In comparison to other subjects, (especially the core subjects, and sometimes rightly so) drama can often be left at the back of the queue. However, I believe it has a significant role to play in the classroom. Take a look at this quote:
Tell me and I will Forget,
Show me and I will remember,
Involve me and I learn.
Some of you may have seen this pithy statement before. It’s often mistakenly attributed to Benjamin Franklin but evidence suggests it was written by a Confucian philosopher who lived in the third century B.C.E.
The meaning of this quote, is that children (and people generally) learn best by doing. It isn’t necessarily enough to explain or show someone how something is done. An individual is more likely to understand something if they do it themselves. Drama allows students to do this; offering them an opportunity to take part in something which is active and dynamic, rather than passive. Drama gives children a novel and welcome alternative to a more static, conventional style of lesson where they sit, immobile, at their desks listening to a teacher who speaks at the front of the class.
Dramatic activity is already a natural part of children’s lives before they begin school. This continues as they enter and begin the initial stages of early education. In between lessons, I often observe younger students playing; role playing, chasing after each other, building with blocks and playing with other toys such as dolls and figurines. This is a vital stage in a child’s development. Drama is merely an extension of this.
Below are a few reasons why I think drama is important and why it has a place in the classroom:
- Drama is a tool which can be used to make learning fun
Obviously, we want children to have as much fun as possible in the classroom because if they’re enjoying themselves, they’re more likely to learn. Performing is fun; more often than not, it involves elements of play, humour and (often raucous) laughter. I know from my own personal experiences as an actor that laughter is an inevitable part of the rehearsal process because of the often ridiculous or unlikely scenarios you can find yourself in; It might be an improv scene where you’ve been asked to pretend that the world is ending whilst having an allergic reaction to strawberry yoghurt, or playing a Machiavellian character in a Shakespearian play. There’s always humour and fun to be found in playing characters as far removed from your real self (hopefully) than you thought humanly possible.
- Drama is an emotional outlet
School life can be a frustrating and testing time for students of all ages. Playing another person can provide a temporary escape from the pressures and expectations that students face. Drama offers an outlet for students to express a wide range of emotions, thoughts and dreams which they may not otherwise have a means to express.
Children are often discouraged from expressing what are often perceived as negative emotions, such as jealousy and anger but through the medium of drama they can learn that it’s normal to feel such emotions whilst venting them in a safe, controlled environment. Through certain forms of dramatic activity, such as improvisation and role play, students can become someone else and experiment with choices in a variety of challenging scenarios. They can learn the consequences of different types of behavior without real life ramifications. From this, it seems apparent that participating in the dramatic arts could potentially alter the course of a child’s life.
3. Drama improves one’s ability to respond to new and unexpected circumstances
By participating in drama, children can learn to think outside the box, solve problems and think on their feet. The dramatic arts allow and encourage spontaneity and the taking of creative risks.
When an actor rehearses a play he or she will interpret the character they play in various ways to see which is the correct fit; he or she will experiment with different mannerisms, accents and even different forms of attire. My own experiences within the field of drama have increased my willingness to try new ideas and experiment in the classroom. Let me provide an example: In my first year in China, I taught three year one classes. The children were not focused or responsive; they were not interested. At the beginning of my second year, I decided to try something new; I introduced a teddy bear to my class as a means of communicating with the children. I vividly remember questioning my sanity as I stood in front of 50 children, pretending that a teddy bear could talk. I fully expected to receive some disturbed glances from Chinese teachers and a polite request to seek employment elsewhere but ultimately, it was a creative risk that proved successful. To this day, my younger students respond enthusiastically to the bear. It focuses and engages them and makes them enthusiastic about learning English.
4. Drama helps students to develop tolerance and empathy
Performing, (with particular reference to acting) allows participating students to see through the eyes of others; to learn about someone else and how this person thinks, feels and relates to other people. When you understand how someone else thinks and feels you’re more likely to empathise with them. Drama provides an opportunity for students to play (and thus, learn about) a diverse range of characters dealing with real life issues, including those who have been shunned, mistreated and rejected. By playing such characters, students will learn to see life from a variety of perspectives, often very dissimilar from their own.
5. Drama is a collaborative art form
The dramatic arts provide students with potentially invaluable experience and preparation for a world which values the ability to work within a team. They will be endowed with skills which they can use in the wider world, beyond the sphere of education. They will also develop and hone their ability to work alongside and communicate effectively with others. Performing as an ensemble allows students to feel a strong sense of camaraderie; to know the thrill of working alongside others to achieve the best performance possible.
Students trained in drama are less likely to struggle with public speaking; they will learn to memorise lines and speak to audiences in different styles. As a result, they will more persuasive in both written and oral communications; their pronunciation, enunciation, vocabulary, reading comprehension and even spelling will improve.
In conclusion, over time, with positive, tactful feedback, a drama student’s self confidence can be increased. A child who engages in drama will flourish and see their confidence grow exponentially.
My ten favourite songs this month/a Shenzhen playlist:
1) Phosphorescent: Song For Zula
2) Jamie xx: Girl
3) Led Zeppelin: Rock and Roll
4) Jamila Woods: Betty
5) Bjork: It’s Oh So Quiet
6) James Blake: Mile High
7) Dario Marianelli: Evey Reborn- V for Vendetta (Music From The Motion Picture)
8) James Blake: Love What Happened Here
9) Isaiah Rashad: 4r Da Squaw
10) This Will Destroy You: The Mighty Rio Grande
This post has been adapted from a speech concerning the importance of drama in the classroom, given on behalf of Bao’an Bureau, Shenzhen. Thanks to the following websites for their wisdom and insight when writing this post: www.childdrama.com; www.angelfire.com; www.teachingenglishgames.com; www.mlaworld.com; litpick.com; study.com; drama resource.com; educationworld.com
Teacher Guest Post written by Shehan Nithiananda. Shehan is an English and Drama teacher living in Shenzhen, China. He studied Drama at Exeter University, followed by Law at Cardiff University.
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