalty? Or is there a different mentality or standard we hold students to just because it’s an academic class? If so, why?
Lastly, I give timely, descriptive feedback the very moment a student makes an error. I tell my students that my feedback will come at them like an arrow. They could be right in the middle of performing and I will interrupt them to tell them something that will improve their performance. I don’t gloss over it and I really cannot wait to have a private, less intimidating conversation in the hallway in order to spare their feelings. Don’t get me wrong. I’m assertive but I’m not mean. But I am transparent from the start of the course that I will be forceful and direct, but that it is in their best interest as an actor. It doesn’t take them long to realize that if I waited too long to “teach” them, they wouldn’t have the ability to show change and growth in the moment.
Do we do this in academic classes? Do we assess in the moment? Or do we collect, assess and return? Is this always the best way to provide timely feedback? Could we change our current practice to provide formative feedback in the moment like have student assess their own work or do quick checks for understanding?
These aren’t ideas exclusive to my Drama class. These are common sense ideas. I believe that it is this combination of trust building, trying with penalty, and immediate descriptive feedback that has fostered a growth mindset in Drama class. Best of all, every single element of that combination can be applied to any class, elective or academic.
Are you struggling with creating a growth mindset in your classes? Could you take page out of my Drama class’s book and take it for a spin? Could you let go of your current practice and try?
I know you can. #mygrowthmindset