By Allen, David
NATE Classroom , No. 6
You know you're on to a winner as a teacher when a child like 'Vinay', who has trouble writing in full sentences and stumbles when reading whole class texts, is genuinely excited about a literacy lesson. Not because he is going to be given the opportunity to sit and stare out of the window at Y5 whacking tennis balls around the playground. No way! 'Vinay' loves drama lessons because it gives him the opportunity to express himself and achieve far beyond his own expectations (and for that matter--my expectations too!)
I have always loved drama. I was lucky enough to have a very vibrant and animated Y5 teacher when I was at school. She loved drama; not just asking us to read and perform plays but inspiring us to improvise and use our imaginations. I was equally lucky to have a brilliant drama teacher at secondary school too--motivating me to take part in all the productions. I didn't do drama as part of my BEd but found my passion returned when I entered the classroom as an NQT. I am certainly no drama specialist--just a drama enthusiast. I know everyone says that teaching is one big performance but during a drama lesson you can take the act to the next level; only in front of the children, mind you. I still cringe if another adult walks in the room when I'm in role; the illusion and the pretence is temporarily suspended and I pause and wait for them to leave. I found I needed to build up to the demanding acting roles when working with children. It comes naturally to some teachers but some of us need to boost our confidence before we take a deep breath and become another character in class. Start small. The odd voice or gesture; just to give the children a flavour of what is expected. Once they have an idea of what can be achieved and what is 'allowed' they can run with it, take it further, make it their own and then the particularly able young actors can be used to model for each other, drawing out their talents scene by scene, lesson by lesson. Drama doesn't have to be kept just for discrete English lessons either. I often ask the children to answer the register in role maybe as a character from the class reading book. Sometimes we spend the afternoon's art lesson using a particular accent or miming and signing to communicate. There are so many small ways to increase children's comfort with going into role; hot seating, role-on-the-wall, glass corridor, freeze framing, thought tapping to name but a few. These are all mechanisms that can be used in all manner of subjects such as History, Geography and RE. These activities don't have to be used together; they can be slipped surreptitiously into lesson introductions and plenaries. When a class is comfortable with taking on a character then that's when the real drama begins.
Children's dramatic ability can often be a surprise. For a short while I taught in a private school and took a Y2 class for their weekly drama session. 'Mary' was close to being excluded as her behaviour and outbursts in class were becoming unmanageable. I approached the first drama session with caution dreading the possible outcome in such a free and unstructured environment. The lesson was held in the hall so there would be nothing at hand for her to throw at me. What a relief! I introduced the session based around 'Little Red Riding Hood' and modelled a little in role as the wolf. Then it was the children's turn as the wolf. 'Mary' volunteered to go first. I can honestly say I have never seen a child perform so convincingly 'in role' as 'Mary' did. She threw herself into character so completely and with such zeal the other children were awestruck. She had found her outlet--the frustrations were gone. Well, for the weekly drama hour at least. She was an angel in every drama lesson (or whatever character was required) from then on.
On returning to teach in a state school in leafy Watford I taught a class of Y6 high ability children. …