You are wrong.
Today I sat in a wonderful PD session run by some amazing colleagues of mine. They were discussing ways to ensure that our students became life long learners. Teachers were asked "What do we want the students we teach to be like when they are adults?" The answers included risk-takers, curious, creative thinkers, reflective, listeners, confident, creative, open to ideas, empathetic and adventurous amongst others. I sat there thinking, “This is what drama teachers do and do well.”
So here are six things I believe all teachers can learn from Drama teachers.
1. Play - There is one maths teacher that walks past my classroom on a daily basis and every time she looks through the door of my classroom she cringes. What she sees makes absolutely no sense to her. You can guarantee that whenever she is walking past she may be blasted by a strange noise, confronted by two students sword fighting in the corridor, witness a masked greek townsperson crying out in disgust or be greeted by a student bursting out the door only to turn directly around and burst straight back in making the grandest of entrances. In this moment she sees chaos; I see students playing, imagining, exploring the world, empathising with it’s people, taking risks, developing confidence in front of their peers, collaborating, trusting and most significantly learning.
Charles Schaefer wrote, “We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything than when we are playing.” All teachers should build play into their daily practice. Play with numbers in maths. Play with words in English. Play with materials in DT. Play with elements in Science. When we play we are engaged. We are exploring our world. We are learning about ourselves and we are learning to work with those playing with us.
2. Teach The Whole Student - In Drama we are not teaching facts, we are not teaching equations - we are teaching people. We are teaching people how to feel, how to interact with others, how to respond to the world and express ideas and feelings about what they see and experience. This can make Drama teaching exhausting some days, but it is also the most rewarding element.
When students are giving an answer in Drama they are giving of themselves. They must be completely present; they must show up; they must participate. Drama teaches students about themselves and by learning about themselves they become more confident, more self-assured and more empathetic to others.
Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” So let’s give students the opportunity to know themselves. Teach them how maths is relevant to their life and experience. Teach them the science of emotions. Teach them about their cultures, their world, their lives and explicitly connect it to who they are. They will be engaged, reflective and curious in their learning.
3. Collaborate Daily - I don’t think I have ever taught a lesson in my class where students were expected to work through the entire period on their own. We are constantly collaborating. If we aren’t working in groups, we are working in pairs. Even if a student is working on an individual project they are sharing the work with their classmates, constantly seeking feedback and suggestions. In order for this to work I explicitly teach collaboration and team work skills at the start of the year. I teach trust and listening as core skills. I assess their ability to collaborate and provide them with ongoing suggestions on ways to improve in this area. All Drama teachers do.
Yes, Drama lends itself to collaboration, but doesn’t every subject? Build a culture of collaboration in your classroom. Start each lessons with a problem that must be solved in pairs. Use google docs to write a group essay (one paragraph each). Embrace group discussion. Encourage peer assessment and feedback. Set team challenges on a weekly basis. Mix up groups and partners every lesson to allow students to develop new relationships amongst their peers. If this collaborative environment is nurtured correctly and taught explicitly, students will become open to new ideas, empathetic towards others, and fantastic listeners.
4. Change The Physical Environment - I have one highly intelligent student who enters my classroom and either commando rolls or spins or leaps or runs through the door every Drama lesson. Why? She has told me that she feels free. Free to move, free to explore, free to be herself instead of sitting contained at a desk every other lesson.
What does my classroom look like? Basically an open space. I have two desks for quiet writing and work if needed. We generally work on the floor in a circle, even when we are writing or I am giving direct instruction. I don’t have a whiteboard. Instead we collaborate on the mirrors and windows in my classroom with liquid chalk or butcher’s paper. The students work-in-progress is plastered on my walls making thinking visible. I currently have an entire script of a play on one wall so we can all stand around discussing different points of interest rather then all hiding in separate books behind desks. I have chairs in a cupboard that I can pull out if needed. I have cushions against a window. Boxes that can be converted into makeshift collaborative tables. I expand into the corridors if I require separate group space and if I still need more room to move I take them outside. My classroom allows them to work comfortably, freely and collaboratively. This encourages students to become creative in their thinking, adventurous and confident in themselves.
Teachers of the world listen up. Remove your furniture. Replace it with various work areas that allow freedom of choice for your students. Create a flexible space that encourages collaboration and open discussion. Build an environment that allows freedom and creative expression.
5. Assess The Process - In Drama we asses three areas - Performing, Making and Critically Analysing. The most interesting and difficult part of this is assessing the making. We mark the creative process. This encourages students to really focus on the decisions they are making, examine how they are collaborating and authentically establish and refine the thinking process as they work towards the final product. The whole method allows us as teachers to concentrate on the learning taking place and the individual growth of the students throughout the process.
There are various ways we do this - observational records, logbooks, self and peer assessment, questioning, progress assessments throughout the unit and reflective essays documenting how they approached a task. These could all be strategies used in each and every classroom. Throughout the last term we worked on a large group project. At the end of each lesson all groups had to show the class what they had achieved that lesson and received feedback from their peers. Each individual student needed to document the process and reflect on their learning in their logbook during and after each lesson. I also collected observational records on how each group was collaborating and the contributions of each individual student. Two-thirds of the way through the term each group had to present a raw performance (unpolished) in order to receive extensive feedback from myself and their classmates on how they could take the piece to the next level before their final assessment. This made the process extremely transparent and shifted the focus from the final product to the learning. These are all strategies that could be implemented in other classrooms despite the topic area.
6. Allow Your Students To Fail - My year 11’s will clearly articulate that it is ok to ‘fail in Drama’. This is because I say to them all the time, “If we aren’t failing we aren’t learning.” Throughout my lessons the students in my class are expected to perform, contribute and participate in every moment. This is difficult because when they are giving an answer in Drama they are giving of themselves; they are putting themselves on the line. I need my classroom to be a safe place, built on trust and love (and of course joy) so they will give everything a go. After developing a safe environment where failing is valued as part of the process students start becoming risk-takers. Creating this culture is difficult but completely worth it.
One way I encourage this is by modelling risk-taking myself. My lessons frequently start with, ‘Today in class we are going to try this… I haven’t tried this before… It may not work but let’s give this ago.’ Additionally at the start of the year I tell my classes, “I am not going to ask you to do something I am not willing to do myself.” Yes, they call me out on it often and yes I get up straight away and put myself on the line…. and sometimes I fail and that is ok. They learn that it is ok. Ok to take risks and fail. Ok to make mistakes. And they also learn that by taking risks they win. They discover something great. They achieve more then they ever expected. They find the best in themselves. And we talk about it and we write about it and we learn from it.
I know other teachers do many of these things, but Drama teachers do them smashingly well! Drama teachers teach their students to be risk-takers, curious, creative thinkers, reflective, listeners, confident, creative, open to ideas, empathetic and adventurous amongst other things.
What life-long skills are you teaching your students? What could other teachers learn from your area of teacher expertise? If you would like to share what we could learn as teachers from your area of teaching please email me. I would love to hear from you.