Theory into Practice: Using Drama to Enhance Literacy Development

Article excerpt

This article explains the relationship between theory and practice through an examination of drama activities written for a literature-based reading program. The unit of work demonstrates how drama can enhance children's understanding of dramatic art and at the same time develop skills in the reading and writing of narrative texts.

Introduction

At a time when some politicians and senior educational policy makers are suggesting that the Arts are a `soft' option it is more important than ever for teachers to articulate the educational reason for the Arts remaining in teaching programs.

The purpose of this article is to examine the relationship between the theory and practice of educational drama in order to clarify its status as a rigorous learning medium in cross-curricular programs -- in this case English, and in particular literary and literacy development (Parsons et al., 1984; Taylor, 1994; Wagner, 1995). An action research project is reported that analyses a drama program in practice. The aim of the drama program is to enhance children's understanding of literary texts and in so doing to give them practice in literacy skills such as skimming and scanning for information (reading) and the writing of narrative texts while at the same time developing skills in the art form of drama. The unit was trialled with early childhood/primary children and their class teachers and with trainee teachers at a university. The action research had three purposes:

* to trial the unit with children in order to verify its suitability as a teaching/ learning experience for enhancing both drama and English skills;

* to help teachers develop their professional skills by observing and participating in actual classroom applications of drama strategies;

* to use the data for discussion with trainee teachers as part of their theoretical studies.

The first-year trainee teachers at the University of Western Sydney, Macarthur were enrolled in a 13-week second semester subject entitled English and the Creative Arts. In this subject students examine some of the theoretical underpinnings of both English and Creative Arts pedagogy separately, and then explore the practical implications within an integrated learning framework. As trainee teachers (quite rightly) frequently question whether activities designed for university workshops `really work' with children, the data collected from the schools were then analysed.

The data came from trials with several early childhood and primary classes in contrasting socio-economic areas of Sydney. The year groups included two Year 2 classes (seven- and eight-year-olds), one Year 3 class (eight- and nine-year-olds) and one Year 5/6 class (eleven- and twelve-year-olds).

This article reports on the project at one of these schools. It was a large, outer western Sydney school in a low socio-economic area and had approximately four classes per grade. The year groups taught were one Year 2 class, one Year 3 class and one Year 5/6 IM (mildly intellectually impaired) class. All teachers were released from classes and observed me as I taught the program with children in one of these classes. The teachers and I then met for four one-hour meetings after school. In these meetings the nexus between the theory that supports the practice of this drama program was analysed through the process of `reflection on action' (Orton, 1994: p. 93).

When trialling the program with children, the method of data collection included children's work samples, anecdotal notes and informal discussion of critical moments recorded at the time and later written up in the researcher's reflective journal. When trialling the program with class teachers, informal talk that occurred during the meetings was also recorded in the researcher's reflective journal and all teachers completed a questionnaire which asked them to rate both the method of professional development and the value of the drama program as a cross-curricular learning medium. …

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