What is life without drama?

11th June 2010 at 01:00

For five years, I taught in a classroom which was opposite the school's drama studio. I dismissed drama as a subject which provided pupils with a bit of fun and exercise between the more serious and relevant "academic" subjects. But, with the benefit of first-hand observations, I became more aware of the valuable contribution drama makes to pupils' development. Now, I would go so far as to state that drama classes offer some of the finest learning experiences in our schools.

They not only provide opportunities for pupils to express their ideas and feelings freely but encourage pupils to think, and act, differently. Role- plays, improvisations and mini-stage productions enable them to use and develop their imagination and initiative and apply creative and critical thinking skills.

At the same time, drama develops key literacy skills, including active listening and talking. Pupils also have opportunities to acquire useful ideas and skills for storytelling and character analysis.

It connects well with every other subject on pupils' timetables and is able to tackle any big issues of the day. Multi-disciplinary learning is facilitated through innovative activities such as the "living newspaper", which involves pupils working in small groups to select and act out news stories.

Drama is at its very best, in my opinion, when it tackles important social and moral issues and helps pupils learn how to deal with difficult situations. I remember reading, in The TESS, about a group of S1 pupils from Glasgow who wrote, directed and acted in an anti-bullying play which was performed for pupils in their school's associated primaries. "Pure, dead brilliant" was the agreed critique of the young audiences. And did bullying decline in these schools? Of course it did.

It is easy to argue that drama is the epitome of active learning and, indeed, of Curriculum for Excellence. It is the subject in which the sage, funnily enough, has left the stage and pupils accept more responsibility for their learning.

What impressed me most about the activities of the drama department opposite my classroom was the number of pupils, strugglers and failures at word- and number-based subjects, who were quite rightly pleased and proud of their contributions in drama. Few subjects offer the same opportunities for promoting self-confidence, self-worth and self-belief.

Drama is a great leveller in which most activities don't generate right or wrong answers, just choices. Pupils of all abilities are comfortable, yet stretched. Those who do not learn well from formal classroom experiences may excel in these classes.

This takes us into the compelling realm of multiple intelligences and the importance of not judging pupils solely in terms of test scores and exam results. Drama helps to adjust the balance in those schools which concentrate on academic performance and neglect the subjects which produce our actors, artists and athletes. And if financial considerations are deemed too important to ignore, then we can look at the billions of pounds the expressive and creative industries contribute to the UK economy each year.

Yet in spite of all this, fewer schools are offering lessons in drama. It has become one of the marginal subjects which some headteachers are choosing to remove from pupils' timetables to make way for new subjects and additional lessons on literacy and numeracy. Some authorities have ceased to employ drama specialists.

Drama and the other expressive arts are vital to any school committed to providing an all-round education for its pupils. Who is able to argue that a creative and stimulating curriculum can be achieved without some drama?

John Greenlees is a secondary teacher.

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