Magazine article NATE Classroom

Drama at the Heart of a Whole-School Transition

Magazine article NATE Classroom

Drama at the Heart of a Whole-School Transition

Article excerpt

G 'Virginia, What on earth are you doing looking inside that box?'

V 'Father, I ... I ...'

G 'This behaviour is not allowed in my study!'

V 'But father you always keep that box shut, you never tell me what's inside it. It's not fair.'

G '... and I keep it shut for a reason, there are things in there you would not understand.'

V 'But father I want to understand about the things in your study.'

G 'You are not old enough yet.'

V 'But you promised you'd tell me, and I'm old enough now to learn.

When am I ever going to learn if you won't admit the truth?'

The tense exchange between a 'child' and her 'father' is being enacted by a year six class, as part of a Transition programme, based on a book by Catherine Brighton called Galileo's Treasure Box. The pupils are using the 'Communal Voice' drama convention where several participants gather behind and speak the words of one character while others gather behind and speak the words of another. The pupils in this case come one at a time and voice the argument as the parent's role is challenged by the questions of his daughter.

Two pupils, sculpted earlier by the class, stand in a space defined as 'Galileo's Study'. The class has carefully set up, on a table and surrounding floor, items that might be found in Galileo's study. Behind the table on a large screen is a projected picture from the text which they are using as a guide. Each item, including a telescope, flasks, quill pens, globe and scientific books, is deliberately and carefully placed. One pupil has her hands on the lid of a wooden casket, the other is behind her pointing towards the box. They don't move but many members of the class step up and take their positions behind the frozen characters to voice the conversation, transforming it from a typical reprimand by an adult into a moral inquisition by the child. The class teacher has taught this 'Communal Voice' structure. She controls it at first by asking the pupils who they think would speak first. They respond and soon begin to build up a complex oral script for the two characters. The teacher uses her own voice to add narration and words spoken by one of the characters but as the conversation unfolds, she lets the children take ownership and steps back to let them control the dialogue, the tension, the silences and the language developed.

The work described here is not part of a one-off drama lesson but is work specially selected to mark the beginning of a cross-curricular transition unit.

The unit, now published as a fully resourced NATE Drama Pack, responds to teachers' concerns that transition should be more than the creation of subject links between the schools and key stages. The decision to develop the work through a cross-curricular approach and move away from specific English, Science and Maths units means that the focus is on the learning needs and skills of pupils at this particular time, enabling them to move from Year 6 to Year 7 through developing their understanding of their own learning and thinking skills within the context of the whole-school curriculum.

Year 6 teachers were keen to spend the time after Key Stage 2 tests on a focussed unit of work that that would stimulate the pupils so that they would invest in the work and see it as the first step in developing their learning at Key Stage 3. The initial stimulus, therefore, had to be chosen carefully to enable cross-curricular work but, more importantly, it had to engage the pupils and focus the learning on particular analytical skills that would create progress at the end of Year 6 and beginning of Year 7.

The Galileo workshop, as described in the Drama Pack, is a Drama led, practical unit which develops language and critical thinking but it is also the starting point for various units of work in different subject areas. When developed as a whole school programme, all subjects were encouraged to be involved. …

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