Act 2: Becoming Somebody Different- Report
This conference report follows on from the success of last year’s drama in education conference and builds upon some of the thinking and conversations from that event. This year’s event had four central questions that formed the themes for the day:
- What is drama?
- What is drama for?
- How does drama work?
- How can drama help the child?
Underpinning these questions was Geoff Gillham’s notion that “Real understanding is a process of coming to understand: we cannot give someone our understanding. Real understanding is felt. Only if the understanding is felt can it be integrated into children’s minds, or anyone’s” and thus the aim of the day was for a collective community of drama teachers to come to an understanding about how we enable young people to understand their world.
It was timely that this event should take place in Sheldon Heath Community Centre, Big Brum’s new home, given the recent events at Grenfell Tower. The community surrounding the Grenfell Tower have shown incredible resilience, resourcefulness, honesty and integrity in light of the tragedy that has befallen their world. Their collectivism is a symbol of hope in an increasingly oppressed world. One can only hope that we as a group of drama teachers, meeting in a community centre on a hot Saturday in July, demonstrate again that when a community takes action for something important to them, they can develop a sense of ownership for the state of drama in education across our schools in the West Midlands. This was an understanding that I felt.
The conference was made up of six contributions from current drama teachers who are completing varying pieces of research as part of their Masters in Teaching and Learning in drama with Birmingham City University. The research projects, and subsequent presentations/workshops helped us to consider the four central questions from varying perspectives. The final workshop, by Richard Holmes the artistic director at Big Brum, explored the notion of being at home in the world.
Katie’s research, examining the role and impact of true stories within a dramatic process, was interesting in that it began to reveal some answers about how drama works. Using a personal family story and interweaving fiction demonstrated that Katie’s practice is deepening the centrality of the learner within her dramatic practice. Drawing more firmly on the needs of young people came out as one of the main conclusions to this intricate and sophisticated drama teaching and research.
This idea of placing the learner firmly in the centre of teaching was mirrored by Joe’s research exploring the benefits of ‘whole department in role’. This creative project drew on his English department’s need to engage and enthuse pupils in year 9 with a Sherlock Holmes text. Creating resources and customising them for the learners in his school context proved to be statistically significant in raising engagement with English practice and gave us much to consider in thinking about what drama is for. Again, this was reflected by the research of Kristal, who has been researching how Teacher-in-role can impact upon the behaviour of a year 7 class. This has left her questioning whether or not she is expecting too much and not giving enough, ultimately she is grappling with how drama helps the child.
Stacy’s research “Assessment assessed” was interesting in that we were asked to consider who assessment is for. By considering how assessment helps the child, we as a group of drama teachers were being asked to re-examine the data cage of school assessment. There were some really interesting findings from this instrumental case study that used survey as its main method.
Linking back to Katie’s research presentation, Lee shared the intentions of his cleverly named project “Tell it to Them; Straight? – A study of the concerns of LGB secondary school teachers in the workplace”. Lee has reflected deeply upon his position as a drama teacher and has raised many questions about the disconnection between upholding the teaching standards whilst developing purposeful and professional relationships in drama. By re-considering his personal approach to developing relationships with young people, it has become clear that young people are responsible, sensitive and understand the world in which we live.
Being asked to consider the uses of a building brick cleverly introduced Orlagh’s research around convergent and divergent thinking as a process of learning in drama. Orlagh’s position that her school and its curriculum are based around a convergent approach to learning was in opposition to the divergent thinking often required in drama. This research brought us back to the questions about what drama is and what it is for.
Richard then shared a key moment from Big Brum’s forthcoming Theatre in Education programme, which extends the story of Fleance, from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, into the modern world. He started his workshop by introducing us to the central character of Flee, explaining that “Before he became lost, the world had already lost him”, which created a range of responses as we sought to understand what this meant. Through the drama, in which we began to create the world of Flee, we came to the understanding that sometime we feel as though we have never been found, that sometimes we need to take ourselves out of the world to find ourselves. The arrival at this understanding, through a key moment in the character’s life, also helped us to answer the question of what drama was for.
Thus we arrived at the end of the day; our felt understanding about how we can help young people learn about the world. Overall, there was a feeling that drama permits the serious activity of play in which young people can test and challenge their values. Drama can empower thinking and promote collective felt understanding, particularly if the learners’ stories resonate with the fictional. Our community of practice stated that drama works because we “Listen to other people’s research and experience; this is thought-provoking” and that “We never stop learning; even though I’ve just finished my training, today has really challenged me to think more deeply about my opinions of drama, what it is used for and how use it myself”. Ultimately, it was felt that “Drama is born in the learners’ story” and we must be mindful that “The drama curriculum should place the learner at the centre; it is for them after all”. Thus it was recognised that “As a community of practice, we are still proving that the social, emotional, spiritual and political value of drama is equal to the academic” because “Drama enables and values the importance of a safe space”.