I am taking a graduate course this week on the topic of using drama in the classroom. My instructor is Dr. Brian Edmiston, and he has a pretty interesting personal background – originally from Ireland, then England, and finally residing here in the US.
One thing I can say for sure- I will not be bored this week! Today, for example I was drawn into about 6 hours of authentic inquiry through dramatic play and performance, something that is rather uncommon in the K-12 classroom (particularly at the secondary level) and practically unheard of in higher ed.
I’m still trying to wrap my mind around what it must be like to be in his shoes as the instructor – to have planned a plethora of potential activities but really just wait to see what we bring to the table and build off of our contributions and ideas to try and meet the objectives he’s set forth. While it must be incredibly challenging, I bet he’s not bored either!!
The goal of the course is to become comfortable with and knowledgeable about active dramatic approaches to teaching and learning and to plan how to use these tools in my classroom.
After today’s class I’m excited to see what the rest of the week holds! Today we learned a lot about Edmiston’s first principle of learning through the use of drama: that learning is active, dramatic, and centered around authentic conversations.
The first thing I noticed when I entered the classroom was a lack of desks or tables. Instead, there was a circle of chairs. Most of the day we didn’t even use those; rather, we were up and moving around 75% of the time, or lounging on the ground cross-legged. The idea of being active can be conceived of as two-fold: there is physical activity and mental activity. Both are important but physical activity more clearly demonstrates who is engaged and who is not. Students get pretty good at faking mental engagement early in the game, but, if you force them to never quite settle in and get comfy in a desk it’s difficult to maintain a veneer of engagement.
In addition to being active in our learning, we discussed how learning is dramatic. One idea I had never thought of before is how dramatic playing is necessary for children to learn empathy and self control. As children role-play they view the world from other’s perspectives and “try on” ways of being and acting that are different from their own experiences. This is critical in helping children to behave more empathetically.
Finally, learning takes place when students and teachers engage in authentic conversations. It took me awhile to wrap my mind around what he meant by this, because we were drawn into so many imaginary play experiences that I thought perhaps authentic conversation was only when we were all completely dispelling reality and engaging in the pretend world we had set up. One of my favorite parts of the day was that Dr. Edmiston took little breaks by stepping out of the imagined setting to negotiate the direction of our plot from time to time by saying things such as “shall we pretend that it’s easy to save the girl who has been trapped underneath the rock in the cave or should we have some trouble with it?” and then we would all decide as a group and step back into the narrative as if nothing had happened – it was just like how I remember playing with friends as a child! And, by the end of the day, I came to realize that even these conversations were authentic; the inauthentic thing would have been for the teacher to pose a question, hear our answer and then go a different direction altogether.
Authentic conversation is difficult to facilitate because it involves a genuine exchange of ideas so that everyone is making new meaning together based on the ideas being shared, listened to, and built upon. Although the teacher may facilitate such a conversation, s/he does not ask questions that s/he already knows the answers to for the purpose of evaluating student comprehension; rather, a large number of the questions posed by the teacher and studetns are one(s) that s/he doesn’t know the answer to (Edmiston, p. 6). In this way, questions are planned to help students reflect and to encourage dialogue among learners, not as a way of assessing them (although this may be a nice benefit that the teacher can also garner from such interactions).
I’m only about half-way through my reading for tomorrow’s class so I better get back to it, but I wanted to take a break and tease out some of these ideas while they are fresh in my mind. Some of these ideas seem to overlap with the idea of the flipped classroom that I’ve seen referenced on twitter lately…the idea that you flip your classic instruction and homework so that students do “instruction” as homework – through video lessons or podcasts, for example – and then are engaged in typical homework activities in class instead – one of which could be dramatic play and performance.
I can imagine doing this in my own classroom by finding relevant video resources to teach students a new grammar structure and then conducting a brief review in class the next day followed by challenging students to use the structure to create a dialogue which they later perform for peers. Following each dialogue with questions and answers from me and their peers would make it a more authentic experience and students would of course be both active and dramatic in the creation and performance of their dialogues.