Creating Curious Readers through Drama: Drama and Textual Exploration: Louise Beattie and Nikki Highfield Argue That Drama Can Be a Highly Effective Strategy for Raising Achievement in Critical Exploration of Texts, and Reflect on the Influence of the NATE Drama Materials on Their Practice

Article excerpt

In this article, we describe a personal journey we have undertaken, over the last four years, as secondary consultants. This journey in drama began with our introduction to the NATE drama materials as new consultants, and has continued on to working more closely with authors and Secondary National Strategy trainers, Paul Bunyan and Ruth Moore, as part of the work of the NATE Drama Committee. As consultants, this work has helped us to develop our focus on raising achievement through embedding effective teaching and learning strategies.

NATE Drama Packs

A barrier to achieving higher levels or grades is often pupils' ability to respond critically to texts, distinguishing between different layers of meaning and perspective, such as the use of the authorial voice as opposed to the expression of protagonists' views. This can be further complicated when pupils are considering the different roles--for instance in an adaptation to screen or stage--of the novelist, the playwright, the screenwriter, the film director, and even the audience! The NATE Drama Packs and associated training take as a starting point the idea that drama is a highly effective strategy for critical exploration of text, powerfully supporting the development of the reading and writing skills usually associated with textual study.

One of the most powerful strategies for supporting pupils in these critical responses to text is the use of kinaesthetic and visual approaches to abstract concepts, for example, 'sculpting' characters within a scene and placing the writer and reader within it. This approach enables pupils to become critically immersed in text and able to tackle hitherto intangible ideas. In classrooms, we have seen that this level of ownership of a scene and the practical participation with the critical aspects of texts has increased engagement and lively discussion. As pupils physically experience the process of critical analysis, they are more likely to argue their point of view confidently, and provide evidence from the text to prove this point and evaluate their responses. In the latter, pupils have been encouraged to develop explicit reflection and evaluation of their thoughts and to comment constructively on others' interpretations.

Embarking on a journey

We emerged from this classroom-based research with an eagerness to be active in the further dissemination of the NATE drama materials; and so during the last two years we have enjoyed delivering consultant training, training for teachers within our respective Local Authorities, and ongoing in-class development. Feedback from teachers is positive not only in terms of engagement of disaffected pupils and collaborative work, but also the extent to which these strategies impact on critical thinking, manifesting in more analytical written work.

Our journey began, as new consultants, at our termly consultant training in Bristol in May 2003. Despite having taught English for a combined total of seventeen years, it was still with some trepidation that we entered a conference room for the second day of the training, which was to be on Drama in English. Nothing had prepared us, however, for the sight of a large room, empty except for a large circle of sixty chairs around the outside, reminiscent of our worst childhood nightmare on a gargantuan scale.

Building on drama basics

Coming from successful English teaching backgrounds we were no strangers to using drama techniques to explore texts in the classroom. Like many English teachers, we had recognised the benefits of practical activities encouraging creative exploration of issues and themes arising from texts and an understanding of the essence of plays as they evolve into performance.

At this stage in our careers, our repertoire consisted of teaching strategies such as role play, hot seating, reenactment, formal and informal scripting and conscience alley. Whilst these were not wholly isolated experiences within the exploration of a text, there was often little chance to develop the drama in a more substantial manner, unlike the layering of teaching and learning strategies we were to discover in the work of Ruth and Paul. …