Drama and authentic assessment in a social studies classroom

Morris, R. V. (2001). Drama and authentic assessment in a social studies classroom. Social Studies, 92(1), 41-44.

Abstract:

This article describes a two-year-long case study of a seventh grade ancient world history social studies class in which the teacher used drama, along with other methods, as a central way to teach course content. The teacher then used authentic assessment to assess students’ knowledge, skills and abilities by examining their work products and other evidence produced throughout the course of the class. The use of drama allowed students to learn from and evaluate their own work and the work of their peers through active participation in historical content that they connected to contemporary times. This case study concludes that drama and authentic assessment are a natural combination for teaching and assessment at the middle school level.

Key Findings:

Authentic Assessment Authentic assessment, a method of assessment in which students perform or create demonstrations of what has been learned, was supported in this class by clear expectations. Guidelines for assessment were laid out at the beginning of each unit. These objectives ranged from factual recall to evaluative statements which guided what happened in the classroom. Checklists of specific requirements were also given. Once the expectations for a unit were in place, students were encouraged to show understanding in various ways. Means of assessment included skits, graphs, cartoons, and rubrics, all of which were used to gauge understanding and competency.

Salient Comments Students were asked by the teacher to turn their metacognitive comments about a dramatic performance or other part of the unit into a “salient comment” (an utterance that involves evaluation, synthesizing, or analyzing). The class discussed these comments, and many were selected to be displayed in the board. These comments allowed for peer modeling, self assessment, and peer review.

Problem solving Throughout this process, students were charged with the task of identifying and solving problems from history including cultural, gender and underrepresented roles. After the drama activities, reasoning and idea structure were considered.

Overall drama was found to be effective in this social studies classroom that employed authentic assessment. In this context, drama was tailored to meet specific social studies objectives, to encourage active participation, and to bring in peers when they see others’ excitement while authentic assessment became an effective way to measure students’ learning.

Significance of the Findings:

The observations made in this case study show that drama can be integrated into academic classrooms as an effective approach for engaging students in active participation in their learning while helping them make connections between historical and contemporary world issues. Authentic assessment is a valuable way to gauge students’ learning helping educators to consider multiple sources of students’ understanding of content.

Methodology:

This research employs observation and case study methodologies to look at the use of drama as a primary component of instruction and authentic assessment. Observations were conducted in a seventh grade social studies classroom where the curriculum was centered on ancient world history. The study lasted two years and involved observation of multiple units lasting three or more weeks.

Limitations of the Research:

This study is limited by the fact that it is a case study of a single class. The researcher is not clear about how many seventh grade students participated in the class. Thus, while it gives insight about how one teacher infused drama into his social studies class, broader applicability of the findings are unknown.

Questions to Guide New Research:

How can authentic assessment and drama as an approach for teaching and learning be used in at other grade levels and/or in other subject areas?