Teaching and Learning with Drama: Principle Five

Principle five is to teach through dramatic inquiry.

I feel that I have a spotty understanding of “inquiry” as an approach to teaching and learning – I’ll explain my prior experiences with it and maybe you can comment for me on whether I am understanding it correctly or not.

My first introduction to the idea of authentic inquiry came from a scientific research institute (SRI) I helped conceptualize and lead one summer when I had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant to my undergrad teaching methods professor. Although I did not realize it at the time, the experience was full of authentic inquiry (I think). The students who attended the SRI  began the week by reflecting on their prior knowledge and building together a shared base of “old knowledge” based on conducting experiments and investigating and interpreting results as a group. Then, each individual selected a topic of personal interest to them and created inquiry questions to guide their research into the topic and design of an experiment to shed more light on potential answers to their questions.

After my SRI experience, the word “inquiry” faded back into the background for me and more or less meant the same thing as “inquisitive” or “questioning.” While this is part of inquiry, true inquiry (as I understand it, at least) goes past asking questions to seeking answers through a design of one’s own making (or a process determined with a group of equally-invested peers). The inquiry is authentic because the students move past sharing “old knowledge” – knowledge that is already known to the teacher or someone, somewhere in the world – to creating “new knoweldge” – shared understandings that were unknown prior to engaging in the inquiry methods.

Principle five takes inquiry a step further and promotes teaching through dramatic inquiry. My understanding is that dramatic inquiry may differ from scientific inquiry in that in dramatic inquiry, answers to questions are sought by engaging in active and dramatic exploration as a class, whereas in scientific inquiry, a scientific experiment is (often independently) designed to test hypotheses and arrive at a possible answer. Dramatic inquiry requires students to collectively engage in imagined worlds together and dispel reality for short or long periods of time to explore characters and plots from different perspectives.

To engage students in dramatic inquiry, it is helpful to create inquiry questions that draw students into active dramatic approaches. Good inquiry questions must (be):

  • Open-Ended (as opposed to closed)
  • Interpretive and inferential (as opposed to literal and factual)
  • Why/How/What questions that encourage going beyond the text to interpret possibile motivations and/or explanations (versus who/when/where questions whose answers are easily located within a text)
  • Socio-cultural (instead of affective – I love this one because it encourages us to get rid of questions such as “How did Romeo feel when he discovered Juliet wasn’t really dead?” and replace them with questions such as “How did Romeo’s relationship with Juliet affect his decision-making?”)
  • Help students learn both “new” and “old” knowledge (that is, the questions help clarify piror knowledge and widely-accepted interpretations of plots for students to build on but also encourage students to go past that and create new understanding together, based on their own interpretations.)
All of these inquiry approaches tie back to the first characteristic listed above: they are open-ended. This trait is turning out to be both the most appealing and most challenging aspect of the active dramatic approaches to teaching & learning we are being introduced to in class this week. 


I love the idea of building off of student interpretations and having each class go in different directions based on what the students bring with them – the thought of how refreshing it would be, and how deep their potential learning could go is incredible! At the same time, however, I find myself wondering how I would keep things moving in the right direction to eventually expose all of my students to similar “old” and “new” knowledge so that they would all be successful.  

Inquiry learning happens in all four quadrants of teaching and learning with drama: instructing and directing, facilitating, collaborating, and dialogizing/transforming. I think that probably the most challenging of the four quadrants for me is collaborative inquiry, probably because good collaborators are able to “let go of their own ideas”(Edmiston, p. 4). This is challenging for me, as I imagine it probably would be for many students; however it is a necessary step if I ever want to reach the transformation quadrant. In order to be “transformed” people must engage in dialogue between competing perspectives and be made to see things from different points of view that challenge their previously-held ideas. Without collaborating effectively to accept and build on others’ ideas while being willing to let my own go, I will never reach transformation, and neither will my students.

Does anyone else have a hard time giving up their own opinions and perspectives and seeing things in a new way? I find this characteristic an unbecoming one in myself but admit it’s there. The only redeeming aspect (if there is one) is that I don’t resist seeing things from others’ point of view out of a disregard for others (in fact I wish I was better at seeing the world from others’ eyes and my interest in languages and cultures probably is born of the desire to train myself to do so more readily); instead it comes from a character flaw in myself: I can be extremely stubborn and single-minded. Sometimes I simply get hung up on the idea that my way is best or better than someone else’s. Clealry this is something I need to work on as a teacher! 


About beckysearls

Married (DINK); High School Spanish Teacher; Lover of new technology (especially apple products!), Learner (of the life-long variety), Voracious Reader, Aspiring Writer, Tweeter, and now (or rather, a returning) Blogger!
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3 Responses to Teaching and Learning with Drama: Principle Five

  1. Thanks, Becky
    I think you have great knowledge of inquiry-based approaches!

    I’ll add some comments after where I cut and pasted.
    Dramatic inquiry requires students to collectively engage in imagined worlds together and dispel reality

    I don’t see reality as being “dispelled” but rather experienced differently. In everyday life the imaginative aspect is backgrounded (e.g. my day dreams or memories) whereas in drama it’s foregrounded, and social vs individual. I call the spaces “imagined-and-real” to draw attention to that – and the fact that physical and social “reality” is always there. So, today I drew attention to “pretending” just before we talked to Justin and Hui-Fen.

    All of these inquiry approaches tie back to the first characteristic listed above: they are open-ended … the most appealing and most challenging aspect of the active dramatic approaches
    The process is open-ended, but it is also contained. In a way there is a continuous dance between opening up and closing down the MEANING being made. It’s “dialogic” because there is always another viewpoint that’s possible to be taken, but you don’t always have to take it! So today, we didn’t hear Margaret’s thoughts on Simon’s “bravery”. I closed down that meaning-making opening in terms of an exploration BUT left it open as a possibility.

    I find myself wondering how I would keep things moving in the right direction to eventually expose all of my students to similar “old” and “new” knowledge so that they would all be successful.
    One thing to think about is what would the “right” direction be and who determines that? Taking a “critical” stance, I want students to know that “right” views are always socially constructed – and can be critiqued on the consequences they have for real people. So, in my classroom, I can acknowledge the authority of THE curriculum while at the same time promoting the kids critical awareness of it in contrast with the “new” meaning that I value over only ever learning “old” (and often “dead”!) knowledge.

    good collaborators are able to “let go of their own ideas”
    I think I’d like to revise this!! I think that good collaborators can let go of wanting to impose their ideas on others and are willing to reexamine the assumptions that underlie their ideas. Inconsequential ideas are relatively easy to learn let go of e.g. whether I take the part of Simon or not. But I wouldn’t want people to let go of their ideas about e.g. “honor” – rather they can deepen their understanding of the concept. Rather, their ideas become more complex over time as new viewpoints are considered in relation to prior understanding.

    Sometime stubborn and single-mindedness can be an asset! MLK was both in relation to civil rights. I think it always depends on the context – what are we being stubborn about? and why? and how much are we “listening” (cf Paley) to the people who are affected by our actions?

  2. Pingback: Teaching and Learning with Drama: Principle Seven | A Mishmash of Me!

  3. Pingback: Teaching & Learning with Drama: A Collection of Quotes & Reflections | A Mishmash of Me!

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