Friday, 11 December 2009

Give Praise Where Appraisal is Due

As the year goes on and we come to an assessment and performance heavy time of year such as this one, more often than not I can be found talking to students, appeasing and comforting them whilst imparting what little wisdom I have so that they can continue to work, grow and develop - cultivating a little plot of knowledge all of their very own.

But giving 'feedback' (appraisal after the event) can be more tricky. In fact 'feedback' in itself is an odd word. At least odd enough to be taken apart and analysed with a dictionary in hand in a slightly anal fashion;

'feed' meaning 'to give food to; supply with nourishment: to feed a child'
'back' meaning 'the return of posession: to give back'

In short, 'feedback' means to give nourishment back to the original owner of a piece of work. To give them your views, feelings and comments so that the participants may take them and literally 'grow'. Following this there may even be a a following process of appraisal where views can be exchanged and learnt from for much longer periods of time, until conclusions are reached, work 'runs out of steam', or owners don't need the guidance anymore.

Recently, through the appraisal and giving of feedback on students work I have been looking for where I fit in this circle of commenting and responding to students work. Wondering if it's enough to just say what I actually think or should I change what I want to say so as not to offend or annoy. Since beginning my role here at St Mary's this has been the hardest part of my learning so far.

It's not good enough to relate it to my own experiences, not that I was an extremely good/bad/indifferent student myself, but it's not fair to judge others purely by my own standards.

What I have found is that whatever feedback I give, and in whatever form the important thing is that the students are nourisjed. They can develop from what is said, learn from it and grow. In giving feedback I have no alterior motives, I want nothing in return; only to see the students thrive. I am doing no favours to a students learning if I tell lies, tell them how much I enjoyed something when I didn't, say I saw learning and Dramatic theory when there wasn't any (particularly in Drama where they will recieve harsh criticism/appraisial over many things). But I also have to strike a balance between that and letting students make mistakes in a comfotable and 'safe' environment - making 'feedback' constructive.

What happens from that feedback then becomes the interest of the student. How they react and respond can say a lot about the type of student they are and what they want to achieve.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The Art of Self-Discipline

Can self-discipline be taught?

That's my big unanswerable question for this installment. Over my time teaching in all areas in and around the course and to a whole range of students the notion of self-discipline and being able to motivate/challenge yourself seems to be a recurring theme.

Over the past few sessions I have been using a lot of work by Tadashi Suzuki. Suzuki is a Japanese practitioner who focusses on the stillness of the Actor, creating a strong centre to the body and feeling movement from the core muscles. He puts the body through an endurance test, not unlike the early martial arts training, and sees how the performer copes with what is thrown at them.

I love this work because it gives students responsibility for their own actions. Students seemed shocked that I wasn't interested in their aches and pains, how difficult they were finding it or if they were struggling with the point. Instead they had to find their own justification for the work, work through their pain, play games with themselves in their own minds and ultimately overcome them. This work also shows development very quickly to those who respect it and are willing to give in and 'play the game'. Likewise it highlights those who lack focus, discipline and awareness very quickly. A good student will see these issues and continue to work on them, develop and improve. Other students will see the work as a waste of time, blame others, berate me and ultimately learn nothing.

But should I be worried about how students react to the work? Surely the role of a teacher/lecturer is to give students the tools to facilitate their own learning. But do the students today have the skills within themselves to self-motivate, self-analyse and self-discipline? In short, I don't know. And more pressing, is it my responsibility to give students these skills?

I know that we rely heavily on the skill of self-discipline to function as a Drama department. Turning up to classes, completing the reading, reading outside of the reading lists, going to see theatre, engage in community projects, turning up for rehearsals.................students finding their own learning outcomes for all of the above! (that last one is the most important, and one which I bang on about all the time). I am still learning every day in my job here at St Mary's, because I want to and what I do interests, inspires and involves me. I hope our students are doing the same.