Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student
From Audience to Stage to Classroom
by Barbara Washer
There is nothing like the experience of live theatre, the energy, the excitement, the dynamic relationship between the audience and the actors. The emotions felt, the insights gained, the knowledge imparted. The most common experience of theatre is that of the general public seeing a play. A more select group may actually perform in plays. And an even smaller number study the craft. It is our contention that the number of students who participate in theatre activities, games and exercises with or without sharing the work with an audience can and should be a far greater number than all of the previous groups combined.
The word Drama derives from duos which means to do, to engage in action, to have an experience. Learning by doing can bring depth and breadth to our reading, writing, observing, discussing, and researching methods of acquiring knowledge. Through drama students can expand and enrich their learning in any academic subject, as well as develop skills in social interactions, creative problem solving and leadership. I believe that this can be accomplished in regular classroom settings with or without the assistance of a drama director.
While this approach works with our school’s philosophy and schedule, the games, activities and exercises could be utilized successfully in a variety of other programs and classes. So let’s take a look at our very democratic approach to teaching with drama. This is just the first in a series of articles that will drill down to some very specific techniques to help you in the classroom. But let’s set the stage before we continue.
For the Students...
Seeing plays can be a very valuable educational tool. Taking students to see professional productions or booking touring companies into your school, can increase student understanding of and interest in classical literature, historical events, and other relevant topics of study. These experiences are most successful when students are well prepared for what they are going to see and are given pertinent follow-up activities, discussions and assignments to further the learning. Of course in most schools budgets and time will limit the number of productions the student will see in any academic year.
By the Students...
Participating in the performance of plays can be an exciting and rewarding way to explore dramatic literature and various historical periods or events. Although cast size and the time commitment of the rehearsal process will limit the number of participants, the whole school can benefit from seeing the production. Those involved also reap the additional rewards of developing drama skills, building a sense of community, and learning to problem solve and collaborate effectively. The cost of production can be adapted based on available resources. Students can also create original works or perform scenes, monologues for special assemblies or class presentations without the need for lengthy rehearsals or large budgets.
Of the Students...
And finally, engaging in classroom activities individually, in partners or in small groups allows students to have an experience that enhances learning without the pressure of presenting to an audience. This can be most effective when everyone is working at the same time and no one is watching, except of course the teacher. The shy quiet students can participate fully because no one is watching. The class clowns can focus on the task at hand because no one is watching. And the teacher can gain fresh insights into the strengths and abilities of the students because no one else is watching. Students can then reflect, discuss and relate what they did back to the topic at hand. Because no two students will have exactly the same experience, the sharing will greatly expand everyone’s learning while also building an appreciation of the uniqueness of each individual in the class. It’s a win/win endeavor with low overhead and a high return on the investment of time.
Of the students, by the students and for the students. Three approaches with an infinite number of possibilities. Through this website and our newsletter we hope to serve as a resource to educators who are looking for simple effective ways to help their students learn by doing.