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Five Act Lesson Cycle - Act IV (Assessment) | Ecology of Education

Five Act Lesson Cycle – Act IV (Assessment)

In Freytag’s (1863) construct of the Dramatic Pyramid, Act IV in the theatrical work is commonly referred to as the “falling action.” Similarly, in instructional design, the assessment phase or portion of the lesson cycle can be understood as its educational parallel for this particular exploration and investigation. Interestingly enough, this may not necessarily be the more natural location to place assessment in regards to the structure of both the dramatic arc and the lesson cycle/design. However, taken within the larger context of both of these aspects, placing assessment at the penultimate position does make sense. In essence, assessment is not necessarily the final act of educational exploration and investigation. It is primarily a sign post. A checkpoint if you will, regardless of whether it is formative or summative in nature.

One of the primary reasons for placing assessment in the place of the fourth act in the dramatic arc is realizing that this aspect of the lesson cycle is not the final action in the educational experience. Given the essential nature of assessment, measuring learning and academic achievement, it makes sense to a certain extent that it is placed next to last in the overall spectrum of instructional design. As the current understanding of student assessment beginning to trend somewhat away from finality to formative, once standardization is removed from the equation, placing assessment and measurement at this position paralleling the Falling Action in a theatrical work allows the students time to reflect and respond to the ending of the particular education experience. As such, assessments have become more of a tool of measuring progress rather than a finite measurement.

Adopting this particular orientation toward assessment calls for a serious re-evaluation and a resulting in a paradigm shift in the general understanding of instructional design and specifically the lesson cycle. With this particular point of view any assessment becomes a natural portion of the lesson cycle within the context of instructional design and delivery. Yet, this will produce some dissonance both with the students as well as with the classroom teachers, not to mention between them during instructional investigations.

This is a natural product of the resulting paradigm shift which is required for this new understanding of assessment. As such, within this newly understood classroom context, the teacher becomes the primary agent of change, but also and agent provocateur as well. For positive and lasting change to occur it will need to come from the classroom level first. Once a firm hold has been established at this level, only then can it move upwards to the campus and district levels effectively. Similarly, in many of The Bard’s works at this point the play, the protagonist has faced their primary test or challenge and has just recently or is currently coming through it. It is at this point in the theatrical work which the audience can actually observe the main characters exhibiting critical and creative thinking skills. This is primarily done through dialogues and monologues.

Going back to the paradigm shift necessary for the different placement of assessment within the instructional cycle needs to be further explored. If the majority of educators, at all levels, can agree or at least come to some semblance of a consensus that one of the primary goals of education is to guide students to evolve into lifelong learners. With this understanding, then truly most all assessments would be understood as authentically formative in nature. Sure, items such as standardized tests along with other measurements such as midterm and final exams are still necessary and pertinent practices. However, our understanding and handling of these change from a seemingly punitive and possibly abusive in some circumstances to more constructive across the board.

In a sense, this paradigm shift is more behavioral than anything else. One way of understanding this shift while maintaining the theater metaphor is utilizing the act of the costume change. Although the character remains the same for all intents and purposes, their outward appearance has changed. Yet leaving the observation at such a shallow level actually does little justice to the depth of transformation with scene within each act. The experiences shape and change the characters involved. Sometimes these alterations are readily distinguishable and at others they are imperceptible.

In a similar way, our students change. Molded by the protean mish-mash of experiences which continually clutter their days outside of the classroom, even their costumes change regularly. Added to this seemingly fecund miasma are the arranged educational experiences teachers have planned to guide them through the varying content areas mandated by state and federal educational agencies. When assessments can be behaviorally shifted to a natural part of the learning cycle, then it is possible that perhaps more authentic learning and genuine achievement will occur.

While the discussion of assessments’ placement within the on-going educational narrative has been fairly thorough, little has been devoted to its appearance. Again, looking at the works that Shakespeare left as his legacy, the challenge and test faced by the protagonist is clear and easily discernible to the audience. Similarly, most all students readily know when they are taking a test. However, what if the nature of assessment is changed beginning with its appearance? Of course, this is not a new question facing education. While a particular framework can be effectively established, it must be one that has a great enough latitude allowing for enough diversity of situations and populations. So an exact description of assessments and measurements will not be found here. In fact, it is actually something that is best left up to the classroom teacher who knows their audience, the students, the best. The best measure of an assessment is that it fits, or matches, both the content and the student population as best as possible.

Again, the framework needs to be as general and as concise a possible. In this case our familiar friend William Shakespeare provides us with another sterling example in this case. Take almost any of his numerous dramatic works composed during his life. Pick a random page from the play’s text and look at the stage or set directions. They are minimal at best. So should the guidelines and framework for academic measurements and assessments. Allow the students as much opportunity to show what they know. There exists an off chance that we, as educators, may learn something in the process ourselves. As Hamlet told Horatio in Act 1 Scene 5 of the eponymous play, “ There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Perhaps the last and equally important aspect of assessment that can be gleaned from Shakespeare is timing, proper and effective timing. A trait inherited from Antiquity, cultivated, and lovingly passed along to such modern masters as Churchill, Mamet, and others. The Bard was a particular master of dramatic timing as well as irony. However, as his works are a microcosmic reflection on the human condition as a whole, it could be easily said that Shakespeare did not suffer fools and knaves well.

As teachers, we must endeavor to maintain a fierce awareness of the tempo of our classrooms in order to realize when the time is ripe for assessment and when to hold off. If done slovenly, the measurement will come across as a retributive tragedy somewhere on the level of “Richard III.” However, executed deftly and the assessment will be understood and perhaps even celebrated as a restorative comedy similar to “Taming of the Shrew.”
In Freytag’s (1863) construct of the Dramatic Pyramid, Act IV in the theatrical work is commonly referred to as the “falling action.” Similarly, in instructional design, the assessment phase or portion of the lesson cycle can be understood as its educational parallel for this particular exploration and investigation. Interestingly enough, this may not necessarily be the more natural location to place assessment in regards to the structure of both the dramatic arc and the lesson cycle/design. However, taken within the larger context of both of these aspects, placing assessment at the penultimate position does make sense. In essence, assessment is not necessarily the final act of educational exploration and investigation. It is primarily a sign post. A checkpoint if you will, regardless of whether it is formative or summative in nature.

One of the primary reasons for placing assessment in the place of the fourth act in the dramatic arc is realizing that this aspect of the lesson cycle is not the final action in the educational experience. Given the essential nature of assessment, measuring learning and academic achievement, it makes sense to a certain extent that it is placed next to last in the overall spectrum of instructional design. As the current understanding of student assessment beginning to trend somewhat away from finality to formative, once standardization is removed from the equation, placing assessment and measurement at this position paralleling the Falling Action in a theatrical work allows the students time to reflect and respond to the ending of the particular education experience. As such, assessments have become more of a tool of measuring progress rather than a finite measurement.

Adopting this particular orientation toward assessment calls for a serious re-evaluation and a resulting in a paradigm shift in the general understanding of instructional design and specifically the lesson cycle. With this particular point of view any assessment becomes a natural portion of the lesson cycle within the context of instructional design and delivery. Yet, this will produce some dissonance both with the students as well as with the classroom teachers, not to mention between them during instructional investigations.

This is a natural product of the resulting paradigm shift which is required for this new understanding of assessment. As such, within this newly understood classroom context, the teacher becomes the primary agent of change, but also and agent provocateur as well. For positive and lasting change to occur it will need to come from the classroom level first. Once a firm hold has been established at this level, only then can it move upwards to the campus and district levels effectively. Similarly, in many of The Bard’s works at this point the play, the protagonist has faced their primary test or challenge and has just recently or is currently coming through it. It is at this point in the theatrical work which the audience can actually observe the main characters exhibiting critical and creative thinking skills. This is primarily done through dialogues and monologues.

Going back to the paradigm shift necessary for the different placement of assessment within the instructional cycle needs to be further explored. If the majority of educators, at all levels, can agree or at least come to some semblance of a consensus that one of the primary goals of education is to guide students to evolve into lifelong learners. With this understanding, then truly most all assessments would be understood as authentically formative in nature. Sure, items such as standardized tests along with other measurements such as midterm and final exams are still necessary and pertinent practices. However, our understanding and handling of these change from a seemingly punitive and possibly abusive in some circumstances to more constructive across the board.

In a sense, this paradigm shift is more behavioral than anything else. One way of understanding this shift while maintaining the theater metaphor is utilizing the act of the costume change. Although the character remains the same for all intents and purposes, their outward appearance has changed. Yet leaving the observation at such a shallow level actually does little justice to the depth of transformation with scene within each act. The experiences shape and change the characters involved. Sometimes these alterations are readily distinguishable and at others they are imperceptible.

In a similar way, our students change. Molded by the protean mish-mash of experiences which continually clutter their days outside of the classroom, even their costumes change regularly. Added to this seemingly fecund miasma are the arranged educational experiences teachers have planned to guide them through the varying content areas mandated by state and federal educational agencies. When assessments can be behaviorally shifted to a natural part of the learning cycle, then it is possible that perhaps more authentic learning and genuine achievement will occur.

While the discussion of assessments’ placement within the on-going educational narrative has been fairly thorough, little has been devoted to its appearance. Again, looking at the works that Shakespeare left as his legacy, the challenge and test faced by the protagonist is clear and easily discernible to the audience. Similarly, most all students readily know when they are taking a test. However, what if the nature of assessment is changed beginning with its appearance? Of course, this is not a new question facing education. While a particular framework can be effectively established, it must be one that has a great enough latitude allowing for enough diversity of situations and populations. So an exact description of assessments and measurements will not be found here. In fact, it is actually something that is best left up to the classroom teacher who knows their audience, the students, the best. The best measure of an assessment is that it fits, or matches, both the content and the student population as best as possible.

Again, the framework needs to be as general and as concise a possible. In this case our familiar friend William Shakespeare provides us with another sterling example in this case. Take almost any of his numerous dramatic works composed during his life. Pick a random page from the play’s text and look at the stage or set directions. They are minimal at best. So should the guidelines and framework for academic measurements and assessments. Allow the students as much opportunity to show what they know. There exists an off chance that we, as educators, may learn something in the process ourselves. As Hamlet told Horatio in Act 1 Scene 5 of the eponymous play, “ There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Perhaps the last and equally important aspect of assessment that can be gleaned from Shakespeare is timing, proper and effective timing. A trait inherited from Antiquity, cultivated, and lovingly passed along to such modern masters as Churchill, Mamet, and others. The Bard was a particular master of dramatic timing as well as irony. However, as his works are a microcosmic reflection on the human condition as a whole, it could be easily said that Shakespeare did not suffer fools and knaves well.

As teachers, we must endeavor to maintain a fierce awareness of the tempo of our classrooms in order to realize when the time is ripe for assessment and when to hold off. If done slovenly, the measurement will come across as a retributive tragedy somewhere on the level of “Richard III.” However, executed deftly and the assessment will be understood and perhaps even celebrated as a restorative comedy similar to “Taming of the Shrew.”

Author:R. Casey Davis

R. Casey Davis is currently a Secondary Social Studies Curriculum Designer/Developer for Flip Switch, Inc. Prior to this he taught Science, Social Studies, English, and Journalism, and was the Secondary Advanced Academics Facilitatory for Temple ISD for three years before returning to the classroom full time. He is currently working on his M.A. in American History through American Public University. He has a B.S. in History from Texas Woman's University and an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston - Victoria. Mr. Davis is as contract writer for STEMscopes out of Rice University as well as a freelance writer for SAGE Publications, ABC-Clio, and OnLine Learners, Inc. He has published a 10th World History textbook with ancillary materials through the American Preparatory Institue, a subsidiary of Central Texas College. He has a forthcoming book on secondary Social Studies classroom techniques to be published by Prufrock Press in Spring 2013. Mr. Davis's research interests include American History, Religion, Science, Instructional Design, Gifted and Talented students, and Second Language Learners. Follow him on Twitter @ProfTrivia.
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