SAIIER 2019:Development through Drama

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SAIIER 2018-19
Development through Drama
Teacher Training Course


by Tracy Evans, visiting professional


This project was a Drama course for teachers exploring approaches to developing the whole human being using Drama in the classroom. The course ran from January 5th to 19th, 2019. Workshops took place at the Conference Centre in SAIIER.

Approximately 60 teachers expressed an initial interest in the course and 41 of them took up a place. The course was delivered in 7 x 3hr workshops, and 3 x 2hr seminars. This was supported by meetings with individual teachers and class visits, which are detailed in this report.

“Development through Drama” is a book written by Brian Way, a British theatre director and educationist who pioneered the use of Drama in the classroom to develop the whole child. The course was devised based on my training and experience as a Drama teacher over the past 20 years.


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Workshops

The 7 core workshops were each based on an aspect of the human being as set out by Brian Way:

1) Concentration – we explored a range of exercises that can be used to help develop concentration so that pupils may be able to engage more fully in activities. We used stories as the basis for creating opportunities for structured participation. Stories are vital for, and a good first step towards drama as they are deeply concerned with imagination.

2) The Senses – in Drama we are using the senses to stimulate imagination and to enrich our own personal lives (live more fully) and to develop sensitivity to others’ private experiences. Many of the initial exercises are similar to Awareness Through the Body (ATB) exercises, but generally they are further developed to link the imagination to the senses, for example imagining a story behind the sound we hear or object we see.

3) Imagination – “Every human being is born with an imagination.” Although it is often ascribed to those who use it to make art, and therefore people are labelled as more or less imaginative, in fact “Imagination is closely interwoven with the fabric of life as a whole: home and environment; clothes and cooking; activity and relaxation; the capacity for full enjoyment of all kinds and, possibly most important of all, every aspect of personal friendship and sensitivity to others.” (Brian Way) We started the session with the participants ‘brainstorming’ what imagination meant to them. Groups could respond imaginatively and while some chose to write lists others drew and doodled to find their responses. We continued to explore how sensory experiences can be a stimulus for imagination before moving on to whole class drama (Teacher in Role). In this technique the teacher presents the opportunities for learning through the drama/story in which they are also playing a role. It is a fun and engaging way of working with a class.

4) Physical Body – As teachers, we are working towards developing consciousness of self and not self-consciousness, so we are reminded to work in response to the abilities and interests of the children we are working with. We explored a variety of exercises that use the body to stimulate imagination and the imagination to stimulate movement. This was a breakthrough session in which many individuals stepped over personal barriers. This was tangible in the high spirits and laughter in the group.

5) Emotions – “By being themselves in other circumstances, by being other people in either familiar or new circumstances, children and young people develop, first at the intuitive and unconscious level and then at a full conscious level, a sympathy and understanding and compassion for others which is rooted in the emotional, physical and spiritual self as well as in mere intellectual knowledge; this is the ultimate raison d’etre of drama as training for life.” (Brian Way)
         Drama allows us to legally explore illegal behaviour, as well as types of characters we might find it easy to dismiss as being dissimilar to ourselves. Characterisation is therefore a key aspect in exploring emotions in Drama. Early characterisation, and in younger years will be largely of ‘types’ with little or no detail characteristics and will often be from the world of fantasy. As children grow older and more confident in using drama they will engage more with real-life scenarios with a deepening capacity for playing different emotions.

6) Speech – When we explore speech we are: (a) developing personal confidence to speak at all, and (b) putting one’s own thoughts, ideas and feelings into one’s own words in a wholly uncritical atmosphere.
         Until this point we had very little speech in the stories we had created that could be described as performative. Once we started to focus on it in this session participants were more confident themselves to dive in.

7) Intellect – Drama fosters and requires a range of mental activities including: Attention and concentration; Imagination; Organising & ordering one’s thoughts and ideas; Analysing characters and scenes; Reflecting, evaluating and changing scenes (rehearsing); Recording, recalling using memory; Choosing ideas and rejecting others; Synthesis; Problem-solving; Decision-making; Evaluating.
         This full range can be practised when we engage in the full cycle of play-making from exercises to develop concentration, the imagination and sensory awareness and then moving onto movement-based and spoken improvisations (individually, in pairs and then in groups).

During these sessions we began to draw correlations with Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s 5 planes of being. Although there was a primary focus on the ways that Drama might help to guide and develop the Vital aspects of a person, in fact we also discovered that it is a very effective tool to develop the Mental faculties at the same time.


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Seminars

These were organised in a more informal way with the agenda being set by participants. It was a way to bring any questions or reflections to discuss, as well as being an invaluable space for practising some of the techniques.

Some of the items we discussed and explored through activities:

  • What does it mean to FAIL? Examples of our perception of failing as teachers when the class do not take on our ideas. Sometimes, with courage, we can let go of the/our plan and follow the children.
  • Finding a balance between giving freedom alongside boundaries so pupils feel safe.
  • Focus not on the teaching, but on what is being learned – this allows us to move away from the teacher-led model towards a more self-managed classroom.
  • How do we find ways to help the pupils to become hungry to learn, and move away from a model where we are feeding them all the time… how do we teach them to reach out to be fed, and eventually to be able to feed themselves.
  • How do we work with the fact that many children, especially boys want to fight all the time?
  • There is a difference between drama as process and drama for the end of term show – different pressures on the teacher and class. But there are benefits to both approaches for the development of confidence for the pupils.
  • Theatre in education – creating short scenes/plays in order to teach a class about a certain topic or issue, e.g. bullying. The ‘play’ is followed by discussion with the class/audience who are able to explore the ‘concept’ of bullying in a more concrete way linked to the characters and plot in the play.
  • How do we use drama to support pupils to be more able to communicate their emotions?
  • How can we match the stories to the right developmental ages of the pupils?
  • What are the benefits of using Direct vs. Indirect speech in storytelling?


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Many teachers wanted to find more creative ways to address fighting between children so we looked at Brian Way’s chapter on “Fighting & Violence in Drama”.

We began the session exploring what are the challenges we face as teachers regarding children fighting and violence in schools. Some general concerns/observations were:

  • Children (especially younger ones) are testing each other / each other’s powers.
  • Older pupils have more articulated fights – they begin with verbal exchanges and if not resolved through words they can build up to a physical fight.
  • Some fights are from a sense of possessiveness: ‘this is mine’ and claiming territory.
  • Some children become more violent when they are resistant to change.
  • Bullying to show dominance over others.
  • Lots of physical energy and exertion naturally falls into fighting.
  • Children play at fighting.
  • If we set up a system of having classroom leaders/monitors are we creating a hierarchy?

Outcomes

Attendance remained very high throughout the course, with a slight drop-off over the Pongal holidays. In total there were 244 attendances over the 7 workshops and 52 attendances over the 4 seminars. Although the seminar numbers were lower, this allowed teachers who had specific questions, or wanted to practice new skills the opportunity to work in a smaller group.

Based on the feedback from participants, it is clear that many new skills and techniques have been learned. Within days of the first workshops teachers were already trying out some of these techniques. Many teachers have requested further resources in order to continue learning (a book list has been distributed to the group).

In response to whether the course material will support the teachers back in the classroom, every teacher said that it would. Some teachers mentioned how they can integrate activities into their daily work, or into their specialist session if they are an ATB teacher. Others, particularly Science and Maths teachers or teachers at high school ages said they would spend some time finding the best ways to integrate the new techniques into their work.

“I was not a big fan of drama but I found it is really helpful and effective.”
“Very rich and practical.”
“I learned many simple, useful exercises to use in my classroom. I practiced some and it was already amazing to see the results with the children.”
“I didn’t have any idea about drama before but I’ve learnt many ideas and techniques through the workshop.”
“I felt each day was very rich in what was offered. The balance between non-verbal – verbal; personal – interactive was truly effective, allowing for embodying of each exercise. The exercises were very applicable; simple yet very effective. It was very rich and beautifully held.”

Many teachers also commented on how the course was an opportunity to reflect on their own development, to meet and connect with new people and to have fun! There was a tangible sense of community and collectiveness that grew over the course of the two weeks.

“Affirmative and nourishing.”
“Excellent – Enriching.”
“It’s been a great opportunity to observe myself on many different levels.”
“This experience was enriching and very positive. I loved laughing together and connecting with new people.”
“Each session is an exploration and a very connecting experience for all – with each other and with ourselves.”

Outreach visits

Throughout the two weeks I also visited a number of schools, taught classes and met with teachers in: Isai Ambalam, Kindergarten, Nandanam Kindergarten, Udavi School, Aikiyam School, TLC, and Thamarai after school club. Many teachers commented on how useful it was to see some of the techniques being used with their own class groups.

“While watching the techniques being applied on children in your class visit, I understood the significance of this approach.”
“The session that at Udavi School proved how well children respond to the exercises and get actively engaged in learning.”


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Next steps

Many of the teachers expressed an interest in developing the work further. And although I visited many teachers in their school settings there were many who I did not have time to visit. In the closing session we had a discussion about how this work might be developed. The main suggestion was to create an expanded drama programme (including Brian Way’s approach but also including other practitioners’ work since 1967). Ideally this would be undertaken in conjunction with Auroville teachers who would be willing to try out, test and evaluate certain activities within their classroom settings to ensure that they work well in Auroville schools. The new programme could be delivered in a second training course in 2020 working with a small group of committed teachers who might be willing to lead in this area, and whom I could mentor more closely. There could be a partner-curriculum developed to use in community projects.

My personal reflections on the course were that the potential for creating a meaningful, useful toolkit/curriculum has great potential based on the enthusiasm the teachers showed. However, as with all courses, after the initial optimism, teachers can often find it difficult to commit to an ongoing programme especially if I am not there to keep the motivation going. Marion from the Teachers' Center has experience in using Drama and would be a key ally in developing something in the schools, so any future developments could work well if she was on board to support and keep the momentum going.

I was surprised and delighted that so many teachers expressed an interest in being part of a working group although I think it would be very challenging to facilitate a group of more than 6-8 teachers from a distance. I think the working group would need to be made up of experienced teachers who also want to go on a journey with learning more about Drama (and themselves through Drama). If this core group could then act as the centre of a Practice Group that meets every 2-3 months, they could begin to pass on the new exercises we have been testing in the classrooms to other teachers who want to learn more.

Delivering the course brought me immense joy. Although it has taken a couple of years to bring about, it felt so well received that I am hugely grateful to Sanjeev for persevering in making it happen and to those organisations who provided the funding to support it. I hope it will be the seed of more to come!