Drama and Multiple Literacies

This term our school action research as been on using drama and multiple literacies.  My class have spent the term innovating on the Oscar Wilde story “The Selfish Giant”. Over the course of the term I have used a range of drama techniques with them to help develop their own version of the story and think about the characters, setting and the meaning behind their ideas.

The first reflection from my students perspective was that drama helped them write more fluently.

“I can see the characters and the scene and what is going to happen already”

I noticed that those students who usually take ages to write anything down were able to start their writing straight away.  I was also able to link their writing to their reading by using the term visualisation (which they do as a comprehension strategy) to thinking about how to make their writing more visual for the reader.

The students really liked the idea of innovating on the story and creating their own play.  I think particularly they were excited by their own voice being used.  That they were creating the dialogue, the music and performing it for an audience.

“The power to act” is one of the key definitions of learner agency (Core Education Ten Trends).   I noticed that the more agency I gave the students, the more involved they were in creating the play. I got the students to give me feedback on what roles they might like to play and took that into account when assigning each part.  Each part was given as much status – the chorus for example had an important part to play as did the Giant.

I only had one student who was unhappy about his role because it pushed him into an uncomfortable place of being someone that he is not.  He wanted to be a child, because he is a child already and he knows how to be one. This is the same student whose own learning goal is to be more creative.  His perception of himself is interesting and one I will continue to learn more about. I am interested in what his reflections might be now that he has performed the play.

As a class we agreed on a structure/outline of the scene order and what drama techniques we might like to use.  I let the students involved in each scene develop it on their own and then bring it back to the class for feedback.  Sometimes what they had created didn’t fit with the story or the message wasn’t as clear as it needed to be.  Other students gave feedback to help them make changes.  I enjoyed this “drama in action” approach.  I was able to use questioning to make sure that all the students were thinking about the bigger picture – that is how all the scenes together form the story.

When the students rehearsed in preparation for the performance in front of their parents I suddenly realised that it was all them.  It was their ideas, their dialogue, their music that was in this play.  That I hadn’t written any of it. Yes I had helped shape the play by asking questions and making suggestions but it was the class who put it all together.  Even down to the members of the chorus knowing when two chairs had to be put on stage – complete ownership of the performance.

And the humour, the humour!  No adult can write humour like a child can.  The dialogue was authentic and entertaining. The students remembered their lines because they had written their own!  And when it came to the performance it was me who made the only mistake! (I’d timed the projector to be turned on in ready for the multimedia green screen scene and it didn’t turn on!!).

So a week later reflecting on the process and the part that drama plays in literacy, I am reading again a book from my early childhood teacher training titled “Children, meaning-making and the arts” by Susan Wright. Multiple literacies is not new to me – but I find I am revisiting some ideas that originate in ECE. In this text it reiterates that written and oral language is a dominant discourse for communication (and understanding), however different cognitive processes occur when children engage with other modes. Using the Arts (dance, drama, music, art) allows students to not only create representations but manipulate them too!

In our version of the Selfish Giant, the students have manipulated the story to give it a meaning that is real for them.  They explored the actual moral (open your heart and let others in) and recognised the depiction of Jesus in the original story (the boy with holes in his hands).  In their story the boy became a spy who had been following the Giant around for 7 years and then sets a trap for the Giant by pretending to be unable to get up a tree.  The Giant helps him and the boy is surprised by this gesture.  The moral created by the 7, 8 and 9 year old children of my class then became “people can change”.  For me it shows how wonderful the minds of children are – that they will accept change and move on quickly from judgements.

So my reflection on my teaching is that I am going backwards to go forwards.  I want to explore further the use of The Arts in making meaning and to do this I am going to continue to explore some of the theorists and ideas that I did when I first started my teaching career. I still believe that what I learnt and applied to learning in the early years is relevant at all levels of the curriculum.

Reggio Emilia is a city in Italy and also an educational idea that puts children at the centre of learning and focuses on the environment, making learning visible, collaborating with students/teachers/family and links to the community.  It is based in an early childhood context and has fast become an approach used in NZ early childhood centres and kindergartens. Reggio Emilia is Modern Learning Practice and I feel that it will begin to sneak in more and more as our schools move more towards collaborative spaces and team-teaching environments. WATCH THIS SPACE!

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