New ways of being

19th November 2004 at 00:00
Patrice Baldwin explains how powerful issues can be explored by developing the creativity of circle time

Circle time has spread through primary classrooms, but most teachers may not realise that it has its roots in the work of Jacob Moreno, founder of sociodrama and psychodrama. Many teachers are unwittingly creating the perfect seedbed for extending and developing their circle time into whole-class drama.

Jenny Mosely, author of Quality Circle Time in the Primary Classroom, acknowledges the power of drama for personal and social change: "Its unique potential to encourage spontaneity, creativity, imagination, non-verbal communication, fun and reflection can help participants understand their current situations and liberate them sufficiently to perceive new possibilities and then develop the personal power needed to bring about the changes they wish to make."

Whole-class drama involves all pupils, and often the teacher, working in role. This enables children to be publicly protected while remaining engaged and reflective. It involves building and sustaining a shared fiction. In whole-class drama, as in circle time: * each child's contributions are listened to or watched, valued and respected;

* each child has the opportunity to contribute and offer opinions safely;

* there are no "put-downs";

* there is opportunity, rather than compulsion to contribute;

* the decision not to contribute elicits no negative response;

* participants are given equal status;

* the teacher is a facilitator, group member, participant or mediator, rather than a leader and giver of knowledge;

* positive behaviour, such as listening, is encouraged and reinforced;

* together with the teacher, the pupils have joint ownership of the content;

* objects are given symbolic significance;

* ritual is established and actively used to give significance, equal opportunity, respect and security.

The first step towards drama might be to make traditional circle time more physically active, using the space in and around it more imaginatively and using drama strategies to structure and focus the work. Or the teacher could sometimes move into whole-class drama, returning to class circles for parts of the lesson. As well as the rules of circle time, pupils agree not to do anything that deliberately breaks belief in the drama.

Most drama strategies can be adapted for use in seated or standing circles; the space in the centre is a natural stage. The space outside it can be used for group work, and those in the circle may at times face outwards instead of inwards.

How might circle time in drama or drama in circle time look in practice? Let's consider how bullying might be tackled. Drama techniques, including those used by cultural activist Augusto Boal in his book Theatre of the Oppressed, and in Forum Theatre, can be used or adapted for issue-based sociodramas.

The following lesson was successful in a Norfolk middle school with Year 6 and 7 pupils. The aim was to open up the issue safely, encourage empathy and empower pupils to consider steps towards effecting change. They agreed that bullying takes various forms, and that it's deliberate, conscious and hostile behaviour that's carried out repeatedly with the knowledge that it's harmful.

A volunteer entered the circle and was asked to present a still, silent image of "powerful". Another volunteer was asked to portray themselves as "more powerful". Then several pupils were challenged to appear the most powerful in the group without using bodily contact. The images were viewed from different angles and the pupils soon realised that body language, such as eye contact and stance, is important and that power can be shifted in this way.

The centre of the circle was cleared and a volunteer was asked to strike a "bully" pose. The teacher entered next as "victim". She then invited a couple of pupils to take up still positions that indicated their support for the victim. They were asked to find a non-confrontational way of doing this that didn't signal aggression towards the bully. The group discussed how they achieved this or failed to do so.

The pupils then got into groups of four to create scenes to show the early stages of bullying, with each group allocated a different type. The teacher made it clear that she didn't want enactments of real-life incidents and that real names shouldn't be used. She reminded pupils that drama is informed by real-life experiences, but the characters and situations are make-believe.

Group members then numbered themselves from one to four and were not allowed to change numbers when the teacher announced that child four would portray the bully, three the bully supporter, two the victim and one the victim supporter. Generally, and not surprisingly, the most dominant pupils in the group had made themselves numbers one and two and yet, unexpectedly, ended up as the victim and victim supporter. The groups were asked to create a scene showing the early stages of bullying. It couldn't last longer than a minute and had to have speech, but no physical contact. When the scene was presented, it had to start and finish with a still image and be given a title. The scenes could be planned or improvised, and then refined. The pupils only had five minutes, so they had to move quickly into scene-making from discussion.

Once the scenes and the images were finished, the teacher used drama strategies and structures to explore what was happening. She wanted to give pupils insight into the motives and group dynamics of bullying and their power to work together to change outcomes positively, first through drama and then maybe in real life.

The group scenes were first presented as a "performance carousel" - a cyclical performance of scenes that were staged around the circle without interruption. Then the pupils sat down and each scene was separately staged in the round. The audience wasn't allowed to interrupt the first central performance, but there was later opportunity for them to interact with the actors, with the purpose of defusing the bullying.

The teacher became almost a master of ceremonies. Members of the audience could call "freeze" during a scene in order to challenge characters about their actions and utterances, and offer alternative responses for a peaceful outcome. They were effectively directing and re-directing the characters with instructions such as: "What happens if you move closer to your friend and both look the bully in the eye and just smile?"

The teacher helped pupils elicit the inner thoughts of bully, bully supporter, victim and victim supporter through thought-tracking and revealed mismatches between what characters were thinking and doing, eg: "I don't really want to pick on this boy, but I'm afraid that if I don't support the bully I'll become the victim."

Slowly perceptions about the scene changed and chinks of light appeared.

The teacher increased victim support by enabling volunteers to stand by characters and add to their thoughts, becoming a collective voice. This allowed the audience to give strength to characters in need. They could also offer themselves as character substitutes, so the actor could watch the scene.

The pupils and teacher were acutely aware that children they knew to be real bullies were seen in the drama to be empathising with and supporting victims. What's more, they felt class approval for what they were doing.

Patrice Baldwin is chair of National Drama and an adviser for the promotion of the arts in schools for Norfolk LEA


* Theatre of the Oppressed

By Augusto Boal

Pluto Press pound;14.99

* Games for Actors and Non-Actors

By Augusto Boal

Routledge pound;18.99

* With Drama in Mind: Real Learning in Imagined Worlds

By Patrice Baldwin

Network Educational Press pound;24.95

* Arts Education in Secondary Schools: Effects and Effectiveness

By John Harlandet al

National Foundation for Educational Research pound;24

* Quality Circle Time in the Primary Classroom

By Jenny Mosley

LDA pound;19.99

* National Drama:

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