23rd February 2001 at 00:00
PROGRESSION IN SECONDARY DRAMA. By Andy Kempe and Marigold Ashwell. Heinemann pound;17.50. STRUCTURING DRAMA WORK. By Jonothan Neelands and Tony Goode. Cambridge University Press pound;13.95.

We are all accustomed to drama teaching guidebooks that offer a plethora of lively games and exercises to keep a group of students going for several terms. Where Progression in Secondary Drama differs is in its insistence on practicality and clear focus on what pupils are actually learning.

The authors acknowledge what is both a challenge and an opportunity in drama teaching: there is no prescribed, defined curriculum, giving teachers freedom from imposed programmes. This means that teachers themselves must devise schemes of work which offer both breadth and balance. With the help of extracts from the national curriculum Orders, the National Literacy Strategy and Office for Standards in Eduction publications, Andy Kempe and Marigold Ashwell seek to give teachers a guide to devising programmes of work and methods of charting students' progress.

They succeed in this admirably, giving advice on departmental policy statements and suggesting a number of ways of monitoring and recording progress in the central skills of creating, performing and responding.

There are good ideas in the practical section, and each is accompanied by a clear rationale of its educational applicability. The sample schemes are stimulating and clearly written, covering such issues as stereotyping, genre, vocal work, devising and work on text.

Each unit is accompanied by a planning sheet which would delight any HMI. More importantly, the book should delight drama teachers with its clarity and insistence on serious educational purpose in drama. Every head of department should have it on their shelves.

Structuring Drama Work first appeared 10 years ago, and many teachers will welcome this second edition, whether they have the original or not. It is arranged in four clear sections, grouping the central cnventions of drama work in education: context-building, narrative, poetic and reflective action.

Within these sections the organisation is similarly clear, first describing the convention, then making cultural connections whereby the pupils might recognise links with familiar aspects of their own culture, and ending with an indication of the types of learning opportunities offered before specific examples are described.

The range of references to other contexts is very broad, firmly rooting the dramatic conventions within the real recognisable world, from the media to pupils' personal lives. This has the effect that none of the conventions appears purely dramatic, in no way precious or limited in application. Tableaux are connected with book illustrations, video freeze frame and statuary, for example, montage with cartoons and pop videos.

There is an emphasis throughout on serious exploration, directing the drama away from stereotypes, provoking thought through props, situations and challenging roles.

The examples are given not as blueprints or lesson plans, but as indications of the ways in which the techniques may be used, and provide a stimulus to the teacher's own thought and application of the idea. They show a free use of a number of dramatic techniques, such as narrative, dialogue, hot seating, mime and tableaux as well as exercises in writing.

They also demonstrate frequent connections with other disciplines, including English, history, geography and PSHE with a range of stimuli garnered not only from playscripts, but from literature, historical sources, ecological and social concerns.

This is an excellent book for drama teachers, but more than that, it is an excellent book for any teacher of any subject who uses drama as part of their teaching method. With the quality of the organisation and given examples, it should encourage more teachers to do so.

Noel Cassidy teaches English and drama at St Albans School, Hertfordshire

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