Results / Grading / Analysis
The Idea in Practice:
Grade 6 Monologue Performances
The sixth grade drama class was assigned two-minute acting monologues. At the beginning of the project, which covered three or four weeks in all, we practiced performing in front of each other, and discussed the various elements that went into a strong performance of a dramatic monologue. It is my hope that the system of evaluation used here will work with any kind of creative work, and this essay is not really about what makes a good monologue, but the examples below will be easier to understand if I briefly cover the elements we came up with. We first divided our elements into two categories--those concerned primarily with making the monologue MAKE SENSE and with making the performance consistent with the CHARACTER being presented, and those concerned primarily with making the monologue INTERESTING, and with aesthetics. We found that these categories overlapped a bit, but decided it didn't really matter.
Clarity of emotion
Pace (not rushing)
Familiarity with the text, allowing for correct word stresses, etc.
Rhythm--the amount of variety in pace. This includes especially the effective use of pauses, and in this way overlaps with the sense elements, in that giving a character time to think before speaking contributes to FIRST-TIME QUALITY--the sense that a character is speaking the lines for the first time, rather than speaking a memorized text.
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Below are some of the written comments I handed back after the final performances. The text in black is what the student wrote on her or his form after the "first drafts," and the text in red is my feedback after the second performance. I include these to illustrate the general approach I took. You will see that although I generally included at the end comments about all elements of the performance, I gave special attention to those elements on which each student chose to focus. I have removed the letter grades (and last names) from this report, partly out of respect for the students' privacy, and partly because letter grades are so different from one institution to another. (An "A" in one school might be a "B" in another.) But I have given some indication at the bottom of the list of the RELATIVE grades assigned to selected students.
I want to concentrate particularly on:James
- Time to think. By giving your character time to think, you created a much better sense of rhythm. Excellent!
- Emotional variety. You found some emotional variety, but still not as much as you might have found
(Your pantomime was still good, and you were much more familiar with the words this time.)
I want to concentrate particularly on:Anna
- Making it clear that I'm "rehearsing" the speech and Lucy isn't there. You did a good job of making it clear that you were "rehearsing" the speech and Lucy wasn't there.
- Eliminating nervous movements by adding action. You did a good job of eliminating nervous movements by adding action.
(You found the shape of the piece more clearly this time, although you still have not really found the necessary anger or other strong emotion that would make you take the risk of speaking to Lucy this way.)
I want to concentrate particularly on:Gannon
- Eye contact. You made some more eye contact with your audience, but you still need more.
- Pauses. You didn’t really add much in the way of pauses.
(You did improve the emotional shape of the piece, and your vocal expression was still very good.)
I want to concentrate particularly on:Anne
- Movement. Your movements were clearly planned better, although you still need to execute your plans with more clarity.
- Shape. You did an excellent job of finding the emotional shape of the piece.
(You also controlled your nervous movements and maintained the excellent character you gave us the first time around.)
I want to concentrate particularly on:Ruth
- Rushing. You started out still rushing but you got control of it by the end.
- Pauses. Your pauses were excellent--much improved.
(Your body language and eye contact were somewhat better, but you still didn't find much emotional shape.)
I want to concentrate particularly on:
- Finding variety in my movements and gestures. You did a pretty good job of finding variety in your movements and gestures.
- Slowing down at places and speeding up at others. (Rhythm.) Your rhythm was much improved, though you could still do more.
(You also maintained your excellent body language and character, and your strong storytelling. This was an excellent performance.)
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Below are some selected entries from the class, with indications (in italics) about the grade assigned and why. I've tried to provide a cross-section of the class.
(This piece was quite good the first time around, yet you have improved it!)
(Your movement choices were still pretty good, but you didn't really improve in any way over your initial performance.)
Grading these projects in this way made evaluation much easier, and, in my view, more fair, but it also had a partly unexpected additional benefit. As a class this group improved significantly more than previous classes did on the same assignment. I attribute this to two facts:
First, each student was provided with specific goals to work towards, and (this is MOST important) they were guaranteed to be goals the student understood and believed in, because they were goals chosen by the student. It is very difficult for a student (especially on who is already pretty good) to improve a creative project without a very clear focus. The model I grew up with--the way teachers worked with me and the way I have seen other teachers work--tends to work fairly well with students whose performances "still need a lot of work," but with students who are already "pretty good" (and these are, after all, usually the students most interested in the subject) it's ineffective, and tends to reduce itself down to "do more of what you're already doing." One of the most gratifying things about this project was that it allowed everyone--even the best students--to improve significantly.
Second, this evaluation scheme acknowledges, and to a large extent addresses, the central contradiction in any attempt to grade creative work. It respects the student as artist. Instead of grading the student on the basis of how I would have performed the monologue--and let's face it, that's what we tend to do when we evaluate creative work--this method grades the student on the basis of his or her own creative intent. By giving the students ownership of their own creative work, and of the evaluation process, I was able to give them a significant extra motivator to improve. They enjoyed the project more, it meant more to them, so they worked harder at it.
I was very pleased with the way Artist-Centered Evaluation worked with my sixth-graders, both in terms of fairness of grading and in terms of the quality of the work it induced. I'll certainly continue to use this technique in this class.Back to top of Grade 6 Monologues.