Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Using Drama to Enhance Literacy: The School Drama Initiative

Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Using Drama to Enhance Literacy: The School Drama Initiative

Article excerpt

Setting the Scene

Decades of research show strong and consistent links between high-quality arts education and a wide range of impressive educational outcomes. This is true even though, as in most areas where learning is complex, the research base does not yet establish causal proof. Arts integration models ... have been yielding some particularly promising results in school reform and closing the achievement gap. Most recently, cutting-edge studies in neuroscience have been further developing our understanding of how arts strategies support crucial brain development in learning.

(President's Committee on the Arts & Humanities, 2011, vi)

Despite growing international research evidence that quality arts experiences enhance students' learning outcomes in all Key Learning Areas (e.g., Ewing, 2010; Catterall, 2009; Bamford, 2006: Deasy, 2002; Fiske, 1999) the Arts often remain on the fringes of the formal curriculum in New South Wales schools. The second phase of the Australian curriculum includes the Arts and mandates at least two hours a week for all students in years K-10 (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2010). Nevertheless many primary and middle school teachers do not feel confident in their knowledge of and expertise to embed the Arts in what is often regarded as an already overcrowded curriculum. In addition, the Arts disciplines have been poorly resourced in schools.

More specifically, strong research evidence over more than four decades has demonstrated the effectiveness of process drama as critical, quality pedagogy especially in improving English and literacy outcomes (e.g., Ewing, 2009; Ewing and Simons, 2004; Miller and Saxton, 2004; Baldwin and Fleming, 2003; O'Toole and Dunn, 2002). An increasing regulatory, high stakes national testing regime in Australia, however, has the potential to encourage teachers to narrow their curriculum by teaching to these tests and to feel they must concentrate on transmissive approaches to the teaching of literacy and numeracy. As a result, drama is often undervalued and underused, both as a discipline in its own right and as pedagogy across the curriculum.

This paper reports the findings of the first two years of School Drama (SD), a program developed in 2009 through a partnership with the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) and the Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney in response to the above concerns. SD focuses specifically on developing primary teachers' professional knowledge of and expertise in the use of process drama with literature to enhance children's English and literacy outcomes. Actors work in a co-mentoring relationship alongside classroom teachers once a week for up to seven weeks in either term two or three of the school year. They model the use of drama strategies with authentic literary texts to address a particular literacy or English outcome that the class teacher has identified. The intention is that the teachers' will continue to use their new-found expertise in drama and that the creative and literacy skills of their students will be enhanced.

The School Drama program

In 2009 the SD pilot study involved 11 classroom teachers in 9 classes in five inner city Sydney schools, approximately 250 primary students across stages 1-3 and 2 professional actors. In 2010 the success of the initial pilot program led to its extension with 26 teachers participating in 15 diverse Sydney school contexts across all three school sectors. More than 600 primary students from Early Stage 1 to Stage 3 and one intensive English class (1-18-year-olds) were included. Four of the schools had also been part of the initial pilot in 2009. The 2010 iteration also involved 4 professional actors, two of whom participated in the 2009 pilot program. In 2011 eighteen schools and 6 actors are currently engaging in the SD program.

The initiative is dependent on the co-mentoring partnership that develops between an educator and an actor working through drama towards student academic achievement in this instance, English and literacy outcomes. …

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