My Top 5 T-TESS Goals as a Fine Arts Teacher

T-TESS is the talk of the town!

Well, maybe just my "town" that consists of all teacher friends. We're all in the midst of a huge learning curve to take on this new program. 

Here's where my biggest problems have come up: I don't teach a core subject. 

So very much of the example courses used to help us learn T-TESS are based on core classes. Social studies, biology, geometry, economics, etc. All of these are branches of the four core classes that make up the pillars of typical public school education. 

And theatre arts, speech, fine arts, journalism, and performance arts are not remotely in that group. 

So what's to be done?! As I'm sure many of you arts teachers can relate, your classes aren't as easy to measure as say, an algebra class. 

Algebra is quantifiable. There is clearly a right and wrong answer to a problem. You can finish a unit of study with a clear number of topics that students did or didn't learn. 

But the arts are different. Grading projects, papers, performances and rehearsals could become their own discussion on the critique of art. And that could be a continual conversation to the end of time. If you really break it down, you're being asked to place a numerical measure on a student's appreciation of entirely abstract ideas.

And that's hard. Don't sugar coat it, because it's simply true. Pinning a letter grade to one student who's the lead of a show who has 6 years of acting lessons and an endless supply of cultural resources at home is such a different process than putting a grade on a student who may be a secondary character with zero experience and knowledge of theatre. 

I know, I know. You're saying "Well that's where you step in and educate them all to the same level so you can grade on an even playing field."

Well, let's really take a look at that. Unlike math or science, where the overwhelming majority of learning takes place in a clearly defined school space, the arts are everywhere. One kid can grow up watching old movies, visiting the opera and hearing his family praise the arts and performance. Another could have never been educated in the arts past what is on mainstream television. 

How do you even begin to level that playing field?

The simple answer is: You cannot. 

Back to T-TESS: you absolutely have to find a way to make documentable measures of your growth as well as your students'. It's hard to wrap your mind around as an arts teacher, but here's my strategy going into this year: adapt lessons for measurement without losing the delicate, intangible value of the arts.

I'm working on making my fine arts classes more measurable by doing the following:

1. Creating worksheets, projects, quizzes and tests in a way that makes grading much more quantifiable.

This means I'm adapting class discussions a little bit. In a lot of my classes, I begin the year off with vocabulary. This allows for an easy transition into arts classes by giving students a solid foundation to speak with as we move further into arts study. 

I have typically allowed this to be a large, open discussion among the class about what certain theatre terms might mean in context and how it applies to them. I'm keeping this portion of learning, but adding more in-depth quizzes on vocabulary. This does not eliminate discussions, as I feel like this is a beneficial step into learning theatre. I'm simply adding another layer of evaluating my student's learning. 

2. Creating flexible evaluation dates

For most of my classes, we perform shows at some point during the school year. And as any director will know, fitting critical points of a show into a typical 6-week grading period is awkward, to say the least. 

No rehearsal for a show fits into perfectly-timed grading periods. It just doesn't.

But you can create a flexible evaluation schedule with which you will evaluate the class's progress. 

I like to do it weekly, if possible. It helps me track progress on a regular enough basis that I can see a clear line of growth. Sometimes, I will do it every other week, but the regularity keeps me on my toes when it comes to record keeping. 

I would recommend setting up periodic check points for yourself. Because theatre and many other arts work on sporadic schedules, you should create a regular (yet flexible) calendar of check points for yourself. 

3. Writing detailed, actionable goals with clear measures for yourself

Like I've said above, arts are an abstract area of education. It's all in the eye of the beholder and sadly, most higher authorities in approving teacher growth are not well-versed in the arts. You will rarely see a theatre director move on to be an admin at a school. It just doesn't happen. 

So this makes it even more important to make a clearly measurable goal for yourself. Not only to keep track of your progress, but to also have something clear and acceptable to hand over to your admin. 

For example, I want to integrate more technology into my classroom. In the past, I probably made a clear activity involving technology 2-3 times in a 6-week grading period. I've made it a strict goal for this school year to put more tech opportunities in front of my students by making at least one activity a week accessible through technology. Clearly, we can keep a rough count of how often technology is used during the school year and compare it my previous year's numbers. So there is a simple example of a quantifiable goal for my classroom!

4. Collaborating with my fellow fine arts teachers

Two (or four, or ten!) heads is better than one, right? Right. 

So this point is pretty self-explanatory. But I'll dive in anyway just to clarify. 

Because I am the Head of the Fine Arts department at my school, I will be pushing collaboration and open discussions among my arts teachers. I would suggest you do the same even if you don't have authority over them. Remind them that collaboration is a clear goal of T-TESS so you don't come off too bossy to fellow teachers! 

Arts teachers are in a unique situation when it comes to T-TESS. Like I explained above, arts are not nearly as neat and clean to measure in the way math or history might be. 

While little discussion has happened so far this school year, I am making it a point to add this to the agenda for all arts department meetings. I want these teachers, each facing their own uphill battle with T-TESS, to share how they see it working best for their classes. 

5. Memorizing the "distinguished" column of the assessment rubric

I know, it may seem excessive. But you will be surprised at how helpful the constant reference to this list will be. 

If you want to look at this rubric, you can find it here.

Below, I will list each of the points on the "Distinguished" list of the rubric with a corresponding, actionable step to take in your classroom. 

Download this image to help you craft your goals!

Download this image to help you craft your goals!

I mentioned using technology to help theatre lessons branch out to other lessons. Here is a full list of all our digital acting worksheets to let you supplement your acting class. (And it's all FREE!) 

Here's our blog post on our absolute favorite podcasts to teach with. 

Overwhelmed yet? Us too! But we're here to help. 

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