BEGINNING DRAMA 11-14. By Jonothan Neelands. David Fulton pound;13.
It is depressing that Joe Winston and Miles Tandy believe there is confusion in the English primary school over "what drama is actually supposed to be about". Their book will go some way to improve this situation, although it wisely recognises that primary teachers have a host of other responsibilities.
Among the contents are effective sections on properly integrated drama games, linking drama to other subjects, making an ensemble performance to satisfy school play needs, and making drama from published stories and from scratch. There are useful guidelines on progression and assessment, and planning learning objectives. Intriguingly, the sample stories are firmly located in the realms of myth and legend. Is this a condition of working with this age group?
In spite of the professed simplicity of the guidance, I am reminded how subtle, dynamic and different are many of the operations of teachers of drama compared with normal class teaching. Within their pre-arranged structure, drama teachers shift and change the work through their constant reading of the dynamics of drama and students. In this regard it is difficult to develop a set of guidelines for inexperienced teachers.
This is reflected in how teaching procedures can often only be referred to contextually and tangentially, but the book is good at this, showing how, for example, teachers build organisation and control seamlessly into their drama practice.
Conversely, Jonothan Neelands is unapologetic about the detail and complexity of his text, stating that specialist drama teachers need to know their stuff. His clear and helpful objectives for a key stage 3 curriculum show how far thinking in this area has moved since David Hornbrook's then controversial, late 1980s statements on the need for students to learn the vocabulary of theatre and to work on published texts.
Neelands discusses how drama can work effectively in such areas as dramatic literature, language development and writing, and clarifies aspects of the roles, skills and knowledge of the drama teacher in ways that may help secondary drama specialists to become more effective teachers. There is a rather slim resources section.
The books' covers are marred by inappropriate, cliched "clip art" icons but, given the lack of national curriculum orders in drama, these texts form welcome additions to the growing body of professional drama literature.
* John Somers is a senior lecturer at the University of Exeter