Posts Tagged ‘Learners’
I know that much of the emotional pain I feel about this subject comes from within me. The administration, my fellow teachers as well as the students’ parents claimed to be very happy and impressed with my work with the students, and many of the children claimed to love my classes. But the fact remains that I know in my heart that I did not serve them the way they all deserved to be served. I am very glad to be on the road to a greater understanding of the practical and philosophical aspects of teaching theatre as well and adequate practical experience that in the future will lead me to be a teacher worthy of the trust my students and their parents place in me. I hope to somehow become a resource to colleagues and to offer them an educated, backed-by-research perspective on how creative drama and theatre activities can help increase their student’s engagement with the curriculum. I hope I might also be of service in helping to foster learning that will become part of a student’s knowledge base in a way that opens up not only their understanding of the subject matter, but that I might be useful to them in helping to cultivate an understanding of and confidence in themselves as inquiring, successful, life long learners, no matter whether they are so-called “typically developing” or have been identified as having a learning impairment.
But now to return to the subject of new concepts I learned through my research, starting with the term, Theory of Mind (TOM). The Corbett et al article taught me much about this concept, starting with how TOM requires that one learn to “apply mental state concepts to interpret and predict self and other behavior.” (Corbett et al, 2010) Here again is another example of something I knew intrinsically was an important skill, and one that the special needs population often has trouble with, but reading research specifically discussing the subject and accounts of work seeking specifically to enhance it in students was incredibly helpful in enhancing my increased awareness of the topic.
I also felt this way about the discussions of the development of narrative ability in impaired students. The two Peter articles dealt explicitly with this concept, and the resulting knowledge I gained in how important it is to cultivate a child’s ability to play and express himself in narrative style and how that informs (yes!) TOM skills and communication abilities made me feel as if I was suddenly seeing through a fog that had lifted away from an important landscape. How odd it seems to have known this intrinsically (and am I not luckily to have been randomly born to effortless insight into communication?) but not to have actually realized until a research article epiphany just exactly the manifestations the lack of this narrative skill would have on so many aspects of communication skills.
In my view, Best Practices means an active classroom where children are learning to be responsible for much of their own learning. The classroom we visited last semester during Creative Drama comes to mind: the room was chock full of books on many different subjects, and was divided up into learning centers where children could visit, experience and make their own discoveries rather than, for example, sit and be told something and then do a worksheet. One of the centers was special time with the teacher who was assessing the children she was working with as she interacted with them. There were engaging, informational, decorative and cheerful posters and charts all over the classroom walls and even hanging from the ceiling! The children’s seats were grouped in clusters rather than in rows, which made sharing and discussions of content much more likely.
When the children were working they appeared busily involved in what they were doing and appeared relaxed and engaged as they went about their tasks, which led me to believe that the teacher had been successful in influencing the children that they were not only going to enjoy what they were doing but that they were fully capable of gaining mastery of the content – no need to fear the tasks.
I also feel that Best Practices takes into consideration the learning styles of all children in the classroom, and that towards the success of all learners many varied opportunities for gaining content are offered. I see a Best Practices curriculum as one which integrates across all subjects thematically, providing another way to assure that the children will have diverse experiences through which to gain knowledge. Further, influences from Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences should be considered in the creating of the Best Practices learning environment as another way to foster learning, success and self actualization in all our students.
The student’s own views on their learning are a Best Practices assessment tool that I feel is invaluable. I am reminded of the Y.-L.P. Chan article we read at the beginning of this semester and her study of the ways students, some of them very little people, were able to relate to the researchers their feelings about what they had learned in their drama lessons. While the children did not always see the value of the lessons, making statements such as, “We were just playing around in class!”, when the researchers discussed the experiences with the children further they were able to uncover verbal evidence that the children had made great strides in learning the cross curricular lessons that were the goal of that day’s activities. As one student said, “I used to know that the farmer’s lives are harsh. However, taking part in the drama lessons, I got to feel that the hardship was much bigger than I imagined. Clearly, this child had learned a great deal through a “non-traditional” social studies teaching strategy, and was able to provide his teacher with a clear verbal self report through which she will be able to access his understanding of the content. (Chan, Y.-L.P 2009, pg. 201)
Yuk-Lan Pheobe Chan(2009): In their own words: how do students relate drama pedagogy to their learning in curriculum subjects? Research in Drama Education: The Journal of applied Theatre and Performance, 14:2, 191 – 209.
Many children experience damage to their self esteem and confidence levels as well as an inability to learn and retain content within the standardized techniques of instruction common in our school systems today. While focus on test scores as well as other “tangible” methods of accountability are considered the meter by which schools qualify for federal money and recognition, the child who cannot learn in ways that can be assessed in this manner, a child who has a non-traditional learning style, learning disabilities or perhaps an attention disorder, continues to fall through the cracks. When a child cannot learn in the way the schools teach, the outcome for these students is often years of struggle and a sense within themselves that there is some personal deficit. The truth for most of these children is that the problem originates not with their own level of intelligence or ability to assimilate knowledge, but with teaching techniques that do not take into account the physical, experiential learning needs of a great many of today’s children. Drama teachers have always, by virtue of their traditional teaching strategies, been first hand witness to the way active “learning through doing” allows for and encourages cognitive and academic success in young people with a variety of learning styles and attention issues.
Our children can benefit from theatre arts activities in a great many ways. It is well accepted that through these activities students can make strong gains in self esteem, confidence, communication and self discipline. But there are many theatre arts opportunities though which our young people, including – or perhaps even especially – non-traditional learners and children with learning disabilities can access cognitive and academic gains in their development as well as the more emotional and social benefits. An illustrative example is Process Drama.
A Process Drama is an improvised theatre innovation through which a teacher and children in a classroom work together to create a dramatic world in order that they may explore a meticulously planned goal the teacher has chosen to support her students’ learning needs. A Process Drama is not scripted, does not focus on eventual performance for an outside audience nor does it have as a leader a director who assumes all responsibility for the outcome of the project. It does, however, share many elements of a traditional theatre creation including a specific focus on a theme, the use of metaphor and symbols in its creation, participants cast in roles, and its own sense of time and space. But contrary to the procedures we typically associate with the creation of a theatrical piece, a Process Drama project is an improvisational piece created from the inside out, with the guidance of a teacher – also in role – participating along side her students as they create their original dramatic world. The children take part in theatre education strategies and games as well as other artistic and academic projects in order to center and build dramatic action around the focus of the piece. These activities assist students in making adjustments to their project in order to guide them toward the mastery of the specifically planned academic goal chosen by the teacher.
When planning for a Process Drama activity the teacher must begin with a clear, specific understanding of what she wishes for the children to learn during the experience. This learning outcome must be planned very carefully in order that the active strategies utilized throughout the rest of the experience can be developed to support this specific learning area, and so that the focus of the piece is not lost during what can be an exuberantly experienced, passionately and actively developed project. The children will feel great ownership of the piece, and if the academic goal of the project is not carefully, specifically planned for by the teacher, it may become lost in their excitement and enthusiasm as the improvised new world takes shape.
Once the teacher has chosen what the focus of the experience will be for the children, she must then decide on which framework for the action will best suit her students and provide them with a playable time and place within which to create their original dramatic world. A well chosen context for the action will provide the students with a strong foundation wherein they can create the human experiences and set of circumstances that will lead them as a group toward their goal. Using improvisation, creative projects, writing activities and other instructional strategies the teacher can now begin working with her students to create dialogue between the characters in the scenario. As the dialogue is created, the teacher goes into role in order to facilitate the children’s understanding of a human viewpoint from inside the created story, and then assigns roles to the children as well, in order that they may make the jump into the dramatic world themselves. The children then, as they are now integral participants in the creation of the piece, bring their own viewpoints on what direction conversations and actions should take as the work develops into a fully fleshed out improvised drama for an internal audience, the students themselves. Through creating the world of the drama while concurrently exploring and creating with their teacher the experiences of the characters in the piece, the children will find their way to the lesson that was the original focus of the project. In addition, while actively learning through a dramatic vehicle about the content their teacher has chosen for them, the children will have also been learning about drama itself and how it functions. These two aspects of learning are intertwined here, and together will foster in the students a deeper understanding and better retention of the content goal as well as new insights into the way human beings interact and negotiate.
An example: perhaps a third grade teacher is planning a unit on the rain forest. She has at her disposal any number of story books concerning the animals, people and plants of the rain forest; dozens of cross curricular lesson plans are available on this subject. She has art projects, writing ideas, science experiments and field trips from which to choose in order to offer her little students experiences that will enhance their knowledge of this fascinating part of the world.
But perhaps the teacher feels that with all the instructional tools and creative ideas she has in her repertoire, she has not been able to reach her all of her students on the level that would most benefit them. Perhaps she feels that what is missing is that element of human experience that would speak to their academic and cognitive development in a way that will offer them a more fully experienced encounter with the rain forest. Perhaps she seeks an instructional strategy that will bring all the activities she has planned together into one dramatic world. Perhaps she has a classroom full of non-traditional learners and children with attention disorders who can’t sit still to save their lives!
Creating a Process Drama experience would serve these students well, and allow the teacher to provide a truly collaborative, active project through which to combine all of the other cross-curricular explorations she has at hand on to offer her students the content she wishes them to master. Additionally, by virtue of the environment and culture they will create together, they will learn a great deal about drama itself, adding content in that subject area to the wealth of learning experiences the teacher has planned for her children, and can now pull together into their original dramatic world in the classroom.
The value to students of this innovation for active learning through creating and experiencing a process drama is well supported by Piaget’s Cognitive Developmental Theory. Jean Piaget believed in the importance of providing children with active, kinesthetic experiences within their environment in order to foster cognitive development. He recommended creating a tension or an imbalance in the child’s learning experience – to offer content that exceeds the student’s current cognitive level – as a way to help students stretch toward intellectual growth. He advocated for experiences with peers as another way to push children towards an expansion of their knowledge base though observation and rumination on the perspectives they view in others.
Lev Vygotsky asserted that time spent with older, more experienced companions cultivated in children an advance in their expertise though the experience of observing and learning from someone with mastery of concepts they have not yet reached.
Process Drama allows opportunities for children to spend time in active participation with peers as they experience a collaboratively invented, fully experienced dramatic world under the careful guidance of their teacher. The children are carefully led by their teacher as she herself, acting outside of her traditional role as teacher but still in control of the classroom, portrays a role alongside her young people toward her chosen end, endowing them with the learning goal that functions as the impetuous for the drama.
The children will have the opportunity to experience exploring ideas with their classmates in their endowed roles, which can be anything from botanists, mechanics, a Viking ship’s crew members, animals, plants to even rocks or machines. As long as the world they are creating and the learning goal set by the teacher is served though interaction between the characters chosen for roles, the sky’s the limit! The interaction of these characters as they explore their new world allows for the problem solving, conflict resolution and communication skills practice so important to cognitive and emotional gains. The teacher is always present, but now she has altered her position such that, while she is still in control of the classroom and the children feel the safety of her presence as they participate in the activities, she has herself taken a role in the project. Perhaps she is acting as assistant to the director of the botany lab, perhaps as first mate to the captain of the ship, but an important part of a successful learning process in Process Drama is that the teacher never takes on a role of the highest status, never the director of the lab or the ship’s captain, for instance. If she does this, the children – who will then still think of her within the dramatic world as an ultimate authority similar to her real life role as teacher – will be more reticent about creating constructive conflicts, offering opinions and, if necessary, disagreeing with and correcting the assumptions asserted by their in-role teacher. By taking on a role of less status within the project, as an assistant to the highest authority perhaps or a reporter investigating for the paper the issues the children are dealing with in their dramatic world, she will be helping the children generate from within the project the creation of the developing dramatic culture and environment in the classroom. The children thus reap the benefits of association with a familiar yet more experienced person, someone they trust and know well, but are also allowed the indulgence of the creative freedom necessary in order that they may “explore with” rather than to be “taught to” by their teacher. In reality, of course, the teacher still maintains her status as ultimate authority and guardian of the classroom. The children will understand this, and will feel the comfort of having their teacher close-by, but her playing along with them will free them for creative the work that will add much to the Process Drama they are working on.
Process Drama is an innovation that combines learning academic content with learning about drama itself, fosters collaborative work and allows children of many different learning styles and attention abilities to participate actively with their peers and teachers. Together they work to create a fully realized a dramatic world that serves to facilitate in the children the development of conflict resolution, problem solving and other communication skills, as well as being an excellent vehicle though which to advance their understanding and internalization of a teacher-chosen, meticulously planned learning goal. The Process Drama will focus children on their classroom community, encourage exploration and acceptance of the opinions of others and cultivate in the participating young people a real sense of project ownership, and pride in their creative process. Finally, significantly, participation and the creation of a Process Drama will perhaps help restore what in some ways seems lost in today’s society: the child’s need to make-believe, to pretend in order that they may learn. Is this not the basic work of a child, this make-believe play? Process Drama can go a long way toward re-establishing children with that natural, intrinsic aspect of how they explore the world, leading them to greater fulfillment, a sense of pride in accomplishment, the learning of important cognitive and social skills, and – another skill which may be becoming obsolete in the lives of many children – the pursuit of a life lived in happiness and with joy.
Abbott, L., Evans, I.T, Heywood, R., Lewis, J., Taylor, T. (2011) Mantle of the Expert.com: A dramatic-inquiry approach to teaching and learning. http://www.mantleoftheexpert.com/
Bowell, P., Heap, B.S. (2001) Planning process drama. Great Britain: David Fulton Publishers.
O’Neill, C. (1995). Drama Worlds: A framework for process drama. New Hampshire: Heinemann Publishing Company.
Rider, E.A., Sigelman, C.K. (2009) Life span human development, revised edition. California: Wadsworth Publishing Company.
Scaccia S. (2011) No small parts: Inspiring character development, creativity and community through youth theatre.
Tennessee: Center Stage Publishing Company.
Right before we closed for winter break the kids and I spent the last 2 weeks playing more new games, but also working on things for the set and props and costumes for the show. I was unsure how they would respond to these tasks, but as usual they showed themselves to be eager and quick learners – I think my favorite day was when I had them all working in pairs to construct the three new rolling clothes racks and the room was absolutely a-bustle with team work; I was so grateful to them! I never could have gotten these things together in such a short time. And watching and listening to them getting organized and down to work was interesting and informative for me, and I think I was able to learn more about their different learning styles by observing them in action this way. And I think they really liked being included in the show preparations; I was happy and proud to include them in the program.
Only 4 kids from Glenforest were onstage in the show – every one of them did a wonderful job and I was terribly proud of them – but so many other people from Glenforest helped out. The show truly did feel like a school function in so many ways. Thanks everybody.