“Acting Out” in the Classroom
A dull and empty classroom, devoid of all creativity and imagination describes a classroom without the influence of theatre. The positive impact the theatre arts have on youth has been increasing, as well as the effect theatre has on academic performance; however, theatre’s role in the classroom is disappearing. Ben Cameron from American
Theatre stresses this point in his article “The Arts and Education Conundrum” (Cameron).
Likewise, those of us who participate in theatre understand the important role theatre play’s in the classroom. Also we, as future teachers, need to understand how exactly that role can be played. The role of theatre in the classroom should be replaced, it is up to teachers and future teachers to make sure the arts are not left behind.
A luring question is whether or not the emphasis of theatre in the classroom helps academic achievement. Elliot Eisner from Clearing House writes about a 1995 study
entitled “Eloquent Evidence: Arts at the Core of Learning.” The results of this study showed that according to the College Entrance Examination Board students who had received four or more years of arts influence in their education outperformed non-arts students on the SAT. The scores showed that arts students scored 59 points higher in verbal and 44 points higher in math than non-arts students (Eisner). The results of this study displays the importance of theatre’s influence in the classroom
Another influence theatre can have in the classroom is teaching children to read. According to Miriam Martinez, Nancy L. Roser, and Susan Strecker journalists for Reading Teacher reader’s theatre is a theatre based reading activity that allows students to act out the stories they read. Students use their voices to create the sounds of the different characters. Students read from a script to achieve the goal of voice projection and reading efficiency. (Martinez, Roser, and Strecker). Michelle Green from NEA Today
wrote that this program was established by Nancy Roser, a professor of education at University of Texas at Austin in 2000 as a way to measure effective reading skills (Green). Reader’s theatre plays a cultural role in teaching children who are learning
English as second language how to read. Reader’s theatre uses culturally diverse texts,
such a poetry and fairy tales to help students make the transition to what can called “second language reading” (Green). Reader’s theatre can also be effective in improving
comprehension and fluent reading skills. According to Martinez, Roser, and Strecker readers’ theatre has the ability to increase a child’s ability to read fluently and understand
what they read (Martinez, Roser, and Strecker).
In the special education class room, theatre can play a vital role in developing
ththsocial skills students otherwise might not receive. Sherry Humphries, a 7 and 8 grade
science teacher at the Illinois School for the Deaf, explained this concept by saying that special need students who might have trouble in social scenes can find an outlet in theatre (Humphries). To go along with social skills theatre allows special needs children to build their self -confidence and develop critical thinking skills (Humphries). Having special needs children become involved in theatre can be as simple as role playing or combining general students with special needs students to put on a play. Teresa Maebori and Joan
Bobrow from Teaching Pre K-8 calls this “a different type of theatre” (Maebori and
Bobrow). To continue a Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia, where Maebori teaches and a neighboring school for children with Cerebral Palsy, put on combined school plays (Maebori and Bobrow). Maebori thought her students were isolated from students with special needs. Therefore she directed the play “The Return of Halley’s
Comet” in 2000 which combined students from both Germantown Friends School and the school for children with Cerebral Palsy. The play dealt with space creatures who learned how to get along with humans (Maebori and Bobrow). This taught the children the idea of diversity and acceptance.
Similarly, Kathleen Gallagher from Canadian Theatre Review expressed the point
that theater education “can allow for a diverse classroom with many opportunities” (9).
To continue, the ability for students to feel a sense of belonging in the classroom setting is imperative for developing a positive self-esteem and self-concept. Stacey Coates from Stage of the Art uses the term “pouring paint” to describe behavior from others that
destroys a person’s ability to be creative. She states that this idea of “pouring paint” is
especially relevant in a theatre classroom where self-conscious students may come into play (27). By implementing the term “pouring paint” students learn the effects of negative actions towards others. As mentioned by Gregory Freeman, Kathleen Sullivan and C. Ray Fulton from the Journal of Educational Research theatre activities can be
used to enforce emotional well-being and social skills (131). Penny Bundy from Research in Drama Education makes the point that theatre emphasizes the idea of
developing a personal identity (Bundy). These two ideas correlate because as students interact with others in a theatrical setting they are able to build a self-concept and
personal identity that will last them throughout their lives. Therefore it can be said that theatre in the classroom should being as early as elementary school.
With small children, specifically at the elementary school level, it is important to provide them with social activities that deal with cooperation and the developing of social skills. Freeman, Sullivan and Fulton from the Journal of Educational Research believe
theatre or dramatic activities help children learn how to role play, analyze different roles and work cooperatively with others (131). Freeman, Sullivan and Fulton claim “the
ability of a person to interact with others is considered one of the most important and significant attributes of mankind,” (132). This quote emphasizes the importance of learning social interactions at a young age. Theatre can be a great way for young children to learn this quality. A teacher at an elementary school suggests Freeman, Sullivan and Fulton from Journal of Educational Research, can use simple role playing exercise to
emphases how to follow basic instructions. The instructions may include raising hands before speaking and not talking while others are talking (132). To go along with that theatre has the ability to mold how children think and interact with others. As children act out stories that contain a truth or relevance to real life instances they are given the opportunity to explore their world (133).
In the same way, Ben Cameron author in American Theatre emphasizes the
importance of theatre in the class room by stating, “give me a child and she is mine for
life; let her finish childhood without the arts and she is lost to me forever” (Cameron).
This quote correlates with a Rhode Island program called Project Discovery. This program demands that each school child in the state attend performances at the Trinity Repertory Company (Cameron). When children are given the opportunity to see live
theatre they are witnessing different types of characters, and attitudes that could help them form their own personal view towards themselves and others.
In the Middle school setting drama can play a vast role in dealing with social issues. This is especially true at Elkhorn Area Middle School where twenty-two sixth through eighth graders joined together to build an improv troupe. Penny Reddy in her article in Principal notes that this troupe performs skits that deal with social issues and helps students become better decision makers (52). The troupe has been known to perform at various organizations to showcase important messages dealing with adolescent behavior (52). By being involved in this theatrical troupe middle schoolers learn valuable lessons that will help them in their high school years.
Likewise, Theatre can play an important role in the high school class room as well. Theatre in the high school class room, as Charles Banaszewaki from Stage of the Art adds,
can give a voice to the usually voiceless student (Banaszewaki 19). The use of drama related activities can hold a strong emphasis on the way students interact with each other.
Author Nevine Yassa from Research in Drama Education illustrates a study that
was done surrounding the effects drama education had on the social interactions of high school students. The study included three female teachers and six students from Northwest Ontario high school (Yassa). According to Yassa the students were asked questions such as, “How would studying the dramatic arts influence your relationship with your peers?” Students were also asked if they could find a place for the dramatic arts once they entered the workplace (Yassa). After the results of the study, the teachers at the Ontario high school concluded that drama helps increase self-confidence and helps students who have trouble in school. Yassa concluded that one could easily differentiate
between the students who participated in theatre and those who did not. Students who had participated in drama education were more open with their feelings and expressed to others what was on their mind (Yassa). In order for schools to emphasize the importance of theatre, better programs in the schools are needed.
Ben Cameron from American Theatre acknowledges that the art of theatre and
schools are interwoven into a significant relationship. He states that as funding for the arts continues to decrease public theatres are taking on the responsibility of teaching young people the arts (Cameron). Laura McCammon from Stage of the Art agrees with
this idea of failing arts programs. She believes that drama and theatre education can provide programs that teach youth, citizenship and responsibility. Also theatre allows for students to make new friends. The question she asks is if theatre and drama education are important then why are there not programs in every school in the United States? (McCammon). The answer, McCammon states, is that there are too many state officials
ththat believe theatre education is linked back to the childish 4 grade play or high school
musical that has nothing to do with education (McCammon). To continue, Elliot Eisner from Clearing House asserts, when the arts are not a part of a persons life it is hard to know what they can contribute to it or to the lives of others, basically saying that people tend to underestimate the power of the arts when they are not exposed to them (Eisner). Furthermore, Laura McCammon continues with another reason for lack of programs in schools. The reason is that there are not enough teachers to teach drama and theatre education, and the teachers that are around are isolated from the rest of the school (McCammon).
Coincidently, Laura McCammon wrote in her article “Deconstruction Youthland: Problems and Possibilities for Drama/Theatre Education,” that in 1992 it was found that only 28% of accredited University theater programs offered teacher education as an option. In 2002 that number was decreased to only 23%. This showcases that theatre programs do not place a high emphasis on teacher education but yet they expect the programs to flourish in elementary and high schools (McCammon). In order to solve the problem of the lack of emphasis on theatre in elementary through high school we need to start at the source. State officials who make the rules regarding programs in schools, writes McCammon, need to broaden their knowledge on what theatre can bring to the classroom. Also Universities need to expand their teacher education programs (McCammon). However, one does not need to be an accredited teacher in the field of drama education to teach a theatre based curriculum in their classroom.
Those of us involved in a community theatre environment feel that importance of incorporating theatre in to the classroom even if the class being taught is not theatrical. Having children or teenagers act out historical figures or put together plays representing the multiplication tables has the ability to engage the thought processes and help students learn. I believe that the influence theatre activities can have in the classroom is immense. Joe Winston from Research in Drama Education writes that theatre in the lives of
children can help them to be successful in the future (203). His article “Playing on the Magic Mountain: theatre education and teacher training at a children’s theatre in Brussels,” talks about a theatre venue in Brussels called La Montagne Magique or The
Magic Mountain. This children’s theatre in 2000-2001 saw 50,000 three to fourteen year
olds and 20,000 teachers come into the theatre to enjoy twenty different plays. Also
through this program over 10,000 children became involved in school based theatre programs (203). This draws some insight on the development of theatre influence in the classroom.
Although the role theatre plays in the classroom has been decreasing hopefully some thoughts have been raised dealing with the effects theatre education has on youth. Whether it be social issues, or teaching children to read theatre has an important place in all classrooms. To sum it up, Laura McCammon from Stage of the Art exclaims “drama legitimizes held knowledge and allows students to build new learning and old,” (McCammon). Theatre in the class holds the future to successful learning and achievement that will help students of all ages take center stage.
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