If ever there was a subject in the school curriculum where the size of the class matters, it has to be drama. The number of students in a drama class can directly affect the way students learn in both positive and negative ways.
Small Drama Classes
Depending on the year level, what teachers of other disciplines call a small class may well be a typical number in drama. Up to ten students may be quite common for a teacher of drama in the senior years of secondary school, simply because the demand for drama is less than that of many other subjects.
I once had a Year 12 class of only five students. With a student leadership system in place, two of my five students were the drama captains of the school, while two others were the music captains. You can imagine this class was a dream to teach … and it was! With four of my five students in positions of responsibility in the performing arts, I suddenly found myself with five dedicated, mature and responsible female students who simply wanted to learn 100% of the time.
The advantages of this very small drama class included efficiency in decision-making, a group focus conveniently doubled up as the class focus, content was taught swiftly leaving ample time for exam revision, students received plenty of teacher advice and assistance, a healthy teacher-student rapport existed, and discipline issues became virtually non-existent.
The disadvantages of this small drama class of five included absenteeism (we only needed two students away and group work was affected), at times a lack of ideas and inspiration, and little opportunity for critical feedback from peers.
Large Drama Classes
On the flip side, a lot of us have taught large drama classes over the years, particularly in the junior secondary or primary years. I commonly teach junior secondary drama classes of twenty five and twenty-six students.
The advantages of a large drama class include interaction and socialisation with many peers, lots of opportunities for mixing up students in a variety of group work situations, plenty of chance for observing and learning from others’ performances, healthy class discussion and academic reflection, plus fun opportunities for worthwhile drama games. There’s something about a big junior drama class in my teaching week that I really look forward to, but sometimes I just can’t put my finger on the exact reason why? I am sure though, a lot of positivity arises from a drama class with large numbers.
Disadvantages of large drama classes include the loud noise level (your colleagues suddenly don’t want to teacher anywhere near you in the building!), classroom management (the teacher has to be well organised and constantly alert), a lack of physical space, the sheer amount of time it takes to get through many group performances (must be built into curriculum planning and the number of assessment tasks), and teacher headaches (both literally and metaphorically).
Students in large drama classes may also receive less teacher feedback and individual assistance than those in smaller classes. Bu there are pros and cons here. A small class with closer attention from the teacher may also be more reliant on that teacher in drama. I have a large class of twenty-one students in Year 12 drama at present, and with nearly that same number in the previous year’s class, these students quickly became independent learners and trusted their gut instinct with performance making decisions. At times they have no choice but to first seek feedback from a critical friend in the classroom, before receiving advice from the teacher. These are all vital skills for any senior drama student and not easily learned.
Because of the practical nature of drama with performance making and assessment often occurring in the classroom during class time (the teacher can’t save class time by taking a performance home with them!), the size of the drama class matters and can affect both teachers and students in many ways. But healthy numbers in a drama class contribute to so many aspects of productive student learning. As teachers of this wonderful craft, we just have to employ appropriate strategies to keep the learning effective and our students engaged.