Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What are the Values of Evaluation and Student Assessment for Book-It’s Literacy Programs?

We are in the process of wrapping-up, reporting out, and finalizing our evaluation work for the year. Creating summary reports for the focus groups, literacy speaker series, interviews with literacy non-profits, and interviews with potential partners for the literacy center, among other things. Most recently senior staff gathered to review the program evaluation and student learning assessment tools piloted for the education program during the 2009-2010 school year. Everyone was brought up to speed on the two areas of focus – student learning in literary analysis and theatre skills in the residency program and student engagement in the touring program. The outcomes from the data will inform programming – where to put resources, what to let go, where Book-It should get more specific about literacy, etc.

The idea of making decisions based on real numbers was exciting to everyone. The big question is funding. In order to engage in this kind of analysis requires: training teaching artists and educational staff to implement the tools, hours in the field, and hours in the office to analyze the data. At the end of the meeting each of us responded to the question, “What’s the value of program evaluation and student assessment for Book-It?” Below are some paraphrased responses to this question...
  • I can use it in deciding what shows Book-It should tour.
  • We may decide to drop certain program components like study guides if schools aren’t using them. Or we may revamp them so that people will use them.
  • We can all be communicating the same message about Book-It and the education program.
  • This can be used to leverage more funding for the program – this is the kind of information funders want–they are requesting these kinds of outcomes.
  • We can use this to inform what and how we teach. Where we’re effective and where we need to get better.
  • Making choices – it’s okay to let some things go.
  • Working efficiently with what we have.
Because of the TCG grant Book-It was able engage in rigorous program and student learning evaluation. The next step is to find a way to make it sustainable without a consultant. This is one of the issues that came up at the TEAM pre-conference in Chicago – finding ways to analyze work in-house. Here’s the deal – it still takes time and money, not as much as a consultant, but Book-It and other theatres like Book-It will need to make choices and be strategic in order to realize this kind of analysis – the difference between saying something is of value and making it real through action.

--Gail Sehlhorst, Book-It

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Is It Time for the Austin Scenic Coop to Hire Designated Staff?

As the fall season gets underway, the Austin Scenic Coop is moving from a long summer of making improvements to the space into a less (physically) strenuous phase. However, we are still kept quite busy with the day to day business of scheduling pick-up and drop off of materials, helping folks load and unload trucks, and keeping our stock organized.

There are two storage areas, one at Salvage Vanguard Theater where I am the general TD and resident designer, and the other at The Off Center, home of the Rude Mechs of which Thomas is one of five Co-Producing Artistic Directors. That space is essentially a shack, with a tin roof and mostly paved floor, but the stock is very well sorted and stored so that it is easily accessible. The space at SVT, the one for which I am responsible, is quite a bit less orderly. It seems that I no sooner get everything squared away than something needs to be dug out of the back of a storage bay in a hurry, and things don't get put back, anything flat from the lids of the bins to the pile of plywood gets covered with other loose bits and pieces, and one can probably guess what it looks like after a week.

So, given that Thomas and I both have other duties, we are now talking about creating staff positions that will be paid, to ensure that there is regular attention being paid to office duties as well as materials. Whether there will be one position, or two part-time positions hasn't been decided. It seems likely that we will need one person whose primary responsibility will be pursuing funding, by grant research and writing as well as petitioning the City for support. As most of us who work in non-profits arts organizations know, seeking grants can be a full time job. So we may need to have a daily/weekly supervisor as well as a grant writer. Frankly, we don't know-- but we're figuring it out.

--Connor Hopkins, Austin Scenic Coop, Coordinator

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Advanced Season Planning May Facilitate Sustainable Stagecraft Goals

We are looking ahead to our season opening and to the new opportunities it will provide for realizing our sustainable stagecraft plans. Our first production, A Year With Frog and Toad, is being built to store, rather than to dump or recycle. Childsplay is moving towards a minimum three-year season planning cycle that will enable us to better predict the lifespan and possible repetition of productions. This, in turn, will help us save and reuse scenic elements (or even entire sets) that would previously have been sent to the dumpster.

We are also beginning to plan for a community-wide meeting this fall to discuss materials sourcing and recycling. Another theatre in town just received a grant to explore a co-op (similar to the Austin project discussed on this blog!) and we will look for opportunities to partner with them on bulk materials purchases and other projects.

We have heard from at least one theatre that is interested in replicating some of our work in their own community. We would be happy to share any of our information, as well as our fabulous GIOS consulting team, with any community or theatre that is interested in starting a sustainable stagecraft conversation. Just contact us at or for more information.

Finally, we are looking forward to the spring USITT meeting, where we will be sharing our sustainable stagecraft learning in a special session. We hope to see many of you there!

--Jenny Millinger & Anthony Runfola, Childsplay

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dialogue with the Experts: Literacy and the Arts


As part of our research on literacy, we created a series of speakers in three areas that are relevant to Book-It’s work – Adult Learning, Literacy and the Arts, and Reading Comprehension. We were very fortunate to have experts in each of these areas dialogue with Book-It’s staff and board.

Some A-ha’s from Book-It:

"READING IS THINKING. It seems like a "no duh" concept now -- but I wish I had had this idea in mind a long time ago!” --Dave Quicksall, Board Member, Adapter, Actor, Teaching Artist

“I think it really clicked for me that everyone approaches reading differently but the one major connector is the arts. Whether you are visual or literary by nature, the arts is the way to put developmental skills to use.” --Samantha Cooper, Intern


SPEAKER: Bob Hughes, Seattle University, Associate Professor, Adult Education
TOPICS: Adult Literacy; Cultural Literacy; Gaps for adult learners and how Book-It can fill the gaps.

Bob earned his doctorate at Harvard University and joined the Adult Education program at Seattle University in fall 2007, bringing extensive higher education teaching and administrative experience. He coordinates the basic skills specialization within the Master’s degree. His expertise includes technology, family literacy, equity issues, and professional development for teachers.


SPEAKER: Janice Fournier, University of Washington, Research Scientist, Learning & Scholarly Technologies.
TOPICS: Arts and Literacy - how people learn in the arts; Assessment in the arts

Janice Fournier, PhD, is an educational psychologist and researcher with a special focus on human development and cognition in the arts. She has taught learning theory, assessment, and integration of the arts in the UW's teacher education program, and worked with numerous arts organizations as a consultant on program design and evaluation and faculty development.


SPEAKER: Sheila Valencia, University of Washington, Professor in Curriculum & Instruction
TOPICS: Reading Comprehension; Youth and Engagement

Dr. Valencia's areas of teaching and research specializations include reading and writing instruction, literacy assessment, and professional development of teachers. She is the author of Literacy Portfolios in Action (1998) and contributing editor of Authentic Reading Assessment: Practices and Possibilities (1994). She also serves on several national and state advisory panels focused on large-scale and classroom-based reading assessment.

--Gail Sehlhorst, Book-It

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Does Recycling Require Additional Money, Time and Commitment?

Recycling our scenery required more steps at strike than we had been used to in the past. Since we only rent our performance space while our show is running, we could not recycle on site.

In the past, when we would strike our shows, we would have a 40-yard dumpster delivered to the theatre’s loading dock. The set would come off stage, have its reusable hardware removed and then go right into the dumpster.

[Photo1 – You can see that some wood, residue from adhesive, paint and fasteners remain on and in the steel. This is not a problem for the recycling company – as long as you find the right recycler.]

In order to recycle, we had to take a few more steps and spend a little more money.

We had to transport our scenery back to our scene shop (about 10 miles away from the theatre.) Because everything has to be out on our last performance day, we had to rent two 24 foot trucks (we usually only need one.) The set had to be repacked into the trucks.

Upon arrival at the shop, we had to call another overhire crew in to unload the trucks. Next, we took two days to strip the wood from the steel frames and remove any reusable hardware. Once the wood and steel were in separate piles, we had to cut down some pieces of steel so that we could get it all into the dumpster.

The recycling company delivered the dumpster and a few hours later the steel was ready on its way to be recycled.

Overall, the recycling process added an additional two days to our strike. But a funny thing happened on the way to greening up our strike process…

Demand for steel (A Weak Outlook for Steel Makers) has been falling throughout the world over the past several months. When the recycler did not return as promised for the wood, we called. And we called again. And again. And once more after that. Finally, when we reached a person and asked why they hadn’t returned the truth came out – their company did not feel that it was worth their time to work with us. We didn’t generate enough steel for them.

Undeterred, we found another company, Renovated Metals who was more than happy to work with us. And in fact, they even hauled away some odds and ends (including an old storage container) that we needed to get rid of in order to re-arrange our back yard to allow us to have trash, steel-only, and wood-only roll off dumpsters.

However, Renovated Metals, as their name implies, only deals in scrap metal. Without anyone willing to take the scrap wood from the set, we were forced to throw it into the landfill.

[Photo2 – Childsplay’s John Emery and Matt Brown dismantle scenery for recycling.]

We will continue to look for a regional recycler for our scrap wood. However, it has become clear that, no matter how we approach it, it will be more expensive to recycle than to just dump our sets. Recycling will therefore require a commitment from the entire company, not just the production department. We will need the support of management, fundraising, and board members to generate the additional funds for recycling services. We will also need to look for ideas about educating our audiences and potential donors about the importance of sustainable stagecraft…possibly adding a “green” service fee to tickets or setting up a special fund as an add-on to our annual appeal. We are eager to hear ideas from the field: has anyone been able to generate consistent support (not just a grant here or there) for sustainability efforts?

--Anthony Runfola & Jenny Millinger, Childsplay