Drama, Multimodal Learning, Oracy, Reflection

Using Dramatic and Active Learning Strategies with Written work in Drama: Exploring Practically before putting pen to paper

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Becky Griffiths – Curriculum Leader for Drama

When I think back to this time last year, negotiating all the changes of the new GCSE 9-1 specification, I recall how challenging it was. It felt as though everyone in education was wading their way through reforms with feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty. Part of the challenge for me as the Curriculum Leader in Drama was to find ways to engage my students with the significant increase in written content at GCSE.

When I reflect on my encounters with Drama at school, I remember experiences where we explored plays, improvised and collaborated with peers.  My experiences enabled me to develop a genuine passion for the subject. Written work was a marginal aspect of GCSE drama; far more concerned with exploring through practical drama. When I try to reflect on behalf of GCSE drama students across the country, in the midst of current educational reforms, I am conscious that their experiences of studying drama are wildly different to my own due to the shift in weightings for written and practical work.

I’m a firm believer in reflection being a tool for change, so decided to investigate this issue as part of my MA dissertation. At the core of this, was student voice. My initial question was: ‘How can I increase engagement in drama despite the reduction of practical content in the new GCSE drama specification?’ and a subsidiary question emerged: ‘Do dramatic and active approaches increase engagement and develop students’ written work in drama?’ After interviewing students, it became very evident that they wanted to inject the ‘drama’ back into our classroom. Therefore, I decided to create a series of sessions based around active and dramatic approaches to explore written work, before committing any writing to the paper. Heathcote and Bolton (1995: 32) were both advocates for “process drama” whereby students explore a play, story or theme by actively experiencing it, stating: “There is an active, urgent, purposeful view of learning, in which knowledge is to be operated on, not merely to be taken in”.  

Some examples of the active and dramatic strategies I used included:

  • In-role Activities: Students exploring the themes of a play through improvisation, hot-seating and Teacher in Role.
  • Competitive Games: Relay races where students have to memorise key information in teams and using post-its to create a version of ‘Heads Up!’ and guessing the name of characters, with certain rules in place.
  • Technology: Using iPads to to film each other practically and writing down precise observations, based on lived experiences.
  • Forum Theatre: Using forum theatre to experiment with scenes practically and working in the mind-set of a director.  

As a result of these memorable active experiences, students were able to articulate responses, which, in turn, improved the quality of their writing.  Stredder (2009: 17) has highlighted the benefits of approaching Shakespeare’s plays actively in support of written work: “Some of the confidence, involvement and ownership that result from active work in the classroom, as well as the ability to use ‘ways into the text’ productively, should carry over in their independent work, including, of course, their written work”. What became very evident was that students needed to physically enact moments from a play in order to visualise them and this helped them to create more precise written responses. It transformed written responses from “I would put on an angry facial expression as Lola is angry with Sephy,” to “I would use an aggressive facial expression by furrowing my brow and curling my lip to the side to show my distaste for Sephy”.

But what about my subject? I hear you ask. I have seen other curriculum areas utilise the power of drama to explore and investigate topics. In Science, for example, teachers have set up crime scenes where students have to investigate. Or perhaps in Geography, where students make David Attenborough style documentaries to explore climate change. The possibilities are endless and students appreciate having the freedom to explore interesting topics in ways that are memorable and that ‘stick’.  

This research has helped me to explore and devise strategies that I can build upon to mediate my teaching within the ever changing climate of education and for my students to view the experience as a challenge, rather than a negative barrier that we could not overcome. These new strategies, I hope, have provided my students with the same enriching experience that I had at school and I hope too that what we have learnt together during the process of my enquiry, as teacher and students, allowed for more meaningful and confident connections to be made between ‘acting out’ and ‘putting pen to paper’.

For more details of the full version of my MA dissertation, tweet me @MissRLGriffiths

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Reflection

Reasons to be Cheerful?

Duncan Bowyer – Associate Senior Leader and Lead Practitioner

If you are anything like me the New Year can start with many a good intention – New Year resolutions being one of them! How long will they last I wonder? A few days, a few weeks? I am sure there are many of you reading this who are much better at sticking to a resolution than I (my new gym bag still lies in the hall unused!).  

January is a time for reflection; the perfect opportunity to remind ourselves of why we teach.

joy painting brush
Photo by Bekka Mongeau on Pexels.com

Given the pressures that we face in our working lives it is sometimes challenging to remember why we do the job that we do…but for many of us the answer is simple – it is because of the students. We do this job because we want young people to have all the opportunities they deserve! We want our colleagues to get the opportunities that they deserve!

The reality is that this profession has a huge number of challenges;  larger class sizes, diminishing budgets, colleagues being asked to take on extra responsibilities without extra money or time being able to be offered to them. For many of us this time of year means the mocks and trying to fit in the marking of these exams in an already packed schedule.

It may sound ‘PollyAnnaesque’ but it is at these times of pressure when we can see the reasons why we went into this profession in the first place. Many years after training I can still hear my PGCE Tutor’s voice resounding in my mind highlighting  the joys that we have in our jobs everyday.

So, remembering the words of that tutor here are some little reminders of what she always said can bring us joy…

  1. Our students: Of course this had to be number one. Seeing how students progress, grow and mature is the main reason why we come in everyday. If we know that a student is able to have much better life choices thanks to the efforts of a school then surely that is enough to help spur us on when the going gets tough.
  2. Our colleagues, our family at school: In times of stress we see how a school can band together, can protect, support and develop staff. Aside from the students it is the staff in all aspects of school life who are the beating heart and soul of our education system. Like many of you I have lifelong friends who I have met in school. Where else can you soak up the years of wisdom and experience that we have in many staff rooms up and down the country?
  3. Our subject: We all picked our subject for a reason – in what other job are we lucky enough to spend all day talking about the one thing we have a real love for? I will never forget as a student seeing Mrs Hudson crawling along the floor in our English lesson pretending to be the monster from Beowulf, or Miss Hardy painting numbers onto the piano to help us all learn our scales more effectively. In what other job can we escape into the wonderful world of Science, see the beauty of Maths, or help students communicate with each other in melodic and exciting different languages?
  4. Our resilience: We can take anything that gets thrown at us! We can remain calm, focused and support those students and colleagues who at times are struggling. This gives us a massive advantage in life – dealing with the education of hundreds of young people can prepare us to take on the world!
  5. Our joy: A recent study highlighted that those who work in a school laugh – on average – 20% more a day than those who work in an office! That has to make us feel good.

Finally – we are human, we have days where we are stroppy and stressed. However, I am sure that if we think about some of the above reasons to be cheerful then it will make scraping the ice off of the car first thing on a cold winter’s morning that more bearable.

Collaboration, Diversity, Group work, Professional development, Reflection

Collaborative and Reflective Staff Networks in Education

group hand fist bump
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Nick Bentley – Lead Practitioner for Inclusion and Drama

Staff in our school have been working hard to establish a range of reflective and collaborative networks, aimed at developing reflections, promoting discussions and empowering practitioners. What follows, then, is a summary of five models we have used to do this.

  1. Action Research: As a way to support staff to take control of their classrooms and act as practitioner-researchers, our assistant headteacher Charlotte Paine has successfully rolled out action research with smaller groups of staff first, before all teachers and teaching assistants from across the school have contributed to presentations on their research. This has been wonderfully popular, and supported with teacher confidence, collaborative working and innovations with teaching.
  2. Coaching: In a development which was really appreciated by many teachers and support staff, Yamina Bibi and Fiona Morris – former colleagues of mine who are educational leaders with a precision focus on developing staff to be their very best – worked hard to establish a coaching culture at our school. Here, a full range of staff are developed through personalised coaching sessions, led by staff across the school, allowing staff to set their own targets and negotiating their own paths towards them.
  3. Diversity Discussion Group: Inspired by the grassroots education movements @WomenEd, @DisabilityEd, @LGBTed and @BAMEed, we established a meaningful collaborative discussion group allowing staff to reflect on issues of diversity across the curriculum and in education more broadly. Staff have found this group to be genuinely exciting and helpful, promoting and supporting the important role of diversity in education.
  4. Teacher Journal Group: The opportunity to engage with a teacher journal allows staff to track their own learning and consider what is helpful and meaningful in their diverse teaching contexts. In line with this, we have had a teacher journal group at our school which has involved different staff including a teaching assistant, a curriculum leader and a lead practitioner discussing, sharing and learning new ideas.
  5. SB Discussions: Staff have really tended to enjoy rich discussions over hot educational topics, including inclusion, student led-learning and the value of collaboration. Hearing colleagues, with their wealth and diversity of opinions and experiences, come together to interrogate a range of educational topic, has been really meaningful.

All told, then, we have sought to establish a full range of platforms for teachers to share their opinions and empower themselves to forge their own paths. I hope this blog post may be of value to those working in education, considering how to embed or develop collaboration and reflection in the cultures of their schools.