Staff Development

5th May 1995 at 01:00
APPROACHES TO DRAMA. Video and booklet on drama teaching at key stage 4. Free to all post-primary schools in the Province. Pounds 15 to others. Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment, 42 Beechill Road, Belfast BT8 4RS.

Tel: 01232 704666

Drama might not be the easiest subject to teach, but the staff and pupils featured in this video certainly make it seem so. The children - from three schools in Northern Ireland - are amiable, courteous, enthusiastic, bright and even willing to settle for supporting roles while their teachers grab the limelight. This is because the video concentrates not so much on what children can achieve in drama lessons, but on how the experienced teacher can create the circumstances that enable them to do so.

It offers excellent practical advice not only for students and probationers, but also for old hands who feel they ought to try some drama but haven't quite plucked up the courage to let loose the dogs of improvisation.

They will be encouraged by the example offered by Arthur Webb, an English teacher in Rathmore Grammar School who uses the strategies of the drama studio to complement a more formal study of Macbeth. His Year 11 pupils put down their texts and explore the characters' motivation for themselves. The hapless Macbeths, for instance, are "hot seated" (made to face a barrage of hostile questioning) and forced to walk down "conscience alley" where a line of pupils subject them to some instant psychoanalysis. The pupils go on to stage a scene from the play, complete with cardboard crown and costumes. But it isn't the performance that matters so much as the process that has got pupils thinking and talking about the themes.

Discussion, evaluation and appraisal also characterise Hazel Ramage's lesson at Ballymoney High School. The theme of family conflict could easily become a series of sterile slanging matches but, in fact, the work is structured in such a way that the teenagers are able to explore the web of emotions that inspire even the most trite rows over untidy bedrooms and bad school reports.

At St Louise's Comprehensive School, Ita McVeigh's mime and movement lessons illustrate the importance of "progression". At the start the girls are asked to do nothing more challenging than create the simplest "waxworks" poses. But by the end, these have become the building bricks in an ambitious dance drama choreographing "The Law of Nature".

Perhaps these teachers make drama look a tad too easy, but in so doing they also show how important it is that pupils have as many opportunities as possible to benefit from lessons like these.

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