Lifting the lid on drama
Drama Improvised: a source book for teachers and therapists. By Kenneth Pickering. J Garnet Miller Pounds 5.
David Hornbrook reviews two books that take differing approaches to drama teaching.
Neil Kitson and Ian Spiby's faith in the educative power of their subject is impressive. Drama 7-11 goes through the routines that have come to be associated with classroom drama with unwavering conviction. As the authors steer the reader authoritatively from one set of classroom strategies to another you can almost hear them saying: "Don't worry. You can trust us. We're drama specialists."
But although the book is well-written and comprehensive, it expects readers to possess the same high level of commitment as the authors. It claims to be for those who feel they are not "drama people", but the accounts of "up-to-date" drama practice suggest most primary non-specialists would quickly be classified as "working towards" the authors' expectations. Year 4 teachers preparing their charges for a turn in front of junior assembly will find little help here.
Unlike their earlier Primary Drama Handbook, which overflowed with practical good sense, in this book Kitson and Spiby allow themselves to indulge in the esoteric arguments of their field, exhibiting a clannishness that will be of little interest to teachers hoping to inject a bit of drama into their already over-crowded schemes of work. Chapter headings such as, "Aspects of Theatre in Drama Teaching" assume knowledge and acceptance of distinctions mystifying to most target readers.
As the authors admit, Drama 7-11, with its emphasis on the exploration of themes and issues, is really a book about "active English". The national curriculum programme of study for speaking and listening at key stage 2 (included as an appendix) frames the book's real content and purpose and explains the otherwise puzzling absence of any consideration of progression or attainment. This is probably a book for primary language co-ordinators willing to bear the didactic style for the sake of some techniques to help them with their literacy targets.
Drama Improvised has no pretensions. Its 88 pages are stuffed with ideas. Kenneth Pickering is definitely of the drama-for-personal-and-social-growth school, and thus not at all "up-to-date". On a wet Friday the non-specialist might be more reassured to know Drama Improvised was on the shelf than Drama 7-11.
Drawing his inspiration from those days when the words imagination and creativity had some resonance among educational policy makers, Pickering is untroubled by minor irritants such as the national curriculum. He just catalogues many drama activities for children of all ages - imagining they land in a balloon in a strange country, learning stage fights, trying a religious ceremony at Stonehenge, or making a "still picture" of the Albert Memorial. The list is endless.
For teachers content to use drama to help pupils "overcome shyness", "explore tolerance" or "feel at ease with moving the body", and looking for lively time-fillers, this book fits the bill.
David Hornbrook is arts inspector for the London Borough of Camden and an associate fellow of the Central School of Speech and Drama, London