Magazine article NATE Classroom

Drama and Group Work in KS3 English: Teaching Dracula in the Twilight Age (Or: Fangs for Nothing Stephenie Meyer!)

Magazine article NATE Classroom

Drama and Group Work in KS3 English: Teaching Dracula in the Twilight Age (Or: Fangs for Nothing Stephenie Meyer!)

Article excerpt

As an English teacher, I have fond memories of directing a chaotic and distinctly anarchic Year 8 bottom set production of A Midsummer Night's Dream using a script based on the BBC Animated Tales abridged version that I'd transcribed myself. The thing is, those pupils remember it too--to this very day in fact.

Why do they remember it? And why do they insist on reminding me of it every time I happen upon them in the supermarket, or whilst walking my dog in the park? (And that includes the teaching assistant colleague who supported that class in those days!) 'Because we did it as a group, miss,' and 'We were all involved, Miss,' and 'There was no sitting around, miss, we were on our feet the whole time!' I was even so bold as to ask one what he'd actually learned from the 'Dream' experience in Year 8 and was surprised by a reply that cited knowing why events in the play went in a certain order, how to make a scene have a certain atmosphere through their acting and, most importantly, how to work successfully in a group.

These perceptions resonated again very recently, as I sat down to plan the beginning of a sequence of lessons around a play script version of Dracula with an English teacher from one of the schools I support as their English consultant.

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Her enterprising Head of Department had said beforehand that she wanted this colleague to have 'some fun' with this script, that she wanted the Year 8 class involved to 'get up and about and do some acting'--even though she felt there was little curriculum time available for this in reality. We agreed the assessment evidence generated could be entirely based in Speaking and Listening and that it was quite feasible to 'have fun' and ensure these Year 8 pupils made discernible progress at the same time.

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So what to do with drama and Dracula? Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, while being the Daddy of all vampire texts in many ways, is nonetheless quite a tricky text even for a top set Year 8 pupil. It's told mostly in flashback, from various narrators' points of view and uses those popular nineteenth century narrative devices--the letter, the diary and the journal. It's really not Twilight--and this is what this generation of Year 8s know when it comes to vampires. (They are not even the ass-kicking Buffy generation--that's me!) What they expect is an intense first person narrative, events that occur in an action-packed mostly linear timeline and a vampire hero that embodies noble morals (despite his weakness for bloodlust) a poised glamour, is utterly devoted to our first-person heroine and is, of course, somewhat unobtainable and aloof. (Mr Rochester anyone? Heathcliff? But I digress...)

We used David Calcutt's excellent play script version of Dracula, published by Oxford University Press as part of their 'Oxford Classic Playscripts' series. In this, Jonathan Harker, Mina, Van Helsing and a Reporter all turn narrator in places, delivering opportune soliloquies to summarise and keep the plot moving along. The script is then able concentrate on playing out the juicy bits between various characters, e.g. Harker's visit to Transylvania and Dracula, when Lucy is first claimed by Dracula, Renfield's descent into madness and the confrontation between Dracula, Mina and Renfield at the end.

We couldn't resist slipping in a little of the original novel to begin with--Stoker's initial description of the Count--and asking the Year 8 to work in pairs and infer everything they could about this mysterious character. They took to this with gusto and some pairs guessed that this character was, in fact, a vampire--a fact we chose to omit. In groups of three or four, they next were asked to think about everything they already knew about vampires and explain where these ideas had come from to the whole class.

This was an important moment for this class and their teacher. …

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