Performance Drama in the Classroom was my favorite class in teacher school and the one I feel I learned more that I could use in class. Had many opportunities to use techniques I learned during my student teaching practicum.
October 20, 2007
Drama and Performance Mid-Term Review
What does process drama mean to me?
To me, process drama is a way to add fun and excitement to the classroom while aiding comprehension and learning. It can and should be used to force students to probe deeper into texts. Not force like “You will do this or you will be in trouble!” but force as in guiding students to a greater understanding without them realizing what they are doing. Students do, or perform, a drama activity, and at the end of the activity see something in thee text that they had not seen before. For instance, when our four person groups drew pictures based on images we took out of The Giver excerpt I did not look at the trees as being scary, or had even considered then in that way. Lindsay mentioned that they were scary trees, Justin and Ali agreed, so Lindsay drew them that way. Jacob (or Gabriel, whoever the protagonist is) has just encountered natural things like trees and animals for the first time as well as being alone for the first time. Of course he is a little scared; the situation he has placed himself in is a perilous one. I figured he’d be afraid and nervous but didn’t think harmless little things like trees and birds would be what scared him. But because we did the drawings my eyes were opened to this possibility. This isn’t the only activity that has had this comprehension enhancing effect, but it does that process drama can be used to effectively teach texts.
Another drama activity that gave me greater insight into a text occurred in Teaching Lab. As a part of her Literature Lesson Carmen had us, her students, read aloud the short story Hills Like White Elephants. During the reading two members of each group read the dialogue parts of the man and Jig, and two other group members “shadowed” those two. The two “shadows” waited until a dialogue line was read then inserted what they believed to be the thoughts of the characters. In essence two students were merely reading lines on a page but two others had to get into the minds of the characters themselves, becoming a part of the story itself. This activity was fun and it provided insights into how characters in the story were thinking, what motivated them, etc. Essentially the exercise removed the “fiction” from the fiction story and made it “real” to us students.
When I thing about what practical use process drama has I remember how you defined it. You said it amounts to most anything that is not the students sitting and listening to teachers talk or students reciting answers from their homework worksheets. It could be as simple as in-class reading, paired reading or journal writing. I’m hesitant to include listening to audio book recordings for non-LE students since that is basically listening to someone talk. I did an observation in a sixth grade class that spent the class period listening to an audio reading of a short story. Students read along and every so often the tape was stopped to allow students time to wrote down plot points. The lesson was designed to teach readers how to recognize important moments and how they related to the overall theme of the story. The lesson itself seemed to be quite useful but the sitting and listening was pretty boring. Most of the students did seem engaged and “got” the major plot points correct but some others didn’t seem to interested in what was happening. So probably the best students, or the students who really like reading, were the ones that got the most out of this lesson, whereas the others, the ones who don’t like to read or aren’t the best students, got very little out of it. Of course this is one observation and the teacher did tell me that he doesn’t do this very often but I would have to say that the effectiveness of using this type of differentiated instruction was negligible.
Looking at this class and other non-Language Arts classes that I’ve observed I say that in most cases the students who love school and love to learn are the ones most engaged in any class. No matter what is happening they are paying attention and are prepared to correctly answer any question posed by the instructor. Watching class after class of kids slowly drift away gives me reason to think that process drama can be used in any class. The more students have to sit and listen to teachers talk the less engaged they will be. Most classes I’ve seen practically beg for drama activities to be used.
What can I take to my classroom?
During the spring when I’m student teaching I hope to use many of the activities I’ve been exposed to in all my classes this fall, not just the ones from Drama and Performance. It may prove to be difficult because “my” students haven’t been exposed to this sort of stuff and also because my cooperating teacher may not leave room for it. Meaning, if I teach one class one day and then not again for a few days the scaffolding process may not work. I see my biggest challenge to be keeping students interested and engaged. Bore them and they will not learn anything. They will still do the work, they have to after all, but they won’t learn much. I’ve noticed that just about every student does all the homework and does it correctly. The homework assignments have been geared around their own lives and experiences so that appears to be the way to go with homework/writing assignments. However I have noticed that test scores for these same students have been generally bad. The questions on these tests had nothing to do with the homework and were more like reciting things from the assigned texts and definition questions. My cooperating teacher said the answer to this is too study harder, or to get tutoring. I think that the tests should be related to work students have been doing and shouldn’t have a large an impact on overall grades that they have had.
Process drama can help correct this problem if low test scores by getting students more engaged with texts and by getting them deeper into texts. If a test question wants to know why the boat captain in O’Captain, My Captain dies at the end of the story and at no other time, maybe a drama activity or two would make the Civil War/Abraham Lincoln connection more apparent and the question would get answered correctly more often and not and students would fret so much over the first grading period (and teachers wouldn’t spend so much time in conferences with parents).
My aim is to keep class life varied and interesting, and I’m not against there being fun as long as it is productive fun. Process drama will playa large role in creating this type of environment.
The class so far
I’ve enjoyed the class and feel that I’m learning and adding many useful teaching “tools” to my teaching toolkit. My only complaint is that I don’t like leaving class early. In my opinion that lost time could be better spent doing more drama and adding more tools to my kit.