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Accelerated Progression in Drama

accelerationTo accelerate, or not to accelerate: that is the question.

Student acceleration, or accelerated progression, can take a number of forms. For the purposes of this post, I am focusing on students undertaking studies in drama and/or theatre a full year ahead of their regular subjects.

As many readers may know, the home of The Drama Teacher is Melbourne, Australia. The government mandated senior curriculum here in Victoria is the VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education). There are two sister subjects – Drama and Theatre Studies – that traditionally run over the final two years of secondary schooling in Year 11 and Year 12. Students typically accelerate as a Year 10 student undertaking one or more Year 11 semesters (Unit 1 and/or 2 Drama and/or Unit 1 and/or Unit 2 Theatre Studies), or as a Year 11 student undertaking a Year 12 subject (Units 3 and 4 Drama and/or Units 3 and 4 Theatre Studies).

Problems With Accelerated Progression

For many years I have been staunchly against accelerated progression for my senior Drama students. I have normally discouraged students and/or not placed Drama on an approved list of subjects offered for potential acceleration (each school is different, some offer all subjects for acceleration, many do not). My reasons for doing this have been a concern that my students:

  • may be under-cooked (for the want of a better term!)
  • may not be emotionally ready
  • may be too immature
  • may not be intellectually prepared
  • may achieve higher grades in Drama at the end of Year 12 if undertaking the subject the traditional way

Gifted and talented students have cognitive and emotional abilities that allow them to learn much more quickly than their age peers. Acceleration is a set of administrative strategies that enable educators to cater efficiently and effectively for the diversity of cognitive development, needs and competencies of gifted and talented students (Van Tassel-Baska, 1992a). They allow gifted students to “progress through an educational program at rates faster or ages younger than normal” (Pressey, 1949, in Southern & Jones, 1991)

Stakeholders

Relevant stakeholders in accelerated progression discussions could typically include the:

  • student
  • parent(s)/guardian(s)
  • subject teacher
  • subject coordinator / faculty head
  • year level coordinator
  • gifted and talented coordinator
  • school counsellor

Safeguards

A good school will have safeguards in place to avoid potential accelerated progression issues from occurring. My school has strict criteria for acceleration approval:

  1. The subject first has to be on an approved list open for acceleration (not all subjects are offered)
  2. The student must achieve a B+ average on her most recent grades in the relevant subject area
  3. The student must achieve a B average on her most recent semester exams across the board, particularly in the relevant subject area
  4. The student must show clear evidence of specific extra interest in the relevant subject area through external activities (after school programs, competitions, work experience etc)
  5. The student must have an excellent attendance record
  6. A panel of experienced teachers will consider all applications for acceleration on their merits.
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*At least two of points 2, 3 and 4, above, must be met for consideration.

I normally argue a B in a recent Maths exam is not particularly relevant as a criterion for a student wishing to accelerate in Drama. I usually win this argument!

To be honest, the very fact that some subjects are offered for acceleration while others are not is creating an uneven playing field. Perhaps all subjects should be offered? But my school caters for individual teachers who would prefer a particular subject not to be offered for acceleration.

My main concern over the years regarding acceleration in Drama at the top end of secondary school is ‘will the student possibly achieve higher grades if she undertakes Drama in the traditional manner (non-acceleration)?” A student may be intellectually prepared for acceleration in Drama, but not emotionally prepared, and emotions play a huge part in a senior Drama course.

Similarly, will a Year 11 student in my Year 12 Drama class be too immature? In some cases, this may be about discipline, but more importantly I want my final-year Drama students to have as many life skills as possible for their age in order to create complex characters and write sophisticated scripts.

I have already assumed that in order to pass the acceleration criteria these students will be able to work independently in Drama class. But just one more year of schooling (and life) can sometimes make a difference with students undertaking Drama, no matter how intelligent they may be in order to satisfy acceleration requirements.

Success?

Having said all this, I recently succumbed to the temptation, not the pressure, of offering VCE Drama for acceleration. I currently have two Year 11 students in my small Year 12 Drama class and they work very hard in their studies. Half of my Year 11 Drama class is now Year 10 students. The Year 11 class is also a success story. I have been pleasantly surprised at the outcomes after one semester. The mix of year levels in the class is not an issue. There is no air of importance from the Year 11 students with the girls one year their junior. Everyone gets along famously and each student is committed and dedicated. Evidence suggests the Year 10s in the class undertaking accelerated progression in VCE Drama are coping with the academic rigour expected of them at this level of tuition. It seems in my small case studies so far, acceleration in Drama has worked.

Has accelerated progression worked for you in Drama/Theatre? I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on this issue.

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4 Responses

  1. Marion Palmer says:

    Never normally – but a yr 11 student transferred to do the drama course at my school and then it was taken off timetable. We trialled her in with my exam 12 course (WA). Ticks all of those criteria and then some. She took herself to the Dramawest exam prep course in the holidays and my first question was ” Being accelerated, what were the gaps. where did you feel under-prepared, lost, what have you / I missed?” The answer was NOTHING. She really got a lot of confidence from the fact that she was up to speed and made all the relevant connections with her classroom learning. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

  2. Anne De Manser says:

    One of our best Drama students completed 3/4 when she was in year 10. Her Top Acts audition was testament to the brilliant and mature approach to her solo. Would she have done better in year 12? Maybe, but in a small school like ours our kids need to take subjects in cross age cohorts so good kids often complete Drama or TS early. I believe they often do better in yr 11 because they have the creative headspace required for Drama and their time & energy isn’t fragmented with other 3/4 subjects.
    I also like to take a holistic view of our students’ success and I think VCE Drama sets them up for success in other subjects in Yr 12.
    As with all educational decisions, the individual is the focus – learning stage not learning age.

    • Hi Anne, great to hear of someone jumping two year levels and undertaking Units 3/4 Drama as a Year 10 student! You raise a very valid point about a student potentially having the creative headspace doing 3/4 Drama in Year 11, without the pressure of all the other 3/4 subjects at the same time. Love your phrase “learning stage not learning age”. Hope its not copyrighted. I think I may be using that slogan from now on! – Justin

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