Why drama is valuable

Drama can be a valuable and enriching experience for children of all ages, and there are many reasons why kids should study drama and theatre arts.

One of the primary benefits of drama is that it helps kids to develop self-confidence and self-expression. One of my favorite memories is of a student, learning to memorize a monologue in the sixth grade. Every student was expected to present. They were given full credit, simply for presenting – memorized or not. Most students did have the text memorized. Some needed a prompt or two. One even had to read from the script directly. The student in my memory, got up on stage – self-insistent that they were going to present memorized. But, when they faced the class, they had a fight or flight response and left the stage without saying a word. Excused from class to take a moment, they sat in the hall, collecting themselves. A few more students presented. Then they returned. They got up on the stage, presented their monologue nearly flawlessly. The class cheered for them – more loudly than any other student. They knew that the performance was not about the memorization. They had just witnessed a foundational moment in that student’s life. By performing in front of an audience, kids can learn to overcome their fears and to express themselves creatively and confidently. This can be especially important for shy or introverted children who may struggle to speak up or express themselves in other settings. Drama can also provide a safe and supportive space for kids to explore different emotions and ideas, and to try out different roles and identities.

In addition to developing self-confidence and self-expression, drama can also help kids to develop important social skills. In a drama class or production, kids must work together and collaborate to create a cohesive performance. This can help them to develop communication skills, as well as skills related to cooperation, negotiation, and conflict resolution. In my current work, I often informally coach the debate team. They share the theatre space with me and I often am asked for my observations and feedback. With the basic skills of enunciation, effective physical presence, integrating subtext, the students become more persuasive and confident speakers. A side benefit of debate (as well as building characters) is that drama can also promote empathy and understanding, as kids learn to see things from different perspectives and to consider the feelings and motivations of others.

Another benefit of drama is that it enhances creativity and imagination. I recently completed a unit on devised theatre. Through drama activities and exercises, kids can learn to think outside the box and to come up with creative solutions to problems. My students were given a challenge to create a story based only on a picture, then only on a song, then on the integration of both. This was the culmination of several units of underpinning. They completed a unit on improvisation, using text, and performing monologues. This final exercise (in addition to all the others) allowed them to express their own ideas based on a single creative starting point.

Finally, drama can be a lot of fun for kids! Many teachers get this right and many teachers forget it. Whether they’re rehearsing a play or just engaging in drama games and activities, kids can have a lot of fun while they’re learning and growing. Drama can be a great way to break up the monotony of more traditional forms of learning, and can provide a welcome break from screens and other forms of digital media. This year, I started with an arts integration PLC that challenged teachers to integrate improvisational work within their “traditional” classrooms so that they can have a space of creativity within the strict context of content heavy learning.

Overall, the benefits of drama for kids are numerous and wide-ranging. From developing self-confidence and social skills to enhancing creativity and improving communication skills, drama can be a valuable and enriching experience for kids of all ages. Whether they’re interested in acting, directing, or just want to have fun and express themselves creatively, drama can be a great option for kids.

Teachers v. Doctors

I want my teachers to be like doctors and the students like patients. Each student has specific needs and specific treatment plans. They may be all in the same wing of the metaphoric hospital, pediatrics, mathematics, ophthalmology, social studies, and so forth. But, their treatment plan is individualized. Teachers may use similar tools from one student to the next. They may see different progressions and outcomes. All students have the goal of becoming healthy. That definition – that learning outcome – is a continual collaboration between teacher and student, patient and doctor. 

When we go to the doctor and complain of a pain in the side – the teacher must take the time to diagnose the symptoms and understand the root cause of the pain; the student didn’t understand fractions in third grade and now in seventh they can’t complete the algebra problem presented because they don’t understand how to find the common denominator. The student doesn’t understand word problems because they are skipping ahead to the outcome and instead need to understand the problem from a perspective applied by Bloom’s taxonomy – identifying the facts of the problem first. 

Teachers and doctors are often compared; the snarky comment that teachers often ask is – how would a doctor feel if they had 30 patients all at the same time, for only an hour window, each needing a diagnosis and treatment plan, individual attention to existing issues, anticipation of future problems, and an expectation that every patient reaches a full recovery? How would a doctor feel if they had to do that five to eight times a day? How would they feel if they had resources removed and administrative oversight asking for testing that they did not need or results when the student wasn’t ready to demonstrate their understanding and mastery? 

I still want my teachers to be like doctors giving less panacea and more individualized treatment. The question is how can the administration support this perspective.

Grade Authentic Responses

I see teachers, in the current virtual teaching modality, struggling with student assessment. I have some thoughts on that.

First – grades are only as good as the test and do nothing to increase happiness. It is that- happiness that we need more of in the classroom. It is the only logical response to the mass global trauma that everyone is going through. Trauma changes the way your brain functions; it is not making logical choices, not everything is connecting fully.

I understand that people feel a need for control and the response goes to the authoritarian, information processing, teacher strategies that may have been handed down through teacher induction, mentoring, and systemic ideas about what education was.

Second – I have been asked this question multiple times:

How can we stop students from cheating on their at-home testing. My response, really goes to the core of, what are you teaching?

The problem: Teachers, why are you testing students on things that can be googled? Regardless of the constraints you place on them, time limits, screen-casting to document and monitor the test, locked google forms, and even education software that promises to manage it for you, students will find a way to cheat if they want. And then you still have to verify their work. This, at its core, is not the job of the teacher. That’s what a proctor does.

Here is a solution:  Why not give an exam that requires original creative thinking? Ask a question that gives the answer and the student must come up with the question. Ask for a book summary in the form of a monologue from the second most important character. Ask a riddle that has no answer (aside from the creative response that applies authentic connection with the material). Move the quiz into an oral defense of the work. With google we can use Blooms taxonomy to move beyond the facts and analysis (and the former style of info-processing teaching) and move into creation and synthesis. Test students on that.

When you engage students authentically, with personalized material, you increase the chances of intrinsic motivation. That is a key to happiness.

Assessment of Literature Ability

This one lesson activity is conceived of as being an INITIAL ASSESSMENT to analyze student ability at the start of an IGCSE literature course. It easily could be adapted to other subjects and grades in the upper school. 

OBJECTIVE: To identify literary elements within a text for further analysis

BELL RINGER: 1 minute: Name as many literary elements as possible (such as metaphor or simile)

PARTNER WORK: 10 minutes: – share your list with your partner. Define any common elements together. Define any unique elements on your own. Use your combined experience to craft a shared definition. Use a dictionary as needed.

(Informal teacher assessment here – observing the wealth of and accuracy of knowledge within the class)

GROUP ACTIVITY: 15 minutes: Share one element and the definition, aloud with the class (practice presentation of information). Individual students note any elements they did not have on their list, note definitions. Students should be left with a list of literary elements.

INDIVIDUAL ACTIVITY: Formative assessment. 20 minutes:  Students are given one of four or five (depending on group size) short texts (a paragraph, a poem, for example – ideally from the syllabus for future scaffolding). Students, annotate their unique text in the following way. The teacher should provide a live demonstration of this – or at least an exemplar of annotation.

– Highlight any literary element

– Annotate a description of the element

– Make any connections, in writing to the text as a whole or to other literary elements

FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT: Students turn in work from the class. Count literary elements with correct definitions. Note current knowledge of students.

NEXT CLASS: SMALL GROUP WORK: Pass back formative assessments: Students connect in groups (based on text) and make note of their work and compare to others. They review their understanding in contrast to others. Students create one large annotated (collaborative poster) on their text. Students present their work to the class. Students can then craft an essay in response to their text. Use a past paper question to guide the in-class text. This becomes a second formative assessment looking for essay structure and response style.

  1. THE ASSESSMENT WILL HELP present the learners’ level of understanding with factual information (identification of literary elements in a text) and the application of that understanding (composing an essay).
  2. WITH THIS INFORMATION instructional decisions will be made to teach (or not) the identification of literary elements, textual annotation, essay composition.
  3. LEARNERS WITHOUT THE ABILITY will be identified from the first ten minutes of class. They could get, elements highlighted but not identified (or the reverse “look for a comparison”). Learners may need ESL accommodations (such as mother tongue translation). Learners may need to be referred to a learning support team. This two day assessment will identify a range of skills that can be scaffolded. It will also provide support to the student through the collaborative elements.

Robot invasion! (Change what we teach)

How do we teach for the future? When robots will be more intelligent than humans? What qualities must we educators seek to define and cultivate in our students? Creativity is key. This is something that robots can only simulate. Jack Ma has several other keys to teaching for the future. I for one appreciated this singular view from a person so well versed in the singularity.