Thursday, July 22, 2010

River Deep

Ok, I'm working diligently on my approach to assessment, and I need feedback. So here is an excerpt from a simple plan I am working on for a Spoken Word Workshop. It's for 5th Graders. I'm starting small.

I think we should be doing this kind of assessment  as a matter of course, but we're not because we're often not required to, and because it takes time. That's why they call us "activity specialists" or "group leaders" It's how they justify offering us $20/hour. We have to get serious.

My new advocacy theory is this: IF we Teaching Artists start to really understand and do things in ways that mirror and complement the way the non-arts educators are doing things, THEN maybe we can earn enough to live on as full-time Teaching Artists, rather than perpetually struggling hybrids. If I hear another TA over the age of 40 tell me they don't have health insurance, I'm going to pass out.

Yes, I know we're all doing this for love, but I'm not getting any younger, and the rent's not going down. So, I have taken a pledge to try to do work that is more accountable, even if I'm working in 90 degree heat and there are no grades issued at the end. This is the professional approach and it's the only way we can achieve the kind of professional legitimacy that leads to  interviews with the Lords of Equity, and mortgage payments.

That's what I think. I'm sure you'll tell me if you disagree

Anyway, here goes:


1st Assessment Piece

Requirements: During the course of this 9-session workshop process, the Teaching Artist will formally observe and assess each poet’s performance three times before the culminating project; a Poetry Slam.

Assessment #1: The first assessment will be done early in the workshop process. For our purposes, we’ll use the familiar classic Name, Adjective & Gesture. The criteria for success in this activity will be transparent; students will know what success looks like. However, this assessment may also function as a non-transparent diagnostic; the TA may be observing for skills and understandings not yet discussed or addressed in the workshop. In this case, we might be observing for effective use of volume.*


Teaching Artist invites participants to stand in a circle.

“Here’s the game. We’ll go one by one. Each person will say their name, and then offer an adjective and a gesture that describes a bit about their personality. When you’re done, people watching and listening should know more a bit more about you than they did before. Please don't share anything you don't want us to know, Ok? Ok, I’ll go first and then we’ll talk about it a bit and then we’ll all get to try. Here goes! MUSICAL MARLEY! (TA mimes playing a trumpet)”

TA might ask a few questions here to make sure participants understand the game.

What do you know about me now that you might not have known before I offered my name, adjective and gesture? Did my gesture and adjective work together? If so, how? If not, how would you do it better?

TA might have to define the Vocabulary Words (Adjective, Gesture) for students to be successful.

TA might invite students to arrange themselves in a circle facing out, while they choose their gesture. This can make the activity less “high focus” and give individuals who need it a safer work space.

“Face out. Take about 30 seconds to decide on an adjective. When you’ve decided, put your hand on your head, so I know. (Pause) Great. Everyone should have their adjective. Now, take a few moments to decide on a gesture that matches your adjective. Your gesture should be something you can repeat over and over again. Take 30 seconds to decide. When you’ve decided, put your hand on your head, so I know.  (Pause) Terrific. Everyone should have their gesture. Now, rehearse or practice performing your name and gesture together. Do them at the same time. Do this three times in a row. Rehearsal. Starting now!

The next step would be to do the performance. The TA has a checklist and they should use it here.


1. The poet must offer an adjective that describes a bit of their personality. Example: Musical Marley!

·      Does the poet offer an appropriate adjective? YES NO

·      Is the poet able to justify their choice? Why did you choose that adjective? How and why do you feel it describes you?

2. The poet must offer a gesture that describes a bit of their personality and matches the adjective they’ve chosen.  Example: Poet mimes playing a trumpet while saying Musical Marley!

Does the poet offer an appropriate gesture? YES NO

Is the poet able to justify their choice? Why did you choose that gesture? How and why does it match the meaning of the adjective you’ve chosen?

To end the activity, TA might ask something like "What did we learn about each other?"

* Informal Assessments, Observations, and Diagnostics: Practically, and ethically, the student must know and understand the criteria that they need to meet in order to be successful in the activity. Even so, the TA can withhold some information until it is useful or necessary. The TA should use any available opportunity to diagnose for things that will need to be addressed later on. For example, during this first assessment piece, the TA might be observing to diagnose how students are using their voices. Are they using volume effectively? Can they be heard? Are they pushing too hard, or putting their vocal cords in danger? If there are notable gaps, the TA is wise to go back to the original plan to make sure that the class or the individual gets to work on the necessary skill or understanding in a later session. In this case, the TA knows that using the voice effectively is definitely going to be one of the criteria for success during the culminating project—a Poetry Slam!

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