Drama at The Abbey
It is widely agreed that schools centred solely on exams and data create stress and anxiety in young people. In an age where mental health issues in young people are at crisis point, Drama is increasingly marginalised in schools across the county and Arts-based curriculums that allow creative outlet are sadly becoming an after-thought.
At The Abbey students are gifted discrete Drama lessons in their timetable in recognition of this key area of development. Space and time is allowed for dialogue, self-expression, exploration, the development of social skills and the opportunity to ‘play’ the role of an adult through the prism and safety of ‘pretend’. Is there a better way to prepare for such a role than through rehearsal?
The freedom and playfulness of the subject does in no way detract from its rigour. Students are grappling with challenging subject matter, academic language and concepts, whilst charged with the task of creating. Creating is a tall order and dubbed a high order thinking skill; it requires ingenuity and passion, evaluation and analysis and the pragmatism to apply such knowledge (all whilst negotiating a host of other personalities). The beauty of these skills is that they bleed into other areas of the curriculum (and vice versa) allowing students to reap the benefits of cross-curricular, purposeful and relevant learning. It is acknowledged that our children will be employed into sectors and roles that haven’t yet been born; equipping our students with the ability to reason, enquire and self-assert is integral to preparing them for their lives beyond school.
In addition, we are nurturing a moral and spiritual development and capitalising on the instinctive sense of empathy our children readily feel. Our rationale for a balanced curricular diet at The Abbey has been beautifully summarised by playwright Arthur Miller:
“The arts make us feel connected to one another and less isolated. Through the arts we share an emotion and that sharing connects us with each other and we realise we all feel the same emotions. The arts are our last hope. We find our identity and make it easier and more pleasurable to live and they also give us wisdom. We see our problems acted out and it’s an important socialising force.” (Arts Council England, 2003)
How is the Drama curriculum designed, delivered and assessed?
Whilst assessment is a vital component of effective teaching and learning there are certainly facets of Drama that cannot be quantified and to so would be an act of reductionism. Drama students at The Abbey are less concerned with numbers and letters and more interested in ‘next steps’. We foster a target-setting culture and children are regularly reflecting (formally and informally) on what they are learning, how they are learning and what measures they need to put in place to continue on this trajectory.
These targets focus on three main areas of Drama learning:
Creating – This area of Drama helps students to develop their creative and collaborative skills and every single Drama lesson includes an element of group work. Students are given the chance to lead and motivate one another, to plan and prioritise, to support and help one another and to time-manage. Through working collaboratively with their peers students develop stronger working relationships and grow in confidence.
Performing – Through performance students are able to develop presentation and communication skills which will assist them in a range of situations from job and university interviews, to speaking at meetings, delivering speeches, and having confidence when meeting new people.
Responding – Students’ speaking and listening skills are developed with thoughtful practice. A large part of Drama learning takes place through discussion of key concepts and evaluation of drama work, through which students are able to develop verbal reasoning skills and the art of constructive criticism.
The content of the Drama curriculum is rich and varied, including schemes of learning that are;
- Text-based – exploring Shakespeare and other plays practically whilst also developing literacy skills
- Issue-based – for example, exploring civil rights, peer pressure, social isolation etc. and develop their send of empathy
- Skills-based – for example, learning practical techniques in masked drama, physical theatre and voice work
Enhancing through Extra Curricular
Formal opportunities to celebrate and apply the skills learnt in Drama lessons are important in extending and contextualising what our children have absorbed. We offer every child at The Abbey the opportunity to take part in a production.
Our Queen’s House and Year 3 and 4 productions aim to be inclusive, giving all children the opportunity to perform onstage and experience theatre-making. Every child is challenged to develop a character and sense of storytelling in rehearsal. The relationships that are fostered between teachers and pupils, across classes and between year groups during these projects are fruitful, and outlive the productions.
The Year 5 and 6 production is also inclusive; however, provision is made to showcase and stretch those students for whom Drama is a real passion. All Year 6 children are invited to audition in order for the students to experience such processes and simulate the rigorous nature of the theatre industry. This project is a celebration of our students’ journeys at The Abbey and serves as a long-standing, wonderful memory for children to take with them as they enter the next stages of education.
In addition to the more formal productions, there are many cross-curricular opportunities throughout the year for children to develop and consolidate skills they learn in the Drama classroom such as public readings, presentations and verse and prose competitions.
A Lasting Thought
As we prepare (as educators) to prepare our students for a future that is ever-evolving and largely difficult to prepare for, it’s important to note that at The Abbey we aim to educate the whole child and Drama plays a very important part in this. Ian McEwan says “Imagining what it is like to be someone other than yourself is at the core of our humanity. It is the essence of compassion, and it is the beginning of morality”. I couldn’t agree more.