Episode 203: The Creative and Critical Process
The creative and critical analysis processes are defined parts of the arts curriculum in Ontario. Students learn the steps to help them acquire knowledge and skill in the arts and then develop their ability to craft an informed response to a work of art. Teacher Luke Bramer talks about his experience using the Creative and Critical process in his classroom.
Welcome to the Drama Teacher Podcast brought to you by Theatrefolk – the Drama Teacher Resource Company.
I’m Lindsay Price.
Hello! I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening!
This is Episode 203 and you can find any links to this episode in the show notes which are at Theatrefolk.com/episode203.
Okay, folks. Today, there are handouts. There are samples, documents, visuals, if you so choose. If you’re in your car, please do not download said handouts, samples, documents, and visuals. But I wanted to let you know that they are available, and you can check out everything in the show notes which I just said but I don’t mind repeating. That’s Theatrefolk.com/episode203.
We’re talking about a specific curriculum-based process that teachers in my home turf of Ontario, Canada, use, but it’s the kind of thing that we’re sharing. We’re talking about the creative process and the critical analysis process – each of which come with handy dandy graphs which, again, you can find in the show notes – unless you’re driving a car. Please do not download the graphs when driving.
What is it? Don’t download? No download graphs. Do not download graphs while driving. No download while driving. Got it? Got it.
We did this conversation first as a Facebook Live and now it’s here for you.
Sit back, relax, and I’ll see you on the other side.
LINDSAY: All right, everybody! Hello! Thank you for joining me!
Today, I am talking to Luke Bramer.
LUKE: Hello! How’s it going?
LINDSAY: Ah, it’s going very well! We’ve recently moved, so we have nothing. It might be a little echo-y, but I think we’ll survive. We’ll survive.
Luke, please tell everybody where in the world you are right now.
LUKE: Sure. I am from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. I work at Glendale Secondary School as part of the Hamilton-Wentworth District Schoolboard’s Audition-Based Program of the Arts.
LINDSAY: Oh, Hamilton! In my head, you were in Toronto, but you’re actually even closer!
LINDSAY: That’s pretty awesome!
Okay. How long have you been a teacher?
LUKE: I’ve been a teacher for eight years.
LINDSAY: And why are you a drama teacher? What was it that drew you to this path?
LUKE: For sure. I went to the University of Windsor and took Drama and Education and got really excited about that but loved the theatre portions of it. And so, I did a lot of stage managing while I was there, and I feel like my drama class is now like a show every single day – you know, lots of things to manage. But I got into a program at Glendale specifically and they have a specialized program there, so I got to do a lot more of the theatre and education which is what I really enjoyed doing.
LINDSAY: Ah, tell me why! Let’s get into why drama and education.
I have friends to went to the performance side of Windsor. What was in specifically about teaching that really drew you?
LUKE: I’ve always enjoyed the performance aspects, but actually getting students excited about stuff and actually getting to see them onstage taking over was really terrific. Being at Glendale, we’ve been able to see those students just take charge of various things – whether that’s stage managing a show or directing small showcases. It’s been great to see students take hold of something and just fall in love with it just as much as we’ve fallen in love with it.
LINDSAY: Amazing. I think it’s a very special thing to combine education and drama for exactly what you’re talking about in that you’re not just doing it for yourself. It’s for other people and helping them succeed through the arts.
LUKE: Yeah, and I think theatre is fantastic for that because it gives them an opportunity and that venue to have that final piece that they work really hard towards and they have that final piece that then they can go back and reflect upon afterwards, and that’s where we get into the processes that we’re going to talk about today.
LINDSAY: Oh, you’re a segue master!
Nicely done! Nice little round of applause there!
Yes, we are talking about two processes – a creative process and a critical process. We’re going to start with the creative process and I’ve got visuals for those of us who are watching in for our podcast listeners.
Anything that I show and talk about, that’s going to be in the show notes. So, go to the show notes at Theatrefolk.com/podcast and you can find any particular visuals that we’re talking about.
The creative process, first of all, I’m going to show it. Can you talk about how you found it? Because this is part of the Ontario curriculum, right?
LUKE: Yeah. From K to 12, in all of the arts, we all follow the same creative process. And so, you’re just about to throw it up there. In the elementary curriculum, it’s a little bit different.
But, for the most part, we go through our eight steps in the creative process and, as you go through those eight steps, we keep coming back to that center step of getting feedback from others – whether that’s a teacher or a peer. And so, every single thing we do in the arts goes through this process.
We start through the challenging and inspiring stage where we ask students to look at a creative challenge and find out what they’re going to enjoy about tackling that creative challenge.
We move into the imagining and generating where they come with a million and one possibilities, brainstorming, and they start to actually look at what they want to tackle.
And then, we go into the planning and focusing stage which is more direct on focusing on something in particular to do.
And then, we move into the exploring and experimenting stage where they get up and they try it out. If they’re in an art class, they might start actually with some sketches. If they’re in an advanced class, they might start putting together small pieces and exploring what form they’re going to use.
And then, in the producing preliminary work, they actually try it out and see what happens and sometimes fail and sometimes succeed, and they get some feedback from their peers at that point.
And then, the revising and refining stage is where we spend a lot of time getting students to take a look at their work and look at specifically what’s working and what’s not working so that they can move to that presenting and performing stage and share their work with others.
And then, we don’t finish there. We go back to the reflecting and evaluating stage where we take a look at what worked, what didn’t work, what would we do differently next time so that we can jump back into the process with our next project.
That reflecting and evaluating jumps into the critical analysis process which is the second process in the Ontario curriculum specific to the arts where we take a look at specifically the initial reaction after a theatrical work.
LINDSAY: Okay, I’m going to time you out because we’re going to stay in the creative. Let’s stay in the creative and then we’ll go to the critical.
Yes, it was very interesting because I was in a classroom last week and I was talking about my process for writing a play and the teacher put up the creative process wheel and we all worked through what were my steps for creating a play in terms of challenging and imagining and planning and exploring and producing and then how do we go all the way through to production and publication.
It was fascinating to see this process in action.
First of all, I want to know, how long have you been using this process?
LUKE: Since it’s part of our curriculum, I’ve been using it since I started teaching.
Our curriculum came out in 2010. We had it the year prior – ever since I started teaching which makes it easy – but we’ve been integrating it into our projects and really laying it out more clearly for students, specifically at Glendale, all of our arts classes have these posted on the walls.
I don’t know if I can actually turn the camera that far.
We posted all of these on our walls so that we ca use them as anchor charts for the students so we’re hitting each individual one every single time we go through something. We’ll say, “We are currently on the challenging and inspiring stage and this is what we’re doing.” That helps the students go through the process themselves as well.
LINDSAY: What was your first impression of this process? Do you remember? I know that’s a long time ago.
LUKE: Yeah. When I was in university, we always went back. In high school, it was always the act-reflect-transform. It follows a very similar process. It wasn’t new to me – this idea of brainstorming before you start actually working on something. It’s something that comes very intuitive to artists, but it’s nice to have it in specific stages because you can assign tasks to those stages to help the students maximize those stages.
LINDSAY: And this is the other thing which is interesting. I also talk to a lot of teachers, particularly in the States, who are struggling with the notion of quantitative and qualitative and that they’re being told all the time – you know, there needs to be things that have to be assessed and tasks and such – and find it hard in a process-based environment in terms of coming up with going from like a play from idea to creation.
You introduced this particular process to me and that’s the first thing I thought of and, as you said tasks, this actually seems like something that you can assign a specific step to and we’re not dealing with talent or we’re not dealing with creativity in the way that some students might reject.
Does that kind of sound like a good thing to use this for?
LUKE: Yeah, definitely.
If we’re doing a writing task versus a performance task, we might do different things at different stages. In a performance-based piece, the exploring and experimenting stage, we might have more performance-based tasks there wherein a writing stage, if we’re writing a play, we might be exploring and experimenting specifically with scenes.
When we get to that producing preliminary work when we’re doing writing, we might be doing that. We might do a stage reading of something and that might e what our preliminary works are and then going back to refine those so that we might get further along in the process.
That’s why it’s very circular, too. You can go back and forth within the process because, if something isn’t working, you go back to that center – the center wheel there – and you go back through the feedback.
If we get to producing preliminary work and nothing’s working out, we go back to the feedback stage where teachers and peers say, “This isn’t working,” and they jump back to the imagining and generating stage. And then they can restart that process.
If something isn’t going well, they just move right back into, “Okay, we’ve got to get back to imagining and generating.” But the nice thing is that you never go back to the challenge and inspiring because that’s what kind of jumps us off for the assignment, so you can jump one step.
LINDSAY: That is very interesting. What an interesting way of dealing with failure – in a positive way in that we’ve got to producing preliminary work, it’s not working, so we’re just going back to another step. We’re going back to the circle and then we’re going to go through the process again.
LUKE: In the same token, if you have students that are on an enrichment plan, you can go back to the challenging and inspiring stage. They complete their work. They reflect on it. And then, you give them an additional challenge to meet within that performance task and they have to take it back through that same process. You can hit both sides of the equation there.
I also think that it’s a great way of thinking about that’s when you do the feedback. When you first look at this, it sort of looks like it’s information overload in terms of, every step, there’s got to go, “Oh, this feedback, this feedback, this feedback…”
I’m assuming that it’s not like that.
LINDSAY: It’s a bit more fluid.
LUKE: Yeah, definitely.
Dude, I sent the monologue and the creative process which I think you’re going to share with people afterwards.
LINDSAY: Yeah, what I’m going to do is, when the podcast comes out, it’s going to have extra sample stuff.
The sample there for the monologue and creative process, it’s a journal base that takes them through those steps. The feedback can be done just by initialing each of the steps. Teachers can go in and initial the steps so that you can keep track of where students are at. But the first step starts about challenging and inspiring stage. And so, we always start with, “What are we going to love about this challenge?” and always stay on the positive.
At that challenging and inspiring stage, we look at positive reactions to that creative challenge and what are some of the ideas that might inspire us about doing this – whether it’s a written piece or a monologue.
My students right now are working on monologues. Today, we sat down, and we were looking at what are some of the things that we love about doing monologues.
“We love that we get to choose our own monologues or write our own monologues.” “We like that we can be both a dramatic character or a comedic character.” “We like that we don’t have to work with people on this one.” For some people, they enjoy being able to work by themselves on something and dedicate time to that.
That’s the task there. It’s just finding things that they’re going to love about that challenge.
When they get to the imagining and generating stage, we actually start generating possibilities. We fill in all the possible things that we might wish to pursue – looking at different monologues – whether they be from whatever sites that we have or books or if they’re going to write monologues – what might be some of the characters or the things that they want to look at?
In the planning and focusing stage, we anchor into one specific monologue that we want to do, and we start to fill our page with images and words about who this character is.
I usually use the Uta Hagen six steps which out of Stanislavski’s work and it’s a development character piece. And so, students actually move through who are these characters and then what do they do in the scene and who’s around them and they get to kind of explore that and make up the world that this person is living in.
And then, when we get to the exploring and experimenting stage, I encourage the students just to get up and try things and reflect themselves what worked and what didn’t. Or take reflections of others or from the teacher. That’s hitting back to the feedback from peers and teachers.
And so, I say, “What are three things that worked really great in your exploring?” “That blocking worked great or this set or the prop choice worked out well.” Or things that didn’t work like, “Stopping or turning or adding sound effects just didn’t work in this section.” They would write those down as well.
When we get to the producing preliminary work and then actually trying stuff out, I get them up on their feet with peers. And so, we normally do a carousel.
We have students on the center and students on the outside and they present their monologues to each other and then they rotate within the carousel. The center circle rotates, and the outside circle rotates, so they get maximum feedback.
Then, they go to three peers that gave them great feedback and they ask them to give them two stars and one wish – two things they did well and one thing that they wish they could do better – and they write this into that journal and the peer audience member has to write their name saying that these are the things they gave them to work on.
In the revising and refining stage, they look at turning those wishes into stars. “How might I change the fact that I don’t have my monologue memorized yet into a star? How do I make this into a star quality?”
And so, they do that, and they have to represent back to the specific peer that gave them a feedback and the peer initials saying that they’ve done that work, and that goes back to that centerpiece where we’re getting feedback from our peers and our teachers and we’re reflecting on it. We kind of hit that wheel quite a bit.
When we get to the presenting and performing, I tell them to put their name up in lights, get excited about the performance, and they write in lights their name in performance, date, and time – just like they were presenting at a large comedy venue.
And then, the reflecting and evaluating, I usually just do something simple and it’s what worked, what didn’t work, and what could be done better next time. I always say, “Identify moments and describe them where you soared, ones where you sank, and then next time what might you do.”
The journal itself becomes a great reflection tool.
I tell the students, for a level four or for getting up to that A, I’m asking them for it to be complete, legible, creative, and personalized. They add doodles onto it and it’s really a great thing for them.
LINDSAY: That was awesome! Thank you so much for that step-by-step, and not only just what it takes to go around the wheel but takes to go around the wheel with a specific project.
That’s the other thing – you know, that’s the reason why I wanted to sort of talk about this and share this is because we meet a lot of folks who are like, “How do I get my students to engage with a monologue and improve upon it and just take it to not just learn the lines and memorize it and stand there.
LUKE: Yeah, and I think you can add in all of your assessment tools as well. You can add in your checkrics or your rubrics or things like that when you’re attacking those.
Also, where the students are finding their monologues, you might choose to go, like, I know Theatrefolk has a great resource section under the Free Resources, and they have a nice big chunk of guy monologues and girl monologues. It’s finding those places where students might look at those things.
LINDSAY: Student response – how do students respond to this process?
LUKE: The response is usually fantastic because they’re only tackling these in small sections. We just started this monologue creative process in my junior drama class and all we focused on today was the challenging and inspiring and imagining and generating stage.
They spent the day – the period, the 75 minutes – coming up with things that they love about monologues and what a monologue is. And then, they were able to tackle and generate endless possibilities of what they might want to do.
By the end of class today, they had all selected a monologue. It’s really important that you package this very well because students might get overloaded with the amounts of things that we do because, if we told students everything we did before a musical, I think many of them would run for the heights.
LINDSAY: Well, it’s the same thing when I’m working with students on writing a play.
LINDSAY: If you tell them they’re going to finish even a ten-page play, that’s impossible because their instinct is, “No, can’t do it, can’t do it!” But, exactly as you say, if you just go, “We’re going to do this one teeny tiny little thing…”
I never met a student who, when presented with a process in steps, can’t complete the steps.
LUKE: Yeah, and it’s really important to give the students the choice of what they want to do, and that’s a really important part about the imagining and generating stage. If they can generate those possibilities, they’re telling you what they want to do, and that’s the difference between a student engaging with you and a student not wanting to do this project.
And so, if you can challenge them with “What are you actually going to like about this challenge?” and then “Go ahead! What are the possibilities that you want to tackle? What are the things you want to talk about?” It’s really, really important because a monologue in itself is somebody having that need to talk and them wanting to tell you something.
LINDSAY: You know what? It sort of puts ownership of their process.
LUKE: Yes, definitely.
LINDSAY: Cool! That is the creative process. Let’s show this one more time. We have that.
Now, we’re going to move onto the critical process which looks like that.
Luke, why don’t you just take us through this graphic?
LUKE: Now, we have the critical analysis process. This fits into the creative process if you’re doing a work into the reflecting and responding stage. You can add this into that as well. But, if you’re doing it separate – you’re reflecting on a theatrical work or you’re taking a look at a piece of artwork – we use this process to reflect on theatrical work.
We start with the first page which is the initial reaction. This is where we ask students, “What’s your first impression of this work? What does this piece bring to mind? What emotions does the piece evoke? What connections can be made between this work and your own work or other art forms?”
That is just a basic first glance at a piece. We might do that when we’re reading a script or when we’re actually seeing a performance.
We then move onto the analysis stage where we take a look at what techniques are used or forms are used for the piece. How are these techniques or forms utilized? How does the artist compose and organize the piece? Is it composed into scenes? Is it composed into acts? What techniques are being used? Are they using puppetry? Are they using specific dramatic forms? That all happens at analysis stage.
The next stage – the ongoing interpretation which is in the center. This happens throughout that process. We continually ask the students, “What are the artists trying to communicate? Why do you think the artist created the piece itself? Is there any symbolic meaning here or social, political, or historical events that might have influenced that artist?”
We go to the consideration of cultural context where we’re asking students to take a look at, “Why would the artist go at this piece in terms of what’s happening currently in that social climate?” If we’re looking at something current or if we’re looking at a historical piece, what are the historical significances that are playing into the piece.
And then, we finally get to the expression of aesthetic judgment which is our very last one and this is where students are actually taking a look at what aesthetically did they like about the show in terms of scenic or props or somebody’s performance piece. We don’t get there till the very end.
LINDSAY: There’s a lot I like about this in terms of its versatility. You could use it as an analysis of, as you said, as a script. You could use it as a form for a play review – like, watching a play. And I also like that it really helps to develop that critical thinking step in getting away from, “I like this, I didn’t like this.”
LUKE: Yes, definitely, and it helps them to align themselves too and understand what the artist went through to get there as well. We all have initial reactions to things. But, when we delve deeper, we find out why we have those reactions.
And so, when a student comes in and says, “Oh, I went to see that show and it was the worst show I’ve ever seen!” and we actually start talking about it and it wasn’t that it was the worst show they’ve ever seen. They were offended by the way the artist was taking a look at something.
When we get into those critical conversations, students go real deep.
LINDSAY: That is such a different thing from “I didn’t like this!”
The notion of “I didn’t like this” to “I was offended because…” Oh, what an interesting conversation that absolutely could be! And that whole notion of it’s sort of an interesting gateway to, in some cases, empathy because, when you’re dealing with that consideration of cultural context, there’s so many pieces that that could actually apply to.
LUKE: Well, being able to look at the historical context of things because we have plays that were written a long time ago versus a play that’s written now. It also gets us talking about why there’s current events happening in older plays.
We go and see a Shakespeare piece or Molière’s Tartuffe or something like that at, say, the Stratford Festival in Ontario and they’re making all of these comments about Americans and Canadians. All of the sudden now we get to see how live theatre really is – that we can take historical text and put them in the current modern day. It starts a great conversation about where we’re setting plays, when we’re directing a show or where we’re setting pieces when we’re writing show as well.
LINDSAY: Well, you can also connect that to that whole notion of vision because that is something that, sometimes, particularly student directors, again, it’s that whole division of not just learning lines and learning blocking but that there’s actually a much bigger picture – whether you’re just working on a monologue or you’re directing a play – and that there’s actually, hopefully, that there is a whole layer of interpretation and vision that the director is putting on it.
To be able to look at it and identify it in a framework like this critical analysis process, it’s steps.
LUKE: Yeah, it’s fantastic too when you’re first reading a play as well.
I love doing table reads of our shows and actually asking these questions as we go through the table read because, as we’re walking through the table read, you’re asking students, “What are those initial reactions? Why would the writer cut in this scene? Why is this happening?”
Then, we start getting into really rich conversations about staging and we start putting the students where professional performers are in terms of them getting and thinking on their feet critically about actor choices.
LINDSAY: The fact of the matter is that they just have never thought of it in that way. You know, it’s always been, if they’ve been acting in elementary school or middle school, it’s the fun of it and the community of it. That is their background and their culture, and they just haven’t thought about the critical side of it.
To have a process to take them through that, I hope it’s good.
What’s their feedback? What is the student response in this?
LUKE: When it’s attached to a writing task, sometimes it’s like, “Ugh!” But, when it’s attached to a conversation, it’s a little bit different. Depending on what we do with the critical analysis process, we’ve done things with even elementary.
I’ll send you a couple of those as well. I think I sent you a couple.
There’s a couple of ways that you can approach it – whether it’s through a conversation and then you’re marking the conversation of it or it might be through sticky notes – putting initial reactions on sticky notes on the wall and then students add all their initial reactions and you start to group initial reactions of a piece.
And then, you can actually look, as a group, on what are some of the reactions that all of you are seeing as well as, “What do you think the social, political, or historical events are that are affecting this?” and then you can delve into deeper conversations based on those things.
It can be a personal reflection; it can be a classroom reflection.
I’m finding more and more as I teach that some of those classroom reflections are going deeper than maybe just one person thinking through by themselves.
LINDSAY: A couple of things there that you have said which I think are really important.
1. Because this can be useful for a variety of tasks and processes, it may work better for one and don’t give up on it just because…
2. Particularly depending on what grade you’re working with, starting with conversation and segueing into writing, because it has a graph with circles, it doesn’t mean that you need to do it formally.
LUKE: Yeah, definitely.
LINDSAY: I love that idea! I like to re-hit home cool things.
And I think that idea of the Post-It note, because it ends up being a visual demonstration which, as we all know, that’s what students these days are lovely visual learners, having that visual demonstration of the critical process in terms of what is everybody thinking and where we are similar and where are we different – what a great way to turn this kind of thinking into a visual response!
LUKE: Yeah, definitely!
LINDSAY: Love it. Love it!
When you are using creative process and the critical process, when you’re introducing it to students, do you start with one and segue into the other? Do you start with them side-by-side at the same time? How do you intro?
LUKE: I always start with the creative process because, even with our grade nine students, because it’s something easy. Every time we create something new, we can highlight the creative process. Any time we’re doing something performance-based, we can always highlight the creative process. I always start there.
And because that last step of the creative process is the reflecting and evaluating, that’s where I can now take a look at “How do we reflect? How do we actually look at something critically?” That’s when I’ll introduce the critical analysis process, but I do it over the course of a bunch of projects.
Sometimes, we start with something as simple as the two stars and a wish that is in the creative process journal. We might start there as an introduction to the critical analysis process and then we might go deeper afterwards.
We might say, “Great! Give me two positive things that were initial reactions and give me one wish that is a consideration of cultural context.” You can play between those things.
LINDSAY: Scaffolding, scaffolding, scaffolding!
Start small! Don’t throw everything at them at once. Lots of ways that you can sort of cherry-pick to build into something bigger.
LUKE: Yeah, take it off the students as well. How is it working for them? Are they shutting down?
Sometimes, we load so much on them and they shut down and it’s done. We lose the excitement of performance. We lose the excitement of being in a drama classroom. It’s always keeping that balance and it’s nice to not always have to do the journal every week for every single day.
Finding different ways to do that is always great.
Do you have any final words? A lot of these folks who are watching this haven’t heard of this specific process. As I said, it’s going to be in the show notes when this podcast comes out and you can also go online and just Google “creative process Ontario.” That’ll give you the images that I’ve been showing and “critical process Ontario” – that will give it to you as well.
Any final notes?
LUKE: No, just try it out.
You can apply this regardless of what you’re doing which is the exciting thing. Maybe even just starting with your students and taking a look at what positive things they can talk about before performance that they’re going to love about the performance.
Have your students fall in love with the arts because you’ll build students that are there for a long time.
LINDSAY: That is awesome! That is a lovely way to end this!
Thank you so much, Luke!
LUKE: No problem!
LINDSAY: Thank you, Luke!
Before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS!
Again, you can find all the documents mentioned and more in the show notes that Theatrefolk.com/episode203.
I was actually in a classroom this year, working on a brand-new play. As we were talking about the process of writing the play – what I go through, what my steps are – the teacher brought up the graph for the creative process and we applied the process of playwriting to the graph. It was a great fit!
To that end, if you’re interested in writing with your students, I’ve got some great resources to share with you!
Over at Theatrefolk.com, we have scene spurs which uses picture prompts to prompt student writing and Write Your Own Vignette Play which has students going from idea to finished product if you want to write a play with your students. Both of these can be found on the Resource section of Theatrefolk.com or – because I love you – you can also click the link in the show notes – Theatrefolk.com/episode203.
Finally, where can you find this podcast? Go to Theatrefolk.com/podcast and there you will see we are on iTunes, Android, Google Play, Stitcher, and more. That’s Theatrefolk.com/podcast.
And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.