Rigour and Discipline in Drama
Let’s face it, too many students view drama as a soft, easy (or ‘bludge’) subject at school. Sometimes we find ourselves fighting for our own credibility as a subject on the curriculum, so the easiest way to fight back is to create strong, rigourous and academic drama programs.
Occasionally as drama educators we can be our own worst enemy. We desperately want drama to be taken seriously by those around us, yet we may not be helping our own cause with out of control drama classes, messy drama spaces and a culture that lacks artistic discipline.
Culture starts with the teacher. My students have a lot of fun in my drama classes, but this goes hand-in-hand with agreed rules, deadlines, and a culture of respect and excellence. When I ask for lines to be learned by a set date, I expect it to happen. Drama homework can be as challenging as that for any other subject, but I do believe the selling point is that drama homework is fun, often creative, different to that of most other subjects and also very rewarding. When students don’t learn lines by a set deadline, they are letting themselves down first, then their fellow group/cast members and as their teacher, I’m the last person in the room to be affected by their laziness! Set a culture where students accept responsibility for their own actions in drama and you’ll never look back.
I’ve blogged many times over the years on The Drama Teacher about artistic discipline. Drama students will respect you even more as their teacher for instilling discipline in everything they do. It doesn’t mean you become intimidating and your students become unhappy. It simply means you mean business and along with all the fun in drama comes a sense of ownership and fulfilment when students work hard at creating successful performances.
While you’re at it, never be afraid of extending drama students at any year level. Never be afraid of exploring areas of drama and theatre where no one knows exactly what the outcome will be? These are some of the best moments in drama teaching … to reach a place no one in the class predicted. Don’t be soft with your expectations of drama students. Always have a sense of academic rigour present in every task you set, no matter what their age or experience.
Before you know it, the best subject on the school curriculum just got even better!
hi cashy . thanks for sharing so much in your blog for letting us fall much more in love with our beautiful and fun subject.
Im about to start a new job where its going to be the first time they hire a Drama Teacher, I live in shenzhen china and i currently work in a kindergarten where Drama is the curriculum! its a bilingual kindergarten and im an english Teacher but every language content must be taught through role-plays, drama etc… so its very fun ! and suits my personality very much ! i’ve been here for 5 years already and i am the academic leader of the English Department and when applying for the new job i never thought they could ask me to come in as the Drama teacher, but it seems that based on my CV and experience they were motivated to give Drama Class a chance. so I’m in and very excited , however i feel nervous because of the lessons , im not teaching anymore English as a second language but Drama to L1 learners, so where do i start ?, is there any book that could give me an idea of where to start , my age group will be from 5 to 12 year old kids. thank you so much in advance and thank you again for making life easier !!! God Bless you !
Fabulous to hear you are teaching drama in Canada, though it sounds like your particular circumstances have left you with a big challenge. I took a job once where the previous teacher let things go very stray in the drama program and for a full year I was nothing but Mr FixIt. I understand where you are. Its bloody hard work because its the intangible things like the culture of drama being accepted and/or respected in your school that may now be broken and these take time and lots of effort to repair. I don’t envy your current circumstances (though I do love Canada and am very jealous of where you are!).
Over the past decade I have let the drama journal “slip” more and more each year because students find it laborious and keeping one on a regular basis just seems to put students off enjoying our wonderful subject of drama. These days I keep a journal of sorts, but it is used more for theory and pinpointed reflection only on certain occasions – eg after class performances – but I definitely stopped keeping a journal on a regular basis with the juniors a while back. I find it more effective to use a journal with drama students for quality, not quantity. You should try the blogging angle. My seniors keep a regular journal for certain projects that last, say two months, and then stop keeping it (it is a requirement to keep a record of the performance-making process in senior Drama here, so this is the most I do with journals). But keeping blogs has certainly engaged my students more than the traditional workbook or folder journal. There’s a post on my blog somewhere with details about how to use a WordPress (online software) blog with your drama students – just search from the home page. Its fun and easy to use. I can say with confidence that I have not seen any noticeable negative affect in grades etc at any year level of drama after gradually phasing out the regular use of the drama journal. If anything, student engagement has been constantly on the increase during this time, so there’s food for though there.
The furthest back I can remember you Neat is when you were in my Year 8 drama class almost 20 years ago! How time flies. Of course though, I taught you in more recent years after that. I’m so glad you are browsing my blog all these years later from the other side of the world and I hope it helps you a bit along the way. Thanks for your kind words. My drama teacher inspired me to take on this profession, too. Its the biggest compliment a teacher can get, so thanks for letting me know.
we r in Nepal N we are also trying to learn something about the theatre I hope this is good to know.
This blog post is very timely for me. I have just started teaching Drama at a school in Canada and taken over from a teacher who let the kids run rampant and do whatever they wanted. A serious problem was she wasn’t held accountable for the subject and there are no provincial Drama exams here (like there are in Melbourne and Sydney) so she could do whatever she wanted. Oh my gosh. I have walked into this role and in the first few weeks the kids were very confused (and frustrated and so much more…) wondering why I was asking them to use a pen and paper in Drama and to actually do “work”. Most of them are completely rejecting the idea of doing a Drama journal let alone any of the other work I am setting. It is getting better, but I feel like I have a long slow slog, uphill, to bring the department back to where it should be. Anyway, I was going to email you about this exact issue and then in a stroke of kismet you have pretty much answered it on your blog TODAY. Weird…
I was googling “Drama Journal” today to see what other teachers do, thinking perhaps I was being a hard-arsed bitch making the kids do it. I wanted to see if everyone else did get their students to do Drama Journals (which it seems most do) and then I found this amazing quote which made me regain my strength and hope “If you cannot increase reflective power in people, you might as well NOT teach, because reflection is the only thing in the long run that teaches anybody. Reflection is what makes the knowing something that can be touched on and assimilated for further use”. ~Dorothy Heathcote
Anyway, thanks! Hope you are well, sounds like you are. You continue to inspire (remember you are the reason I became a Drama Teacher, after all!)