On messing up

It’s been a long week. On Tuesday, things went sideways in my Performance Beyond Theatres seminar; on Thursday, I had a rushed, not very good class with my 20th Century Drama students. I’ve not screwed up quite this impressively in a while; luckily, Friday came, and I had some time to think about what went wrong and how to recover.

The Tuesday mess was sort of my fault, and sort of not: our week by week schedule (which I prepared as part of my course outline) indicated a reading by Victor Turner, the famed anthropologist and one of the grandfather figures for Performance Studies. It included title and page numbers from the text we are using, but apparently the page numbers were wrong: the book ordered for my students was a different edition from the book I own, and I used the latter to create the schedule. My bad, as I should have double checked the ordered edition – that’s teacherly due diligence. But the students who read the wrong essay (and that was only a portion of them) also bear a bit of responsibility: the author and title were, after all, clearly listed on the schedule.

Never mind: the larger problem was that even those who had read the assigned paper didn’t really understand it – something I hadn’t accounted for. I’ve never taught this particular essay, and I made a rookie mistake in assuming too much about the students’ capacity to connect the dots and manage the essay’s abstractions. As a result, about half way through the class I realised my prep was suddenly useless. The questions I wanted us to explore required that first we deal with another, more basic question: what the heck is going on? So I threw the prep out, and flew blind.

What else could I do? We needed to make sense of the reading. So we turned to our assigned cultural text for the week (the wedding of Katharine Middleton and Prince William; yes, really, I’m that cool) to help us out. But I was making exercises and questions up on the wing, hoping we could, by class’s end, at least come to some basic understanding of the concepts Turner explores in his essay.

Thursday was much more my fault. It was another classic error: I got super excited about the DVD I was going to show in class (a couple of clips from an avant-garde, recent production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House), and I over-prepped. We would do a “pocket lecture” on naturalist theatre; then my awesome TA, Madison, would offer some thoughts on the “angel in the house” in relation to Ibsen’s character Nora, and then we would watch and discuss the video. That’s a lot for 50 minutes – I know better – but I decided to pretend I had enough time and ignore the likelihood of being rushed. And that did me in.

We got to the clips 15 minutes later than I’d hoped, and by that time the students had been mostly listening to lecture material for the better part of half an hour – a recipe for dulled senses. I played the first clip and posed a basic question (“what do you see?”) and it backfired on me. The first student to raise his hand – a smart and theatre-savvy guy who I knew was challenging himself to speak up in class more often – sidetracked me by expressing resistance to the production’s modern dress and “contemporary cool” approach to the text. His point was a good one – is this a legit interpretation of the text? – and in a different moment in time (without the clock hot on my heels) I could easily have turned it into a truly valuable teachable moment. Instead, I did something I haven’t done in the classroom in about a million years: I got defensive. I insisted we needed to explore the question I had posed – what (literally) did you see? What might the clip be trying to say? – rather than go off-piste right away. The student was gracious about it, but I felt like crap shutting him down.

Thanks to the glories of Friday (a bit of house cleaning; some cycling; some banana bread; some time spent on pleasurable work tasks), I’ve now had a chance to reflect on my week’s hot messes. And I’ve come to this conclusion: Tuesday’s momentary catastrophe (we read the wrong thing! And it TOTALLY makes no sense anyway!) got turned around, and turned into a solid, happy Thursday class, only because I was willing to abandon the prep, go sideways with the class, and start again from where they were starting from. Meanwhile, Thursday in 20th Century Drama went sideways and ultimately (for me, anyway) off the rails because I insisted on remaining tethered to my prep. The fetish I made of My Plan For The Day meant I couldn’t accept my contrarian student’s offering. I left the class feeling annoyed with myself and sad about what might have been.

What’s the lesson? An old one, one I’ve known for a while. We don’t prep to deliver the prep as is – does that ever actually happen? Rather, we prep to prepare ourselves. For whatever might happen. I can’t abandon the plan without solid prep under my feet, but neither can I do what I need to do – inspire students, and let them inspire me – if I let the prep be the boss. Then we’re all just hired hands: not in control of our own paths, our own learning.

This is a lesson I didn’t learn until I was well into my teaching career (and it’s a lesson I’ve discussed before on this blog, in two different contexts) but it’s a lesson I really want to pass on to the grad students reading. Prep is important – but it’s important because it provides confidence and security for you. To give the students your very best, and to reflect their best back to them, you need to let it drop away.

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Chastened,

Kim

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On being a Canadian Scholar in the British Academy

I’m back. On 20 June 2012 I left Western University, and Canada, for the Drama department at Queen Mary, University of London; on 17August I arrived back in little London, Ontario (also affectionately known as “The Faux”), and to the new Theatre Studies program at Western. (Click here to read a bit about us.) After 26 months in the UK it was a hard move to make; I was heartbroken to leave my brilliant colleagues at QM, and sadder still to say goodbye to my husband and dog (who are still in south London, keeping the home fires burning). But there’s no doubt about it – life as an academic is far better in Canada than it is in the UK, at least from where I’m sitting, on a tenure track post at a major research school. (I’m very well aware there are fewer and fewer of the former, and that the future of the latter is in constant flux under the current federal Canadian government; those issues will have to wait for another time.) So returning home has been hard, but it’s also been a relief.

My time in the UK academy was a paradox, a constant negotiation: at turns exhilarating and unbearably frustrating. I’ve written before on this blog about the stupidity of the REF, and about the waste that so much academic administration makes, both times from within the UK system and (negatively) inspired by it; today, though, I’d like to reflect on what I learned in the UK, from these very negatives, and from the relative calm of the other side of the ocean.

As the new term at Western has gotten underway, in the last couple of weeks I’ve found myself talking a lot, and thinking even more, about where I’ve just come from. I’ve told the (complicated) story of my time at Queen Mary over and over again to my colleagues here, and I’ve heard from them over and over again how sorry/how glad I must be now to be home. In the process, I’ve realised that a lot of the things that made me utterly crazy while inside the UK system are actually profoundly instructive, even inspiring for me now: that while they made my life difficult in situ, from here they look like teachable moments.

My goal in this post, then, isn’t to kvetch post-hoc about everything that sucked over yonder; aside from being predictable and boring, that wouldn’t be very useful – nor very accurate. Instead, I want to talk about how some of the challenges that I encountered in the UK academy offer valuable lessons for those of us still very fortunate to work in a university environment where research time is protected above all, where teaching is valued and supported well, and where the administrative load is either kept to a minimum or offset by significant teaching relief and/or dedicated research leaves. I wouldn’t have guessed, six months ago, that I might be writing a blog post about (for example) what the REF gifted us, as well as about what it stole from us, but there you go: breathing room, and a bit of peace and quiet, can heal and regenerate in unexpected ways.

So, herewith, three phoenixes from the UK academic ashes.

1. Lots of administrative duties are stupid and time-wasting. A number of them are absolutely not. 

Academics I know fear administrative workload creep for very good reasons. The UK government, as I’ve argued before, has gotten quite a lot of traction with its constant check, monitor and measure tactics, making teachers and scholars far, far too tired to fight the really big fights properly. The Harper government here in Canada is not so far behind. But for every box I ticked and student absence I logged at QM while slowly dying inside, I also learned that there can be real value in things like second marking policies, designed to ensure students receive a fair, agreed-upon grade for large pieces of work, and pastoral care schemes, designed to save vulnerable students from attrition at crucial times in their undergraduate or graduate careers.

Now don’t get me wrong, especially if you’re reading this from my side of the pond: I’m not suggesting we start marking each other’s marking on an intensively structured basis as UK teachers do, and I’m definitely not suggesting universities mandate that we take student attendance (if yours does, I’m truly sorry). Second marking, for those who don’t know, is the practice of “check” marking other colleagues’ students’ work; it consists of you reading the work, then your colleague’s feedback on it, and then chatting with that colleague about both alongside the mark he or she has proposed for each student. At QM, second marking was mostly a collegial process, and after the chat we’d agree on grades and release them to the students in a fairly timely fashion. Collegial, yes – but also lots of work for very few real shifts in grades; often, it felt like work we need not really have bothered with, except to tick the box. As a blanket task, then, second marking seemed, and still seems, to me to be largely a waste of time. But in principle it’s a super idea, because it invites other colleagues regularly into our teaching rooms, mental and textual if not always physical, and opens up space for helpful conversations about best marking practices. (When I got stuff wrong according to a second marking colleague, I always, without fail, learned something from that colleague. I was usually annoyed, but I really did learn.)

At its very best, this is what “second marking” can offer North American university lecturers accustomed to marking in a silo, handing work back when we’re done, and then praying for not too much student blowback. Wouldn’t it be great if we actively supported and mentored one another as markers, as we often do as teachers in the classroom when we observe one another, and as we often do with our TAs informally? Would it really be so difficult to implement that kind of mentorship formally, for teachers at all levels, so that every term marking mentors were visible and available in the department, ready to help with those “tough” cases every teacher encounters in every batch of papers? You know: those assignments where you’re just not sure what to say or what grade to assign, where you wonder what your colleagues would do in this case – if only you felt OK asking them to read the paper and weigh in? How might we implement such a practice in a way that could generate effective support, especially for younger faculty but definitely for all of us, without making too much extra work for everyone?

If we begin from a place that values both the labour and the time and breathing space of the workers in question, I bet we can come up with something good.

2. Orwellian working conditions can also create valuable alliances, and cherished friendships.

Would we all prefer not to have to do the excessive paperwork that characterised my time at QM? Without question. But because I did, I had to get to know my colleagues, and I had to learn to work well with them, and, lo and behold, I got to like each of them. I find it remarkable that, despite their often strenuous workload, my Queen Mary colleagues are all more or less friends, and often really good friends. (Now I’m their friend too, and I cherish that.) Crappy committee meetings were inescapable, but the post-meeting coffee klatch at The Coffee Room or pint at The Morgan Arms was a small and welcome consolation every time, a chance for everyone to breathe, remind ourselves that we are human, that we are in this together, and that we all need to remember to ask about one another’s outside lives and really listen to what’s going on in one another’s worlds, and regularly.

Sure, QM Drama is a very special place, where people are nice and we all gel brilliantly; sure, lots of other departments are grotesquely acrimonious, and the meetings take place in a small room devised by Sartre. But I’d like to think that – again, at its best – working inside an administration-driven system might pull us, as humans who all seek so much more than paperwork in a satisfying day, a bit closer together, might encourage us to find the time to be together under different circumstances as often as possible. Often is probably not often enough (it wasn’t for me), but the potential is still there, as is the need. Something to think about for those of us who work in departments where we tend to pass each other in the twilight, moving silently between classroom and office and home: we don’t need loads of busy-work as an excuse to spend time together, as humans rather than as co-workers. We don’t need to be fast and firm friends to make some time for a proper drink and a chat about life, the universe, and that latest book project. We just need to remember that this kind of work is valuable, too – as valuable as research or teaching labour.

3. The REF is complete and utter bullshit from start to finish. But I’ve now read a hell of a lot of my colleagues’ fantastic work.

The REF is a horse’s ass; there is nothing more I want to say about its exquisite badness (to borrow a glorious adjectival phrase from the talented “Bad Feminist” Roxane Gay). What shocks me today is realising that there is actually a bit of good in the REF, aside from the kudos and pound signs it generates for the lucky winners of the grading lottery. Without question it wasted a lot of our time, on “dry runs” and “research narratives” and crying over letters with stupid colour-coded pass/fail lights on them. But it also asked us to spend time on one another in ways that, I now appreciate, meant I got to learn a lot about my colleagues’ work in a concentrated way that I doubt I otherwise would ever have done.

I got to read early drafts of Catherine Silverstone’s latest, terrific paper on queer kids in Shakespearean cinema; I got to help Ali Campbell take stock of the work he’s done among communities of elders and children in east end London over the last five years and make important connections among his disparate projects, leading toward his next big piece of work; and I was inspired to read, from cover to cover, Jen Harvie’s outstanding, important new monograph, Fair Play: Art, Performance and Neoliberalism (Palgrave, 2013), a book I loved and valued so much that I discussed it at the end of a review essay I’ve just published in Theatre Survey – a piece that was on the whole inspired by my time in the UK academy, and at Queen Mary in particular. (You can check out the journal, and the essay, here; for a taster of my comments on Jen’s book, see below the image at the end of this post.) Jen, Catherine, and Ali became truly inspiring colleagues, not just faces in neighbouring offices and not just friends, through this (otherwise truly gruesome) REF process, in part because as the UK government is busy making us tick its tyrannous boxes, it’s also requiring that we make the best of the work, find ways to support one another through it. And so I read, and questioned, and suggested, and learned; and so I’ve returned home to Canada richer, more inspired, and more hopeful for my own research.

I never want to go through the REF again (I’m betting Catherine, Ali, Jen, and my other colleagues don’t either, alas!). But it has given me the gift of new ideas, fresh thinking, warm inspiration. Nobody is more stunned than me.

Cheers, Queen Mary Drama gang! I feel the loss of you each day.

Kim

 

 

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(Mario Delgado and second year students in the studio at QM)

From What Are You Reading? By Kim Solga, Theatre Survey 55.3 (September 2014), p. 397.

“…The great strength of Fair Play is its thick research: working within Ric Knowles’s “material theatre” model, Harvie musters theory, criticism, popular press materials, a vast amount of public policy documentation, and a good measure of sociology and cultural geography to her cause. She begins with an introduction that defines her key terms and lays out the scope of her project before moving on to four case-study-driven chapters, focused variously on labor, the artist as entrepreneur, space and access, and public-private funding models. Each chapter takes up the book’s two basic but urgent research questions: In what ways do artists fall prey to reproducing neoliberal models as they make work under what [Lauren] Berlant might call the “crisis ordinariness” of arts funding today? On the other hand, in what ways do artists model different, more productive kinds of relation in the face of neoliberalism’s false social contract? Because Harvie is driven by the dialectic inherent in this pairing, the book is admirably balanced. It asks readers to weigh the evidence, and to think about how the arts are and are not better off—and how we, as humans living in a world made more humane by art, are and are not better off—under the status quo. Fair Play ultimately makes a strong yet never depressing case for the ‘not,’ [but] Harvie leaves us with real hope that something can be done.”

 

Guest post: learning from “mock” presentations

Welcome to September! And, for those of you reading in North America, happy Labour Day Monday. Just in time for the new school year’s first week of merry bustle, you’ll find below a post by Charlotte Bell, a soon to be new PhD who has embarked on a remarkable first project: this year, rather than sticking to the relative safety of the ivory tower, she will be teaching in an underprivileged grammar school in Birmingham, learning first hand about the strengths and weaknesses of the UK’s education system at a time when it is undergoing profound change. This choice reflects Charlotte’s ethos as a truly activist scholar and educator, and I’m looking forward to showcasing her reflections on the blog in the months to come. For now, have a read of her experience using mock presentations to improve student performance in a second year seminar at Queen Mary this past year. Inspiring stuff!

Learning from “mock” presentations

By Charlotte Bell

Over the past four years I have had the privilege of working with students at each stage of their undergraduate degree at Queen Mary, University of London, as a mentor, a teaching assistant (TA), and a module (course) convenor. In each case, I have watched formal assessments (also known as summative assessments) provoke a lot of anxiety for students. However, assessment isn’t – or shouldn’t be – just the formal exam or piece of coursework a student submits. The focus of this post will be on the placement and role of end of year presentations (a popular assessment method in UK universities), and specifically on how I have used ‘mock’ presentations as a formative method of assessment.

There are two key reasons for my focus. First, the final presentation often marks the end of a module and the start of a holiday period; it’s the assessment that seems to demand Powerpoint or Prezzi, with as many effects and embedded videos as possible. It aWefeighdilso seems an ideal platform to showcase students’ abilities to synthesize, evaluate and form coherent arguments, based on the semester’s work. However, Iand have found myself disappointed in these situations; I often get a sense that the presentations are rushed, the labour not equally distributed among the presentation group’s members, or that the opportunity to use technology seems to overwhelm the presentations (lots of flash, at the expense of substance). Presentations are also the form of assessment or sharing of practice that, as Kim has discussed in previous posts, highlights some uncomfortable gender politics, in which women appear to apologise for taking up space at the front of the room or for owning the soundscape, even if only for five minutes. So the final presentation raises the obvious question: how can we make these assessments more worthwhile, a mode of teaching as well as grading?

Second, I suspect that in years to come HE (Higher Education; university or college-level) teachers and lecturers will have to pay more attention to the ways in which presentations are introduced and students supported, especially in UK classrooms. In 2013, to everyone’s detriment, Ofqual (the Office of qualifications and examination regulations in the UK) announced that the ‘Speaking and Listening’ (presentation) component of English GCSEs (General Certificate in Secondary Education) would no longer be a summative part of the English National Curriculum. Students in future may not arrive at university with the same skill-set in this form of assessment, making the need to “teach” the presentation (rather than simply grading it) even more urgent.

The final presentation assessment, therefore, is increasingly important. Presentations are not easy, but they are a key method of assessment throughout our careers in academia and beyond: they are essential aspects of conference work, of interviews (which in academia often include a presentation on research or teaching a lesson segment), and of course of business pitches alongside the inevitable pressure of networking. Presentations reveal students’ weaknesses in ways that are remarkably instructive and that may have an impact on students’ career prospects. But students can learn from doing presentations in class only if they are also given a real chance to learn from their mistakes.

Assessment in the classroom is (or, should be) an ongoing process. In Embedded Formative Assessment, (2011) education guru Dylan Wiliam poses five key strategies that assessment for learning enables:

AfL_figure1

Wiliam’s lens – cognitive science – is not without its problems: how can you as teacher evidence that these strategies have, in fact, enabled progress or learning during a seminar? The answer is, you probably can’t; and in many cases, you probably won’t be around long enough to see that ‘light bulb’ moment. However, his model is useful for clarifying the value and purpose of assessment. If your assessment doesn’t aid learning, what is its point?

Incorporating Formative Assessment into the module

The module in which I trialled the use of ‘mock’ presentations was a second year seminar-based option, part of the wider Applied Performance Pathway offered as part of the BA in Drama at QMUL. The module examines work by twentieth century theatre practitioners, theatre companies and collectives who have engaged in the making of theatre by, with and for ‘the people’, in order to examine how the social, economic and political context of their work shapes contemporary applied performance practice. Students on this module engage with a range of playtexts, critical theory, biography, policy documents and archival materials, and the module includes two points of summative assessment: a group presentation and an individual written essay.

I introduced the students to the concept of mock presentations one week in advance of the mock event. I told students they would form their own groups for the mock presentation, and would then stay in these groups for their final presentation assessment two weeks later. As a class, we went to The Unicorn Theatre on a group trip, and students knew that the mock presentations would be based on this show and an accompanying piece of set reading on theatre for children. The idea was that all students would work on the same topic for their mocks, both in order to create a shared back story for the mock event and in order to allow for collaborative peer-to-peer feedback as part of the mock process. This shared topic also gave me as the teacher a clear understanding of how well each group was able to read a specific piece of theatre in conjunction with scholarly work.

Assessment Methods

The prompt question for the mock presentation and the final assessed presentation was the same:

Who are ‘the people’? How and why have theatre makers set out to examine and challenge ideas of who theatre is for?

Students were asked, for their final presentations, to explore these questions through the lens of a specific theatre company, theatre building, theatre artist or issue in the cultural politics of theatre for ‘the people’. The final presentations were to be 10 minutes long and students were to be prepared to answer three questions from the floor. Powerpoint and Prezzi were banned. Instead, students had to produce a handout.

In addition, students would be asked to assess each other as well as themselves; importantly, their peer feedback would be incorporated into the overall feedback I provided. In many ways, this was the most important element of this mock exercise.

The mock and final presentations were both assessed using two grids. (These were adapted from my colleagues Philippa Williams from the Department of Geography, QMUL, and Michael Slavinsky at The Brilliant Club, London UK.) One grid was used to assess each of the other groups’ presentations; the other was a self-assessment grid in which students were to identify what they and their group did well, and what they could do to improve their work next time around.

These grids are both simple, straightforward and translate ‘assessment criteria’ into short points for consideration:

Grid-figure2

I find such grids useful because they make clear that there is no ‘hidden agenda’ when it comes to marking presentations. The marking criteria fit on to a single side of A4 paper. During the presentations, the students and I worked from the same grids ‘in real time’ as we watched one another’s labour; this way, we formed an assessment team rather than a hierarchy.

The self-assessment grid was adapted from the marker’s essay cover. This grid is based on the popular assessment model of identifying both ‘what went well’ and ‘even better if’. It also includes the option for students to award themselves a grade within a broad boundary (for example, “I think I scored a B-B+).

grid2-figure 3

The ‘mock’ presentations

The first 15 minutes of the mock session were handed over to students to work on preparing their mock presentations. The prompt for these 15 minutes was: what questions does your presentation raise? What can you do now to help you answer these questions? I was careful to relate these cues specifically to one of the assessment criteria on the marking grid: ‘ability to answer questions’. I also chose this focus because I suspected students’ question and answer preparations might be overlooked somewhat during their preparations. The 15 minutes of prep time also gave students some ‘breathing space’ and helped set a relaxed but productive atmosphere for the session – particularly for those students who had come in straight from another class. Rather than entering a room where students were waiting to start presentations, students entered a room where productive work was happening and mistakes could still be made, and corrected.

After these initial 15 minutes I gathered the group back together and went through the structure of the session. I advised students on how they might use the grids: circle or put a cross next to a description – annotate or write notes on the back. I then reiterated that I would be taking their feedback seriously, incorporating it into my overall feedback for each of the groups.

Students self-selected the order in which they gave their presentations. While a group was setting up I handed out a group marking grid to those in the audience. I decided to hand out new sheets at the beginning of each presentation slot 1) to ensure that grids didn’t get mixed up, 2) to provide a reason for the group at the front of the class to take their time setting up or getting ready, and 3) to make time to answer any questions students might have about the process. We sat and listened to the presentation and I fielded or asked 1-2 questions of each group following their presentations. We applauded the group as students returned to their seats. Members of the group also picked up a self-assessment sheet as they returned to their seats and the class had three minutes to make some notes on each presentation. If the next group was ready to set up they did so. We repeated this process as needed.

Assessment in Practice

The main aim of our self- and peer assessments as part of this process was to encourage students to think specifically about points for improvement, as well as allowing me to monitor discrepancies between what the students thought they did against what the rest of the class and myself saw them accomplish. As students were taking time to set up or fill out their grids I had a quick flick through some of their responses to get a sense of the room; the grids seemed to be providing a helpful space for students to articulate their honest reactions. As it turns out, marking each other against shared criteria and knowing you are being marked against that same criteria doesn’t result in a lot of congratulatory back-patting. On the contrary, marking and being marked against the same criteria seemed to encourage the students to take the process seriously, giving each other focused and useful feedback:

FIGURE4  FIGURE-FIVE

However, what I didn’t expect was the extent to which some students struggled to define what they did well. Most did not give themselves a grade boundary or mark, despite the opportunity on the marking grid to do so. Those that did provide grades for themselves were not generous:

FIGURESEVEN FIGURESIX

FIGURE-EIGHT

Whilst these examples of self-assessment do accurately identify sticking points in individual presentations, such as problems with speaking clearly and preparing and responding to questions confidently, they also draw out a troubling and rather upsetting undertone. I do not think these are the comments of self-indulgent young people; they are indicative of insecurity and low self-esteem. Identifying points for improvement such as ‘less mumbling’, or noting the feeling of being put on the spot during a Q&A session are helpful – but, again, only if action points can in turn be created to support that person to overcome the insecurity that perpetuates mumbling or puts them in a position where ‘turning up’ is something they identify as ‘what the group did well’. Once again, then, the students’ self-assessments indicate for me how crucial a task it is to turn presentation assessments into true learning opportunities.

Having had a quick glance through some of the grids on the spot, I was able to address a few of the issues and concerns they raised immediately through oral feedback to the class as a whole. I followed this up a short time later with general written feedback uploaded to our online site. In addition, I also wrote feedback for each group, incorporating peer feedback into my comments and responding to issues they raised on their individual assessment sheets. This feedback was sent out the same afternoon as our mock event took place.

As part of this preliminary feedback I included an ‘on track for’ grade boundary: for example, 2:1/1st borderline (roughly B/B+/A). Though I’m not a huge fan of ‘target grades’ and ‘grade boundaries’, they are a fact of university assessment and I don’t think pretending they don’t matter is helpful – to the students or the teacher. Being as transparent as possible makes having conversations with students that might otherwise be difficult or awkward (particularly around grade expectations) a lot easier and more straightforward.

The results: what happened during the final presentations?

Students had two weeks between their mock presentations and their assessed presentations in order to address concerns raised in their feedback, and all groups produced better presentations in their final assessments. Their handouts were visually stimulating and detailed. One group used the white board to demonstrate the development of their argument and point to tensions in policy for participants in disabled arts. Another group produced an annotated handout that was explicitly referred to in their presentation – and would make a great poster. All groups took time to note down questions during the Q&A session to give themselves time to think through their answers. All groups introduced themselves and gave their presentations a title. Self-assessment identified specific points/aspects that ‘went well’ and demonstrated some progress towards improved confidence:

FIGURE-NINE

[a takeaway pop-up book-style handout with room for listeners to add their own notes, questions or comments]

FIGURE-TEN

Conclusions

Overall, creating a ‘mock’ process like this one might seem like a lot of work. It wasn’t. Adapting the grids to the module and its specific presentation assessment was a quick process: the presentation grids are quick and easy to read and provide a fast and clear overall view of a group’s presentation. Typing up the general feedback after the mock session took about five minutes, as I had jotted notes down in the moment and relayed it verbally to the students earlier in the day. Writing the individual group feedback took a little longer, but incorporating peer and self-assessment into the process made identifying points of focus in this feedback more efficient. I hadn’t had to do any additional content prep for either the mock or final presentation sessions: the students provided the knowledge content and material to work with. Framing the first session as a ‘mock’ presentation gave the exercise gravitas and a status that linked directly to an activity ‘that would count’ later on in the semester. Overall, not only did practicing the assessment better prepare the students to produce evidenced, well timed, imaginative, effective and competent presentations in the final week of the semester, I think it also put the students in a better position from which to constructively critique theirs and each others’ work.

I shall certainly be using these tools (and tools like them) in the future, and I may adapt the assessment grids for different types of projects. In addition I’m going to continue to pay attention to the ways in which I use the language of assessment criteria in class to respond to students’ work and in-class discussions. If as an assessor I’m looking for ‘concise’ writing/speaking and ‘good quality and independent research’ then I need to flag to students when they have demonstrated this kind of labour, rather than stopping my response at ‘brilliant’ or ‘fantastic’.

I would love to hear your feedback and any tips or resources you use to integrate assessments into the delivery of your courses/modules.

CHARLOTTE BELL is the final stages of her PhD in the Drama Department, Queen Mary University of London, where she was also a teacher. Her research explores the cultural economics of site-specific art and performance in and about social housing estates. Her work has been published in Wasafiri, Contemporary Theatre Review and New Theatre Quarterly. In 2013 she won the TaPRA Postgraduate Essay Prize. She is on the Postgraduate Committee for TaPRA and from 2013-14 she was an Advanced Skills Tutor with The Brilliant Club, London, UK. This September she starts as an English teacher in a state comprehensive secondary school in Birmingham. Visit Charlotte online here: https://qmul.academia.edu/CharlotteBell.