Context – the many faces of Drama homework
I work in a school where lower school classes are timetabled two one hour lessons of Drama per fortnight. Our Drama department policy is to set one piece of written homework per half term which covers the topic explored in lessons.
I have found that the type and amount of homework in lower school Drama varies from school to school and ranges from written homework once a week in exercise books, the odd piece of research, practical rehearsal style homework to none at all. There is usually some correlation between this an factors such as how much curriculum time is given to lower school Drama, other pressures on the Drama department to directions from senior management. One discussion that we have had numerous times in department meetings is; if we can get away with not setting Drama homework, why bother at all?
It is my view, in the context of the school that I work in, that we need to be setting some kind of homework for Drama at KS3, not only to stay in line with the other creative arts subjects in our school but also to ensure that Drama is viewed as a credible serious subject by students, parents and dare I say, SLT! I know that homework cannot do this alone, but I think it helps. I also believe that it is important for those opting for Drama at GCSE to have had prior experience of writing about Drama and that KS3 Drama should prepare them for this.
The problem with homework
Rehearsal style homework at key stage three doesn’t work for us. We lack the space at lunchtimes and after school as we have a lot of GCSE, A Level and extra curricular commitment. So over the past 10 years we have strived to set meaningful homework which develops their knowledge and understanding of the topic they are studying. These have included writing in role and researching a topic.
More recently, we have started to adapt our homework tasks so that they are more useful to those opting for GCSE Drama such as annotating script extracts with stage directions or evaluating a still image. All of these with varying degrees of success in terms of quality and submission rate. We have plenty of students who, without fail, produce high quality homework no matter what they are set. On the flip side, we also get those students who hand in scrappy bits of paper with two sentances written, copied and pasted pages form Wikipedia or none at all. Having to set homework detentions and following up missing homework and missed detentions was talking its toll on us Drama teachers as well as the students.
Takeaway Homework and Unhomework
Having got a Kindle for Christmas and with my New Year’s Resolution to read more, I found myself reading #100Ideas For Secondary Teachers: Outstanding Lessons by Ross Morrison Mcgill (@teachertoolkit) during January. The links and mentions of Twitter in the book started my Twitter journey and online discovery of examples of #takeawayhmwk in practice. During February half term, I read #Unhomework by Mark Creasy (@EP3577) and I knew then that I wanted to completely overhaul our homework policy.
Designing takeaway menus that meet our needs
I knew that to jump from our very structured and undifferentiated homework to the complete and utter freedom of #unhomework, in the way that Mark discusses in his book, was too much of a leap for my department! Takeaway homework seemed like the best stepping stone to this ultimate goal.
I wrote a list of all the homeworks we set and arranged them into three categories; those that we set at the beginning of a topic tended to be research homeworks; those set in the middle of the topic tended to be development homeworks and those set at the end were evaluation style homeworks. As this gave me three categories, I decided to design three menus! My thought behind this was that I would design menus that could be accessed by years 7, 8 and 9 and for all schemes of work without the need to write a menu for each individual topic. Students would be guided to the appropriate menu by the teacher.
For this to work, I knew that I needed my department to be on board with the changes and when ‘homework’ appeared on the department meeting agenda, it sparked much discussion even before the meeting! I was relieved when everyone (including my good friend and colleague who was anti-homework!) showed enthusiasm for this new venture and began giving ideas for homework tasks and helping me redraft my first attempt.
The first year group to use one of the menus was year 8. The topic was Shakespeare and previously, they had been given a quiz style homework to find out facts about Shakespeare. This was actually one of our rare homeworks that had differentiation built in, with more able having more questions. This however, felt forced and still did not really give any choice to the student over what facts they found out.
The takeaway homework that was set for them was from the Ed’s Diner research menu with a choice of seven tasks to choose from and varying in difficulty. The first class I introduced this to looked utterly bemused by their assignment with comments such as “so what am I supposed to write in my homework diary?” and “so we can do anything?”. It took a little more explaining before the penny dropped and as they headed out of the door, they were discussing with each other what they were going to do!
I realised at this point, that the shift from traditional homework setting to takeaway homework would take a couple of months as each class becomes used to the style. But my hope is that next year, it is seen as the norm and the only instruction needed from me will be “your topic is Shakespeare, pick from Ed’s Diner, due in two weeks!”.
I was pleased with the quality of homework that came back from year 8; there was a variety of tasks undertaken and it seemed to have sparked a real interest in Shakespeare from the students. There were, of course some students who did not hand anything in – mainly those who lack organisation and are notorious for not completing homework. However, we had a much greater rate of submission and quality overall.
I am currently experimenting with ways to celebrate their creativity effort in work that they complete. One strategy that I have already found effective was to get the students to peg their homework up on a washing line as they came in. They were able to show off what they had done and admire the work of others. It did also have the effect of shaming the one or two who had not really produced anything worthy and hopefully, it will encourage them to produce better homework next time. The plenary of that lesson was to find out a new fact about Shakespeare from someone else’s homework which they then shared before they left the lesson.
Year 7 will be next to try out the takeaway homework menu on their topic; Greek Theatre in the summer term. As a department, we will evaluate the success of takeaway homework so far and also how we mark it, opportunities for peer and self assessment and how reward students for their efforts.