An approach that puts dramatic conventions at the heart of English teaching is being promoted by the key stage 3 Strategy. At its heart is a series of packs produced by the National Association for the Teaching of English for KS3 and 4. The packs have been distributed free of charge to every secondary school and authors Ruth Moore and Paul Bunyan have been commissioned to train Strategy consultants in the approach.
"Drama used to be seen as purely theatre and it was thought of in terms of training people to be on stage - theatre skills," says Ruth Moore.
"But there doesn't have to be a performance at the end of it. Drama encourages children to be much more involved in the learning process.
"Critical thinking is at the heart of the packs. The aim is to use drama to help students improve their analytical skills and ability to transfer these to other texts, ideas or issues." Dramatic approaches are also the most effective way to tackle other speaking and listening objectives, and a range of reading and writing objectives.
Designed for use across English, drama and media, the packs include units based on Macbeth, the novel Holes, the filmbook Rabbit Proof Fence, the novel Starseeker, and poems from the AQA Anthology. Each contains extracts, high-quality visuals, a planning diagram and a guide to activities and approaches. "We were very keen on giving teachers everything they needed,"
says Ruth Moore.
The latest pack tackles the play His Dark Materials adapted from the Philip Pullman trilogy by Nicholas Wright. After reading an extract, four students are asked to "sculpt" characters in a scene from the play. They create a frozen tableau. Other students are then encouraged to adjust the positions until the final sculpture is agreed, and the extract is read again. The teacher stands between two of the characters and asks the other students to describe the space between them - is it unhappiness, ignorance, anger? Then, using a diagram of the alethiometer (pictured below), a device which appears in the play, they identify a word that explains what motivates a specific character.
Drama conventions were built up as part of a very structured approach, says Ruth Moore. Other conventions include: the guided tour (children are shown a view of, say, "Macbeth's castle" and, working in pairs, one child takes the other on an imaginary tour); hot seating; conscience alley (a group divides into two lines facing each other and a student or teacher walks between as individuals speak out what is in the character's conscience); and the communal voice - students stand by the sculpted figures and speak for them.
Louise Evans, secondary consultant for English for Dudley LEA, has trained teachers in using the packs and has used them herself. "It is having a real impact on disengaged pupils," she says. "Teachers are amazed at the extent to which all students want to be involved. Often children are scared to make comments on a text but these activities aren't seen as threatening and draw them out."
English teacher Claire Wiseman, at Castle High School in Dudley, has used the Rabbit Proof Fence unit to explore authorial technique at KS4.
"Initially, I was anxious about using drama. I saw it as a separate thing and I was worried about behaviour and what I'd achieve. But the short tasks were very easy for the children to involve themselves in and they got used to using the techniques which build on each other. It was very noticeable that it helped with their ability to analyse how the writer works, and also with their writing. It's made me more confident about using drama within English."
* For information on the packs and related workshops contact NATE Tel: 0114 2555419 Email: email@example.com