Posts Tagged ‘Drama Program’
Drama and the Special Needs Student
Anna Smulowitz Clopton and Harriet Davis
Here is an article I almost discounted, as it was written in 1979, and I was sure it couldn’t offer me much. But this piece surprised me and gave me insight into how long the struggle to find the optimum ways to help learning impaired students has truly been going on. The two different programs described here involve middle school aged children.
Kingsbury Lab School was a place for children of average and above average intelligence with a variety of different abilities and disabilities. The Lab school was committed to the idea that “learning is facilitated and reinforced by the creative process,” (Clopton & Davis, 1979) but that in order for the drama activities to enhance learning in the disabled children the structure and planning of the activities must be painstakingly attended to. The structure of the activity was carefully taught to the children so that in case they became “lost or disassociated along the way” (1979) they could return to the basic structure for reference. The teacher at the Lab School, Anna Clopton, found that this was a positive way to build confidence in her students and to allow them the comfort level they needed to then take the risk of striking out into their own creative exploration.
The Mark Twain School was a school for special needs children who had been labeled with Emotional and Behavioral Disorder (EBD). Harriett Davis, drama teacher at this school reported, “Some of the children have learning disabilities, and others have physical disabilities, but they all have one problem in common – they are bright children who are failing in public school.” (1979) Ms. Davis also stated that this was almost universally because the children had emotional issues which interfered with their learning.
Ms. Davis’ drama program operated differently from the program at the Lab school. She had tried and failed to reach the children armed with her training as a Drama teacher and a well-designed program of previously successful activities she felt sure would captivate and enhance learning in her students. But the children at Mark Twain did not engage at all in what she offered them, responding either by refusing to participate or by acting out, and Ms. Davis felt that this was largely due to that fact that her students were so “terrified of failure that they would refuse to do anything.” Ms. Davis felt she had to reorganize her program to meet the kids “where they lived.” She began to give the children much more freedom in their choice of topics, and to “discover topics that had universal appeal.” She felt concern at first that she might be sacrificing her standards as a teacher but eventually came to feel that this was balanced out by the way the new, student led topics – “barroom fights, bank robberies, rock groups in performance, street gang fights, restaurant fights, horror stories” – were useful in that they found comfort in these familiar and well known subjects, and that the work that resulted from these story lines was useful in bringing the students to a frame of mind through which they could “upgrade their self concepts in a special way.” (1979) While this resulted in a rather chaotic time for the drama program at Mark Twain, eventually the program began to develop a sense of structure and creative success, leading to a sense of pride and accomplishment – for the students as well as their teacher – in what they were accomplishing.
Today I wrote to Head of School Chris Winkler and asked to meet with him early next week. Fall approaches quickly and I would love the chance to sit and chat with him about his expectations for the drama experiences he hopes the students will have. He has already told me will be a spaghetti dinner in mid October and he would like the students to have a piece ready to perform at that point. I think I will look at some of Alan Shepherd’s one acts and see if there is anything appropriate.
I also wrote to the elementary teacher and introduced myself, and asked what she thought would work for her guys for Drama experiences. I am happy to go into her class however often she would like me to, and am pretty excited about perhaps helping with experiences across the curriculum for these littler guys.
There is bound to be a lot of crossover between the Glenforest school drama program and the Center Stage program. Chris and I have already talked a good bit about how there may frequently be not enough students to fill an entire cast list – Glenforest is a small school - so that there will often be opportunities for other kids from the community to participate in the school shows.
Also, with Center Stage being located in the Glenforest building, hopefully many of the Glenforest students will want to take advantage of our community workshops and classes and plays as well.
I saw the dress rehearsal of the Town Theatre’s Annie Get Your Gun last night with my Son Will. It was a fundraiser for Glenforest School, and one of the highlights - aside from the show – was visiting with and meeting some new folks from the school.
I will be meeting this week with Chris Winkler, the devoted headmaster of Glenforest, as well as Mr. Barton Calvert, the Dean of Students. We will be joined in the meeting by a member of the school’s board, a faculty member and a parent. I suppose I should be nervous about this meeting, as it is a formal interview for me, but I feel only cheerful anticipation when I think about it. I am really looking forward to talking more with these kind folks about creating a drama program at the school.
The show was great! It was the first time I had seen anything at the Town Theatre and it certainly lived up to it’s reputation. Many of the voices were of professional quality and the acting was stellar – really nice characterizations and there were some lovely connections between some of the actors. And it was obvious that they were having an awful lot of fun, and that is always great to see.
There were three kids in the show and they did an absolutely wonderful job – very natural, and no pushing for the laughs. Bravo, young people!
This week I met with Mr. Chris Winkler, headmaster of the Glenforest School,http://www.glenforest.org/, to discuss beginning a drama program at Glenforest and also to talk with him about working out a situation where I could possibly use the Glenforest facility for Center Stage community programs such as our classes and workshops, and perhaps even having access to their auditorium for our plays.
Glenforest is a school for kids with learning differences. I have long wished for an opportunity to work with this population of students and feel that the social interaction inherent in theatre arts acitivities, be it onstage or off, is just one of the ways we can reach and help students within this set of qualities. I am the mom of two sons with ADD and other issues, bright and creative kids who struggled to be successful in the public school system. A program such as the one Glenforest offers would have made such a difference in their lives.
I look forward to meeting with Mr. Winkler as well as with Dean of Students Barton Calvert, a member of the faculty, board and parents organizations in the next week. I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.