Using Role Play to Teach and Learn Aesthetics

Article excerpt

Teaching and Learning Aesthetics with Role Play

No introduction of aesthetics into an art classroom can begin without asking some important questions. What aesthetic concepts and issues are important for students to learn? What methods will be used to assess their progress? Should aesthetics be taught in conjunction with some other discipline? How often should aesthetics be taught, and what portion of the curriculum should be dedicated to it?

Answers to these questions, along with others, provide a framework that directs the course of aesthetic learning activities. This direction places aesthetics more substantially within the curriculum and provides an approach for its implementation (see Anderson & McRorie, 1997; Hagaman, 1988,1990; Hamblen & Galanes, 1997; Parsons & Blocker, 1993).

While these considerations create a framework for directing an aesthetics unit, the individual teacher requires more. Concrete teaching strategies that translate educational goals into learning activities are needed. Although academic literature is replete with discussions of the importance of aesthetics as a classroom discipline, little is available that provides the art teacher with a practical guide to teach it. This article suggests role play as an important strategy for teaching and learning aesthetics.

Role Play Defined

Dramatic play in the school environment has been labeled by several terms. Models, role play, and simulations are among them. While these terms are often used interchangeably, some distinctions have been made.

Behavioral scientists borrowed the term "model" from physical science. Just as a scale model is constructed and put through various conditions to test its strength, behavioral scientists develop symbolic models to explain and predict human behavior (Shaftel & Shaftel, 1967). Model simulations" (Guetzkow, 1962) need to be very realistic, reflecting real-world situations. Dramatic play, or rather role play, is the activity used within these symbolic models to allow participants and observers an opportunity to learn, to focus on how interactions are felt, to determine what happened, and why (Abella, 1986).

Shaftel and Shaftel (1967) define role play as "spontaneous improvisation." Further, they state that role play is a "group problem-solving method involving... (1) initial enactment of proposals (taking of roles), (2) observer reaction to the enactments (discussion), (3) exploration of alternatives through further enactments and discussion, and often (4) the drawing of conclusions or generalization and decisionmaking" (pp. 83-84).

Benefits of Role Play

Role-play activities are proven effective in a variety of learning situations including the development of language arts skills (Schickedanz, 1982) and math skills (Rees, 1990). Counseling students report greater sense of reality when instructors act out client behavior in a role play (Rabinowitz, 1997). Conflict resolution occurs when high school students use role play (Davis-Pack, 1989). It has also been identified as a positive method when working with gifted students (May, 1997).

More generally, role play is heralded as a method of securing important learning skills and attitudes. For example, the dialogue of role play has been viewed as a tool in achieving critical thinking (Gallo, 1989; Robertson & Rane-Szostak, 1996; Smith & Boyer, 1996; Venable, 1998). Additionally, role play is a versatile and cooperative learning activity that reduces student anxiety and promotes risk taking (Waters, Woods, & Noel, 1992).

Role Play and Art Education

Early examples of role play in art education occurred with Picture Study in the 1870s and 1880s. "Picture-posing" was an activity in which children mirrored the pose of subjects in a painting (Hurll, 1914). Though it lacked the dialogue of a role-- play drama, this activity surely made learning more active and memorable. …