A case study of drama education curriculum for young children in early childhood programs.
Abstract. This is a case study of drama education curriculum for young children taught by a drama specialist. Specifically, to understand unique drama teaching practices employed by a drama specialist, 9-week-long drama programs for one kindergarten and two 1st-grade classes were observed and the drama specialist was interviewed. Regular classroom activities taught by the classroom teachers were also observed to understand drama taught by the non-specialists. The findings indicate that the drama specialist’s curriculum highlights specialized drama knowledge and techniques that the classroom teachers do not address in their drama activities. Within a well-defined structure of a lesson composed of warm-up, main activity, and ending segments, children’skinesthetic exploration and representation, as well as expressivity, are emphasized. How the drama specialist’s teaching content and methods contribute to children’s learning and what is needed for staff development to improve drama education are
Early childhood educators commonly teach all subjects to their students, including math, science, and the arts. However, not all teachers are trained in the variety of subjects they teach. Each subject has its unique essential forms of cognition and disciplines (Efland, 1990). Drama education is no exception, in that the discipline of drama education consists of extensive specialized knowledge and holds its own ways of knowing. A drama specialist is assumed to have special knowledge and experience in the field of drama that classroom teachers (generalists) may not possess, and as a result of this knowledge, can teach drama in a different way.
In this educational context, this research explores what a drama specialist teaches and how she teaches it at a private school in a metropolitan area. I highlight the structure and content of the specialist’s drama lessons and her specialized knowledge that are not found in the general early childhood classroom teachers’ practices, aiming to understand what early childhood educators can learn from a specialist. Thus, although the main purpose of this study is not a comparison between a drama specialist and general classroom teachers, classroom teachers’ methods of teaching drama isjuxtaposed to the specialist’s in order to highlight the specialist’s unique teaching content and methods. I then discuss how the drama specialist’s teaching contributes to children’s learning, and make suggestions for classroom teacher’s professional development through collaboration with specialists to improve drama education in early childhood programs.
Review of the Literature
Although the terms “drama education” and “theater education” have been commonly used interchangeably, there is a technical difference between them. Theater education deals with an actor’s formal performance in front of an audience, whereas drama education focuses on participants’ process of exploration and meaning-making (Schonmann, 2000).
The definition of drama varies among scholars, and its curriculum is different depending on the instructional goals, teachers’ philosophies, cultural and institutional contexts, and other elements. Types of drama activities also vary, including extra-curricular activities in school musicals and promotional events; in drama clubs, speech training, self-expression, emotional development and confidence building; in the early childhood play corners; and as a part of syllabi in English classes (O’Toole & O’Mara, 2007). Among these diverse types of drama activities and drama education, this research focuses on an operational drama curriculum taught by a drama specialist at a school.
Drama in the Curriculum
Drama is usually marginalized or absent from the curriculum (O’Toole & O’Mara, 2007) in the current school climate that emphasizes academic accountability. Even when the arts are included in preschool and kindergarten classrooms, it is primarily music and visual arts, although it could be argued that drama and dance are better suited to the physical nature of early childhood learning (Cazden, 1981; Kolb, 1984). There is little time allotted in the daily routine for drama in early childhood education settings, due to the pressure that many teachers feel to cover too many materials in too little time (Jones & Reynolds, 1992). Brown and Pleydell (1999) argued that age-appropriate drama experiences would not be guaranteed, because most drama specialists have not been trained to work with young children, and early childhood classroom teachers have few resources to provide quality drama experiences to their students.
Regarding teachers’ qualifications to teach drama, McCaslin (2006) stated that the most important qualities are such personal attributes as sympathetic leadership, imagination, and respect for others’ ideas. Having sufficient knowledge, appreciation of drama as an art form, and familiarity with techniques are other invaluable assets (McCaslin, 2006). Successful drama teachers also guide, rather than direct, and are able to work with others, are considerate of others’ opinions, and offer their own ideas. Also, teachers need to invite children to create and maintain the dramatic world, through the use of open-ended questions, animated expressions, and enthusiastic responses to the children’s ideas (O’Neill, 1994). This process involves the co-construction of an emergent story that requires the teacher to adopt various roles (e.g., motivator, guide, and artist).
I will consider these teachers’ qualifications in teaching drama when examining the drama specialist’s and the classroom teachers’ drama instructions.
Case Study Approach
This research is a case study of drama education conducted in natural settings, which include a regular classroom for kindergarten drama and a special drama classroom for 1st-grade drama. Carroll (1996) suggested that the case study approach is useful in drama when the researcher is interested in and deeply involved in the structure, processes, and outcomes of a project.
It fits research on drama education well because drama is a non-reproducible experience, by its very nature as a negotiated group art form. The participants within a drama education session or series of sessions create a unique set of social relationships that becomes a single unit of experience capable of analysis and study. (Carroll, 1996, p. 77)
Hartfield (1982) and Yin (1991) emphasized that the complexity of interactions and the whole creative sequence can be examined best through a case study methodology. Thus, the case study method is particularly well suited for this research, because it attempts to understand the complex instructional processes and the interaction between the teacher and the students in a natural classroom and school context in an open and flexible manner.
This study has one key participant–the drama specialist, Ms. White (a pseudonym). The drama specialist for this research was chosen carefully, because she or he has to have extensive knowledge and experience in the field of drama that regular classroom teachers may not possess. One of my colleagues, who is an art specialist and had taken drama lessons from Ms. White for arts interdisciplinary curriculum, introduced Ms. White to me. When I contacted Ms. White, explaining the purpose of this research and asking her if she would like to participate, she willingly agreed to participate, because she said she wanted more educators to be interested in drama education and to apply it in their teaching.
Ms. White is a unique combination of professional artist and experienced educator. She holds a B.A. in English literature and an M.F.A in acting. She has a total of 24 years of teaching experience, ranging from teaching pre-kindergarten children through adults (up to 35 years old), and she has performed in the opera and theater as a professional company member. Based on her educational background and professional experience as an actress and as a teacher, she is considered to have specialized and sophisticated skills and knowledge of the field. She has been a fulltime drama teacher at the Bailey school (a pseudonym) for 12 years. During the period when this research was conducted, Ms. White was teaching one kindergarten class and two 1st-grade classes for a 9-week drama program.
The data for this study were collected at the Bailey school, a private school located in a large metropolitan city, during the fall of 2006. Although I contacted Ms. White as a research participant without knowing where she worked, the research site was considered carefully to make sure it satisfied several requirements. My primary requirements were: 1) the school should provide drama education to young children in an early childhood program, and 2) drama education should be taught by a specialist with rich knowledge and experience. In many cases, drama is not provided to kindergarten children, which is my research focus group, and when it is provided, it is often taught by an artist-in-resident or classroom teachers, not by experienced drama specialists. The Bailey school offers drama education to kindergarten through 6th-grade students. Drama education is taught by a drama specialist with an extensive field experience and educational background in drama, as discussed in detail in the participant section. In addition to these two requirements, the Bailey school has a rich educational environment, including low student-to-teacher ratio and various extra-curricular programs taught by subject specialists. The ethnic composition of the students is 87% white, 7% Asian, and 5% African American. Most of the students are from families of middle to upper-middle socioeconomic status.
One kindergarten and two 1st-grade drama classes taught by Ms. White were observed for 9 weeks. Kindergarten drama was observed once a week, about 30 minutes per lesson. Each 1st-grade drama class was observed once a week, about 45-50 minutes per lesson. In addition, I observed full days of regular classroom hours led by the respective classroom teachers to understand how the classroom teachers taught drama to their students and to highlight the drama specialist’s teaching. The full-day observations (8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. for kindergarten and 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. for 1st grade) were conducted once or twice a week for 9 weeks.
Formal and informal interviews were conducted with Ms. White to gain a better understanding of her drama curriculum and her teaching practice as well as the school structure and system. Formal interviews in a semi-structured format were carried out almost every week, 8 times for 9 weeks, for about 50 minutes on average, in her office or in the school cafeteria. Informal interviews were conducted frequently, before or after her classes, as well as during her preparation time.
The initial areas of interview questions with Ms. White included such topics as her educational background and teaching experiences, teaching philosophy, expectations for the students’ progress in her class, and specific drama activities and practices. Follow-up interviews were conducted twice after the drama program was over. Each follow-up interview lasted about an hour, centering around her vision of drama education, long-term and short-term goals, and her experience of teaching kindergarten students for the first time.
Analysis of Documents
In order to understand the school structure, system, and mission, I also examined school pamphlets and brochures. The national, state, and district drama and arts curriculum that Ms. White referred to was analyzed in order to understand her drama teaching in general. The school curriculum map, the teachers’ teaching plans, letters to the parents, and evaluation forms also were analyzed in order to understand her specific drama teaching.
The data collection and analysis procedures are based on the “interactive model” (Miles & Huberman, 1994, p. 12), which refers to the activity of data collecting and three types of analysis processes–data deduction (“the process of selecting, focusing, simplifying, abstracting, and transforming data that appears in written-up field notes or transcriptions” [Miles & Huberman, 1994, p. 10]; data display (“an organized, compressed assembly of information that permits conclusion drawing and action” [Miles & Huberman, 1994, p. 11]); and conclusion (drawing and verifying conclusion)–that form an interactive, cyclical process. The interactive model was used for this research because it can provide continuous, iterative process of analysis for better qualitative validity and credibility, compared to a single, linear analysis process.
Data were collected through observations, interviews, and related documents, as described in the Data Sources section. To facilitate making direct connections with the research questions and concepts of interest, the data codes (with broad but concrete categories) were created through the extensive reviews of existing research on drama education and curriculum. Specific examples of thepreset categories defined for this research included drama knowledge, techniques, skills, body movements, and vocalization. The preset categories and sub-categories and their corresponding codes were developed, expanded on, refined, and revised multiple times while the study progressed and as new issues emerged. While the inquiry was in progress, contact summary forms were filled out immediately after completing each field note, such that the key points were summarized and emerging themes were recognized to guide planning for the next observation. In this process, data reduction was conducted by generating a conceptual level of coding system (e.g., structure, reflection, expressivity, representation, and imagination).
Data display as well as drawing and verifying conclusions included follow-ups with the participants, with emphasis on their interpretations of the data collected, the triangulation of information, and the construction of meaning from the phenomena observed. Multiple interim reports were made to identify and develop issues, to audit what is known, and to substantiate the known with the data. Each interim paper was shared with the researcher’s colleagues, who worked in, studied, and were interested in early childhood education and/or arts education.
To answer what is taught and how drama is taught to young children, three special qualities were found in Ms. White’s drama education curriculum. The first section of the findings discusses Ms. White’s well-defined lesson structure, and the second section is devoted to kinesthetic exploration and representation. The last section centers around expressiveness.
Structure of Drama Lessons
Ms. White’s drama lesson is composed of warm-up, main activity, and closing segments, whereas the classroom teachers have only a main activity without a warm-up or closing. Each segment has its independent role and, at the same time, interacts with each other as a whole.
Students’ use of the body is different between drama and regular academic classes. That is, students’ body movements in their homeroom are minimal and primarily instrumental, but those in drama are exploratory and expressive. For example, in the regular class, students walk in order to reach their desired destination (e.g., the blackboard, their desks); whereas in drama, students walk to explore different qualities in their movements (e.g., light, heavy, slow, fast) or pretend to walk to express their ideas. Drama lessons often begin with warm-up exercises, which help make a smooth transition from academic subjects. Specifically, yoga is a part of the warm-up in Ms. White’s drama instructions. The following vignette describes the 1st-graders practicing yoga during the third week of the drama program.
Ms. White, in her stretchy, tight black pants
and short-sleeved T-shirt, announces that
the class will do yoga as a warm-up. As
the students spread out to have enough
space between each other and sit on the
floor cross-legged, Ms. White plays Deva
Premal’s recordings for yoga with slow
and calm sounds; the music is neutral and
fluid, yet still rhythmic. Ms. White turns off
the light in front, but there is still a light at
the back. The room becomes dim, and the
students turn silent. Barefoot, she walks
quickly to the center of the rug and explains
in an unusually soft and composed voice.
Ms. White: We will start to pretend there is strength in the air, and I will pretend to pull out that strength, and then you can feel it. Feel it at the back; there is a bump right here.
The students try to sit straight, and some
students touch their spines. Ms. White
walks around and if students bend their
backs, she pulls their chests or pushes
their backs gently to help them sit straight.
Then, Ms. White moves into a breathing
exercise. She straightens her knees while
holding her body to the floor with her arms.
The students follow her lead; several raise
their heads to look at her.
Ms. White: Your face is on the ground. Now, boys and girls! A mad cat. Take a deep breath in. Watch me first.
Ms. White rounds her back, making an
arch. She breathes out, making a “Shhhh”
sound, like air escaping from a balloon,
and her arched back goes flat.
Ms. White: And then you breathe in with your nose. And stick your tongue out, because you are a doggy now.
Ms. White puffs and blows repeatedly.
The students bend their backs, puffing
Ms. White: Nice job! Eyes up, please. Here is some work. Watch before you move. Your one hand lies out, and the other hand lies out and reaches to the floor. Let’s try again. It’s a child’s pose. Your hand is flying out, and the other is flying out, and take a deep breath in and reach and put your forehead on the floor. It’s like you wrap your hands around your knees. You look like a little, tiny baby. Nice job, boys and girls.
While yoga is typically not considered a part of traditional drama education, it has basic and repeated motions shared in common with other warm-up exercises. Yoga also possesses its unique features, especially its mind-body connection. While making repeated and slow motions and breathing, Ms. White encourages the students to pay attention to how their bodies work and what their bodies can do. During yoga, while in a meditative atmosphere, the students concentrate on their movements without making any unnecessary sound. Afterwards, the students are clearly calm and relaxed. After the basic, short, and repeated warm-up movements, the students are mentally and physically ready for the drama experience.
Ms. White’s main segment for young children is largely composed of storytelling/ story making and acting it out. In particular, a well-defined connection between drama concepts and practice is present in the main segment. Students learn about the structure (e.g., beginning, middle, and ending) and the elements of a dramatic story (e.g., setting, characters, conflict, plot, and background) and different genres of literature (e.g., fable vs. fairy tale). They are also encouraged to apply specialized drama vocabulary and techniques they learned in their acting. Basic skills are emphasized for clear communication between the actors and the audience. In addition, students’ exploration and representation of their ideas, as well as expression of feelings, are commonly practiced, which will be explored more in detail in the following sections.
The closing segment mainly constitutes students’ suggestions or comments on their activities in an open format. The following vignette presents a closing session in kindergarten drama.
Ms. White reads A Rose’s Walk and the
children pretend to be chickens walking
around the classroom.
Ms. White: OK, boys and girls! Before we end the drama today, it’s very important for me to hear any questions or things that you really like today or suggestions that you have.
Adam: I like to pretend to be a chicken.
Molly: I like the story.
Ms. White: Anything else?
Tess: I like the story.
Ms. White: Before we end, can we do a criss-cross apple sauce? I will show you something I like to do when I am tired and can’t think about what to do, maybe I feel crabby.
Bryan: Let’s go to sleep!
Ms. White: Well, I can’t go to sleep but I close my eyes, and think about what to do.
Ms. White: Well, kind of. I get quiet. Close your eyes and put your hands on your knees, and take three breaths. I will open my eyes because I want you to be safe. Sit up, nice and tall. Take a deep breath in and let it out (repeating three times). Turn yourself around and look at your teacher. She is going to tell you something important.
All the students look at Ms. Anderson (the
regular classroom teacher) silently. Ms.
Anderson talks about the plants that they
planted last week and what they are going
to do during free-choice time.
Guided by Ms. White’s questions, students answer and reflect on what they did, what they liked the most, or what was the most interesting to them during the activities. They mostly list the names of activities they did or briefly describe their experiences and preferences, but not in depth. Although connection with students’ experiences and expression of personal opinions or emotions are scarce, verbalization about what they did during reflection helps them transform their kinesthetic experiences into concrete verbal experiences.
Similar to warm-up, Ms. White’s closing provides the students with a smooth transition from drama session to the subsequent session. The opening and closing of the drama session serve to separate the fantasy of the drama from the reality of the classroom (Brown & Pleydell, 1999). It creates a boundary around the event and enables students to return to the world of the classroom. Thus, from a technical standpoint, by wrapping up the lesson, closing gives the students a signal that a drama session is over and prepares them to move onto the next activity.
Kinesthetic Exploration and Representation
Students’ body movements in Ms. White’s drama session are explorative and representative, particularly during pantomime activities. Pantomime is a typical primary activity for Ms. White’s young students. Pantomime is defined as acting out without words (Rosenberg, 1987), and inherently it emphasizes the use of the body more than words. The following vignette shows a pantomime practice with the 1st-grade students.
After a brief explanation of pantomime
and improvisation, Ms. White announces
that they will act out The Lion and the
Mouse without words. She then starts
pretending to be a lion.
Ms. White: OK, tell me about how the lion is different from a person.
The students answer that a lion has
whiskers, furs, and a black nose, and
that it is an animal. The students and
Ms. White continue to talk about the
differences between a lion and a human.
After comparing a lion with a human, Ms. White asks a question.
Ms. White: Do you know a slow motion? Can you show me a slow motion?
Sophie stands up and walks slowly, raising
her legs up higher than usual and down
slowly. Sophie walks forward until she
reaches the table at the corner.
Ms. White: Thank you, Sophie. That is a very nice slow motion!
Ms. White stands up and asks children to
find an empty spot for pantomime.
Ms. White: Boys and girls, it’s time to become a lion. How are they different? They have fur,whiskers, and claws. Show me. You are a big, golden lion. Show me a soft and sleeping-on-the-grass lion.
The students lie down on the floor. Some
face the floor, and others face the side.
Some stretch their arms and legs, while
others crouch down.
Ms. White: Stretch your beautiful golden legs. Slo-o-o-o-w motion. Pat your stomachs quiet. You head through the jungle. Keep going.
Following Ms. White’s narration, the
students slowly get up and stretch their
bodies, raising their hands.
Ms. White: Show me how a lion moves.
The students crawl around the room in
Ms. White: Stand up for hunting. Are you ready? Stand up? What do you see?
Justin: A tiny rabbit.
Ms. White: You grasp the tiny rabbit. You bite juicy, red meat. You throw it. You toss it to the sun.
The students stretch their bodies by raising
their hands and yawning. They bend
their bodies and crawl around, using their
arms and legs. When grasping the tiny
animal, students change their facial expression
to a more furious one and pretend
to snatch it swiftly.
Ms. White: You are so thirsty after your dinner. You walk slowly to the lake and drink water. I want to hear your big lion roar! Stand up and say, “I am the king of the jungle!” One more time!
Following Ms. White’s narration in her
magnificent voice, the students stand up
and roar in a loud voice, raising both arms
in the air.
The way that Ms. White frames the activity influences students’ expression and kinesthetic exploration. Her strategies include students’ brainstorming about characteristics of a character in a story, observation of others’ movements, and verbalization of their observations prior to acting. These practices provide students a chance to think about how to express the character and perceive subtle differences in the actor’s movements and expressions. Then, during pantomime activities, Ms. White narrates with a wide range of kinesthetic vocabulary (e.g., “stretch,” “pat,” “grasp,” and “crawl”). The combination of movements with vocabulary helps the students to be more conscious of their own movements during exploration. In addition, her narrative–with its dramatic changes in the speed, volume, and pitch of her voice–models the students’ ideas and facilitates their use of imagination. Ms. White’s encouragement of students’ using slow motion during pantomime helps them attend to details and pay attention to their movements. With Ms. White’s systematic guidance, students’ movements are not random actions, but rather represent a state of consciousness involving full engagement and awareness. During an interview, Ms. White emphasized the importance of the body movements for the young children:
I think using the body more than the word is what I stress, especially when students are young, because it’s more universal for the children. If you take the word away, children are open and explore more freely. It feels good and fun. And then in 2nd grade, I add more words, more narrations, and captions and subtitles to my lesson. So words kind of melt with the body.
Ms. White believed that young students could be more creative and free without the spoken language. For example, when the 1st-graders were asked to represent a “lake” with their bodies, they showed different ideas: one child lay down on the floor; another waved his hands; and others lightly rocked sideways or back and forth. The body became an expressive drama medium for telling the story and expressing the characters’ emotions. Thus, Ms. White practiced until the young children had built up a physical vocabulary and felt comfortable in expressing their ideas with the body. She then gradually increased the use of words in her lessons.
Often, the students are asked to express basic feelings, such as sadness, happiness, frustration, or embarrassment, with their bodies and faces while acting out a story. What the students practice is not self-expression, which is defined as expressing one’s inner feelings. Rather, they are encouraged to express a character’s emotions and feelings according to the situation of the story. The following scenario demonstrates the kindergarten students’ activity that expressed a character’s emotions in a story.
Ms. White, sitting on a chair in front,
reads The Dancing Camel to 13 kindergartners
seated on the rug.
Ms. White: How did the camel feel when her friends told her she is not a good dancer and lumpy andbumpy?
Maria: (sitting in front) She was sad.
Bryan: (frowning, answers in his husky and frustrated voice) She didn’t know what to do!
Ms. White: She didn’t know what to do, but she made a decision, didn’t she? What did she decide?
Bryan: She danced all by herself.
Ms. White: Did it make her happy?
Ms. White: Really? That’s not the story that I heard. It may be sad because she decided on dancing all by herself. It’s okay, even though you heard the story differently. You know what? Let’s do a ballet. Everybody stands up. Let’s do a dance around the room. Are you ready?
The students move their bodies to the soft,
slow music, tiptoeing and turning around
with their arms rounded upward. After a
couple of minutes, Ms. White starts retelling
The Dancing Camel story, while the
students play and dance along.
Ms. White: This is a story about a dancing camel. One day, she decided she is going to have a concert for her friends. Show me her friends’ faces.
The students stand still in their spots and
make faces that seem to be anticipating
something, with a light smile on their
Ms. White: They must be curious, right?
Some students stare at an empty space,
while others widen their eyes.
Ms. White: Okay, so she began to dance for her friends. “She jumps, she turns, and she skips.” And freeze. “She looked at her friends’ faces after she took the beautiful bow.” Her beautiful bow?
The students take a big bow from the waist.
Some of the girls join their hands, put them
over their tummies, and gently bow.
Ms. White: Oh, that’s so nice. You show her friends’ faces. Look!
Most of the students frown with folding
Ms. White: Oh my! You are really telling a story. What does she look like?
Some of the students look down to the floor
with glum faces.
Presented in the above vignette, Ms. White’s special guidance helps promote the students’ expressivity. Prior to acting, she asks questions or leads a discussion about how the character feels. While the students are acting, she invites them to interpret the situated feelings of the character in the story by demanding their personal involvement with imagination. With Ms. White’s encouragement to use their imagination and connect their experiences, the students elaborate their expressions of feelings. They usually demonstrate mimetic and conventional modes of representation by describing surface features of the character they employ (e.g., smiles for happiness, frowns for sadness). However, sometimes they attend to details, moving slowly and deliberately, in the expressive mode.
To young children, Ms. White barely addresses how to express these feeling in a more sophisticated way, which could have been achieved by teaching drama acting skills or techniques. During an interview, Ms. White reported that she emphasizes students’ reflections on and interpretations of their own experiences as being more meaningful than expressing emotions using drama techniques or skills. She believes without reflection, the students’ understanding and expression of feelings might remain superficial. Thus, exploration and reflection can contribute to the students’ diverse and expressive movements as well as building kinesthetic awareness.
Ms. White, with her rich education background and professional experience, is considered an insider from the field of drama. As an insider, what special qualities does she possess that general teachers (who may be categorized as “outsiders” to drama) most likely do not? What unique drama activities does she provide and how does she practice them? What can we, as classroom teachers and outsiders of the drama field, learn from Ms. White? In answering these questions, the structure and content of a drama specialist’s curriculum, and her teaching techniques and skills, as well as specialized knowledge of drama are examined more closely. I will explore here what and how Ms. White teaches differently from classroom teachers and what her teachings contribute to students’ educational experiences.
Having structured segments in Ms. White’s drama lesson is different from the classroom teachers’ drama activities, which consist of only a main activity without warm-up or closing. How teachers frame the lesson is known to influence students’ experience. Specifically, having structure in lessons helps make the students’ experiences systematic and organized (Stinson, 2002) as well as helping students predict the flow of the lesson. That is, the fixed structure becomes a routine for children and helps them feel secure in the learning environment and organize their experiences systematically.
Another issue addressed is the body and its movements. Moving the body expressively is generally not encouraged in school; instead, academic subjects and cognitive development are highlighted (Bresler, 2002). However, drama for young children in an early childhood program is an exception, as it places the body and its movements at the center. The body is both a subject and an object and must exist in specific contexts and in specific relation to others (Grumet, 2003). In drama, students can choose how they move and what they wish to express, and their thinking is encouraged to be realized within the capacities of moving their body. In order to understand the capacities of the body in drama education, I will use Osmond’s classification of “the body as knower” and “the body as doer” in drama education (Osmond, 2007, p. 1113).
First, regarding the body as knower, drama education invites a focus upon the body to act its knowing, to call up in every action what a body knows (Osmond, 2007). The concept of body as knower is prevalent in Ms. Wilson’s pantomime activities. Specifically, when the students pretend to get ready to go to school in pantomime, they recall what they do every morning and represent it with the body. Each student expresses different activities, including brushing their teeth, eating breakfast, packing school bags, and kissing and waving goodbye to their parents. What we know is an accumulation of sensory experiences that bring us to that knowing as our bodies are developed and shaped by those experiences that mold it. Grumet (1988) claimed that all knowledge is ultimately body knowledge, even the knowing that seems rooted exclusively in language.
Next, the body as doer means that the body does what it knows by making meaning the grounds for action in drama education. When the students pretend to be a lion or a mouse, their initial expressions are usually conventional and mimetic. However, as they are guided by the teacher’s questions and comments, the students’ knowledge and ideas about the topic are revealed with more subtle and detailed expressions. The introduction of pedagogy that uses drama into a communal act makes the body as knower the central figure in the sharing and the negotiating of meaning, and the “body-knowers” become “body-doers.” Doing is a necessary consequence of knowing; it is the action and reflection of people upon their world in order to transform it (Freire, 1972). The relationship between the body as knower and the body as doer can be achieved by concentration and memory of emotion before dramatic action, thus integrating lived experience naturally (Boleslavsky, 1949). The body must first be understood as a site of knowledge that is specific to the lived experience of each individual.
Since different forms of representation develop different skills, the students need to be provided with multiple choices of forms of representation to develop diverse skills (Fyfe, 1994). Representing students’ ideas in various forms, including visual, verbal, numerical, and auditory, increases the resources available to the student for making meaning. When resources are rich, the number of avenues for learning expands. Representational media (mostly used in drawings in Reggio Emilia schools) is known to deepen the children’s understanding of a theme or a concept (Forman, 1994). The teachers and artists actively work with the children to help them see many possible modes of correspondence between them. Like drawing, the student’s body and its movements are tools for expressing what she knows and what she feels. In drama, the body itself is the medium. The substance of body is molded through gesture, voice, motion, and pace in the doing of what is known.
The last issue explored in this section is an emotional aspect in drama education. At schools where academics and intellectual growth are generally emphasized, the emotional aspect of children has too often been ignored. Furthermore, there has been a lack of invitation for the students to communicate feelings through artistic means (Bresler, 1998). Although the importance of expressivity has been highlighted in the arts education literature as well as in state goals, expressivity has been rarely a part of the operational curriculum. Bolton (1977) suggested that one of the significant characteristics of drama is a special quality of feeling along with a special sense of time and quality of meaning. That is, drama explores situated feelings.
Ms. White’s guidance of the students’ interpretation of a character’s feelings, by having them reflect their own experiences, helps them elaborate their expressions in a more detailed manner. In order to have a feeling, one must be able to distinguish one state of being from another (Eisner, 1982), and have the requisite imagination and cognitive thinking skills to perceive and articulate the ideas of the feelings (Shusterman, 2004). Thus, reflection on and connection with students’ own experiences by perceiving through their senses and imagination enables them to be expressive.
Implications for Drama Education for Young Children
Drama learning experiences for children are among the most highly praised but the least practiced of learning experiences in schools (Dillon, 1988). Even when early childhood classroom teachers incorporate drama activities in their classrooms, the way in which they teach has distinct features compared to that of the drama specialist. In this research, the drama specialist conveys drama knowledge and techniques and highlights children’s kinesthetic representation and expressiveness within a well-defined structure of the lesson. By contrast, the classroom teachers frequently used close-ended questions and prescribed movements without a structure in their drama activities. Other researchers (e.g., Flynn, 1997; Ross, 1989; Stewig, 1984) also have pointed out classroom teachers’ lack of professional development experiences in drama and insufficient preparation for drama teaching. Gabb (1994) stated that a dichotomous framework clearly delineates between drama specialists’ artistic, informed endeavors and classroom teachers’ unsatisfactory efforts and techniques.
In practice, inservice teachers are typically provided one-time drama workshops, which are structured as pre-packaged lectures and demonstrations without a close connection to classroom practice or substantial follow-up. Consequently, teachers’ desires to meet complicated organizational demands and diverse students’ needs and interests can be easily overlooked (Hargreaves & Fullan, 1992). However, in order for classroom teachers to use drama in their classrooms, a firm foundation in drama skills and techniques, as well as in the art form, should be provided such that the teacher is able to apply them to address diverse needs in the classroom and use it as an important part of her teaching repertoire.
Yaffe (1989) argued that strong staff development is essential through collaboration between the drama specialist and classroom teachers to move from skills to applications in the field of drama. Especially considering the current school climate, which greatly emphasizes academic accountability, drama education integrated with core subjects is strongly recommended to provide high-quality drama education and to improve students’ academic achievements. Thus, if a classroom teacher provides curriculum content and a drama specialist focuses drama sessions on those required learning areas, they can explore ways to merge drama teaching techniques and curriculum demands together. It is not necessary for teachers to have a background or experience in drama to use drama in the classroom, but it requires staff development and a willingness to try something new on the teachers’ part. Cooperation could reinforce and increase the knowledge and insight that individual teachers bring to their work, especially when they are focused on professional responsibility and the central tasks of education.
(submitted 8/27/08; accepted 12/31/08)
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Su Jeong Wee
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Note: Su Jeong Wee was a doctoral candidate at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and is currently an Assistant Professor, Purdue University, Calumet.