I enjoy directing plays, but I am also a teacher in our co-op school, for the past eight years. Spending this much time with children has made me realize just how important it is to love to learn. I’ve seen children that absolutely hate school. It is nearly impossible to teach them anything and have them retain it. That is why I will try almost anything to help children love to learn. Teaching with drama makes learning fun. The children basically don’t know they are even learning.
Have a plan
Teaching children never goes well when you just jump in head first and think later. Children naturally like to know that someone is in charge and knows what is going on. That is why a plan is so important. You need to know what you want the children to learn before you can teach them.
This is what I like to do, make a list, even if its mentally, of all the things I think are important for the children to learn. A sample list of mine might be
- learn respect for each other
- confidence in themselves
- help each other
- over come shyness
- money sense
- planning, and executing and plan
- learn about thanksgiving
- who was Squanto?
- what year did the pilgrims arrive?
- learn about the pilgrims
The possibilities are endless. And yes, this is a very random list but you get the picture, decide what you would like them to learn. After this planning stage, I usually lose the list, or wash it in my coat pocket, at least if its on paper. I forget it and put it to the back of my mind to be retrieved later.
The list has done its job, you mentally have a plan. And I’m no psychologist but I have a theory that even if you don’t remember everything on the list your subconscious mind does and you automatically start to implement those ideas into your everyday drama teaching.
When it comes to actually inc operating these ideas its easy. If I want to my students to learn more about the first thanksgiving, we would obviously do a play about the pilgrims. As the students learned their lines and became their characters they start to remember the facts. Memory is much better when linked to an emotion. So by acting out the first Thanksgiving, retention is going to be much better than reading a boring textbook, no matter how great the pictures!
Find teaching moments
These are random and can come up anywhere. Say one of the students corrects another student or makes fun of their acting abilities. I would take the time to explain how we should treat people the way we want to be treated.
Perhaps no one understands a certain lyric to a song. I would take the time, talk to the cast and tell them what it means, perhaps have them repeat it a few times so they can understand the pronunciation. Then I might tell them a funny or interesting fact about the word.
Let them find themselves
Acting is one way for children to get to be someone other than themselves and try out new roles that they otherwise wouldn’t dare. When you are wearing a costume, pretending to be someone else it is easy to do things you could never do otherwise. It’s the same with children.
Some students are extremely shy and all children love to pretend. Getting to act their part every day and realize they can be funny, they can do a good job does wonders for self-esteem. It becomes so second nature to them as they learn their lines and character that soon they can’t wait to show off what they can do on performance night.
Make drama fun
Drama should be fun. I know at times it gets hard and there comes a point where everyone has to knuckle down and get to work. Lines, ques and entrances must be memorized. No talking back stage, don’t talk to fast, don’t talk to slow, pronounce words, talk louder, the list is endless. All that aside, at the top of the list should be fun.
For a director it gets very stressful. I often have to remind myself when it gets to that point that we are still here to have fun, if the students aren’t having fun, they aren’t learning. Besides, if they don’t’ have fun who will want to be in my next play? I try to kick it back a notch and do something sporadic and fun.
When we did “Oh Those Harper Girls”, I was getting to the end of my limit. I needed them to ride stick horses and because this play had high school age kids no one would get into the part. Everyone was stiff, and getting sick of it, practices where becoming a great burden.
So, one practice before we went through the play I told everyone, get your stick horses, if you don’t have a stick horse get a broom. I turned on some horse trotting sound and had everyone go around the room riding their horses. At first everyone thought I was nuts! I would call gallop, trot, walk, canter and they would change speed. Soon however, they got the spirit of it and we had everyone galloping around the room. Everyone felt ridiculous together, and it seemed to help us all loosen up.
We do it for the kids
I always find it important to remember why I do plays. Why do I go through all the stress and hard work that it takes to put on a play the cast and I can be proud of? It’s for the children. It’s to help them learn to become better people, better citizens. When I put that first and look at what they have learned it makes it worth it. Yes, I still want to do a good job, but more than anything I want my cast to take pride in doing a good job because they want to not because I prodded them into it. Teaching with drama can be very productive and rewarding.
If you are looking for places to find good plays here is my page on best websites, Bad Wolf Press is my favorite for school plays.
I hope everyone enjoys this post, and will leave comments and questions below. If anyone has ever had much experience with Project Based Learning I would love to know if you think it could work with drama.