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Drama topics - complex issues

Discussion in 'Drama and performing arts' started by dancingflower, May 8, 2012.

  1. Hi

    Firstly I have to emphasise I'm not a specialist in drama but as part of my current position I recently started teaching some ks3 drama alongside my main subject.. so I appreciate any guidance from those with expertise!

    Some of the subject matter is very heavy duty.. last term there were drug related issues.. but no guidance on how to facilitate broaching such subjects in the classroom.. naturally some children turned the drug issue into fun/coolness etc. So I felt it was very important that we discussed the impact and consequences of drug-taking in each class in which this topic was to be used. There was no mention of needing to put issues in context for the students in the SoWs. (I did not preach, but elicited potential issues that they had not covered in their devising).

    Likewise this term there are more themes that are complex and loaded, but the SoWs don't have any built-in sensitivity or guidance on how topics related to racism etc. might function in a multi-cultural class. The SoW as far a I can see approaches a complex topic in too simplistic a manner.

    I would really appreciate any tips or directions to a website etc. - that gives guidance on how to facilitate these types of subjects in a way that is sensitive to the variety of students within a class.

    I'm also finding the SoWs quite vague content wise. Very often it will say 'give students scenarios' or 'give stimulus'... (I think that is the difficult part identifying a good and suitable scenario/stimulus for use). I have asked the department, but have not had feedback perhaps due to being busy etc., but I need ideas now. I guess what would be really useful would be something more comprehensive than the SoWs I'm working with, a book with back-up info or a good website.

    Also is there any way of lightening up some of these topics for example 'oppression', as both I and the students would benefit from getting to focus on something fun and light for a while. I do not chose the topics so have to make these work.

    Many thanks for your support
  2. Have you inherited these schemes or is the person who wrote them still teaching with you?
    If the former - dump them. If the latter - seek help from the writer (then dump them!) .
    If you want fully written schemes on Knife Crime, Holocaust, dangerous driving etc then look here (we do lighter topics too).
    One tip - don't look at a theme, look a story. Ther students will discover the theme for themselves. Otherwise, you might as well be teaching PHSE.

  3. I agree totally with the last contributor. We are not teaching social studies. Whoever picked those topics wants putting up against a brick wall and shooting or better still they should be condemned to a living hell of watching an eternity of students performing plays about drugs, pregnancy, knife crime, gangs and all the other pseudo-sociological drivel that passes for drama in some schools. Whoever linked 'issues' with drama teaching should have been lobotomised at birth. Ditch these stupid topics and do something about about drama instead - you have 3000 years worth of material to choose from.
  4. I avoid issue-led drama at all costs, it's just not for me. The course you outline *does* sound more like a practical PSHE one.
    Theres no end of other stuff you can do. Characterisation. Stagecraft/audience awareness. Mime. Physical Theatre. Script work (Play study, performing extracts or sketches). Genre (melodrama, farce, pantomime, Greek Tragedy). Masks. Accents.
    We barely touch issue-led Drama across all seven years.
  5. Thanks all for your replies, most appreciated. ...that's just how I have been feeling but couldn't articulate it, it's definitely more PSHE with these particular units!

    Also I wouldn't dare teach some of the issues without some serious facilitator training, if you are going to bring up deep and complex issues you better know how to handle them, otherwise it's unfair on the students. I have vivid memories from my time in business of 'team building' exercises facilitated by supposedly professional companies that totally backfired and left everyone at each other's throats!!

    So moving back to actually teaching 'Drama' : ) -any recommendations for websites, resources, stimuli etc?

    I currently spend a lot of time finding my own material on youtube, researching games and activities but I'd love a good website that covers drama mediums, perhaps a 'behind the scenes' at a theatre, history of theatre... When I can I like to start or finish a class with some type of stimulus to connect them to the world of drama and theatre.

    Again thanks for your feedback.
  6. I always feel desperately sorry for young drama teachers and teachers who are new to teaching drama because there is so little INSET these days. When I started teaching way back I regularly went on local autthority provided course - they were high quality and free of charge. In order to return all investment I feel the need to provide what help I can to young teachers. I am happy to send you some well tested useful material but I'll need an email address to send it - if you're interested leave your address in my TES inbox.
  7. This could be a fascinating thread, especially with Drama departments planning stuff for next year, particularly at KS3. There is the notion that Drama should be used as a vehicle for contemplating things loosely called 'issues', there is the notion that Drama is learning about theatrical history and stagecraft, playwriting and performance skills. There is the notion that stories should be constructed and themes would 'emerge', and there are loads of Schemes of Work out there covering just about every type of thing.
    What seems to be lacking is a unifying force, and underlying principle, a philosophy even that most Drama teachers buy in to.
    One could argue that diversity is the thing and Drama as a subject and Drama lessons ought to be all kinds of everything, fluid according to circumstances, with perhaps no reference point.
    We have the assumptions of 'others' too, usually relating Drama to the study of, and the doing of 'plays' or performances.
    So what about the content? Does it matter at all? I know when the students eagerly ask me in the corridor what we'll be doing in Drama they would not be impressed by the following answers:
    We're moving your voice skills from level 5 to level 6.
    We're discussing stuff.
    Games (OK scrub that, they would love that answer every time).
    We're preparing an ofsted standard lesson.
    I don't really know (not the worst answer in the world IMHO)
    We're exploring the ideas of David Hornbrook or Jonathan Neelands.
    I'm sure you can think up your own unimpressive answers too. What the students usually want to know is what is the Drama going to be about. Well thats what it feels like to me.
    What do we answer? Darkwood Manor? Bullying? Entrances and Exits?
    And why those things? Who says?
    At the moment in year seven we're 'doing' Animal Rights (based on the Animal Welfare act of 2006) into Childrens Rights for no better reason than I wrote the SOW, I felt interested in it myself, I think the students may be interested too, I reckon I could sell it to them, beguile them into doing some imaginative and practically based work on it, pretending and stuff. And, yes, I know it is about an issue, or I suppose it is.
    However in my arrogance I have decided we will do this topic, so we're doing it.
    Am I right?
  8. You're right of course, 'Philosopical', there are no shared underlying principles. This is both the subject's strength and its weakness. Each drama teacher does their own thing; often choosing topics and activities simply on the grounds that they are interested in them or in the hope that the topic will interest the students. It is very common for a drama course at KS3 to be a disjointed mish-mash with no progression and no underlying philosophy or structure. Strangely enough I don't think it is too important that all drama teachers have the same philosophy and structure but it is important that an individual teacher (or department) has their own in order to provide a unifying and coherent structure for a three year KS3 course. There is comfort in structure; ever noticed how much more comfortable teachers feel when year 10 arrives and they have the support of the exam structure.
  9. Impressive certainty, but what then is Drama 'about'? Can you construct an objective philosophy that will declare what drama is about?
    Laurenpitt likes this.
  10. I always feel Drama is about finding a story interesting enough to be explored and told well. Sometimes that has PSHE in it, but sometimes not. The best way to teach 'morals' is to let people find out for themselves I guess. Drama is a good way of doing that. To be instructed isn't really exploring is it.
  11. Instruction in Theatre skills would be something else then, maybe not under the heading of Drama at all. As for finding a story interesting enough to be explored and told well, i kind of get some of what you mean, but it is a notion that is pretty vague and subjective wouldn't you agree?
    Laurenpitt likes this.
  12. Drama isn't about anything: it is and always has been the acting out of stories. Good drama is an interesting story told in an interesting way. Stories can be 'about' something ie they can have themes; plays can be 'about' something but, as with music, painting and dance, drama can't be about anything. It is in the choice of stories and the techniques and styles that are used to tell these stories that differentiates one drama teacher from another. Drama teachers should stop thinking about the 'themes' of their lessons and think instead about the stories they want to tell their students and the stories they want their students to dramatise. For instance: a significant number of drama teachers want to engage their students in topics which they see as socially relevent; for example 'knife crime'. I hasten to add that this is not a topic which I would choose. To start with the idea of 'doing knife crime' as a topic is fundamentally undramatic and is likely to prove unsatisfying in its outcomes. A much more fruitful approach is to insist that young people dramatise a true story involving knife crime and stick rigorously to the truth; for instance the story of the death of Damilola Taylor. It is the drama teachers job to equip their students with the techniques and styles to tell the story in a truthful way.
  13. pussycat

    pussycat New commenter

    I always teach from a skills perspective and feel that the lumping together of PSHE and Drama in some schools has killed the subject stone dead. Pupils can't 'explore' a theme through drama unless they have the skills to do so.
  14. There is a question regarding the context of the introduction of skills. Does one embark on an enterprise, and then introduce a skill when it may be useful in adding to the issue/exploration/story? Does one decide there and then 'hang on, this would be a good moment to introduce, say, still image', or does one say 'right, what happens today will be hung around the skill of still image'. If it happens on spec, is it the students who decide what skill they wish to employ (providing they have tools that go beyond 'being realistic')?
    In your post you seem to be against 'lumping together' things, yet many Drama teachers would enthuse about cross curricular opportunities.
    Laurenpitt likes this.
  15. Product, tool or process?
    For example, let's take woodwork as the subject instead of Drama.
    Would a scheme of work be "Tables" - in which groups made tables in several different designs, sizes, materials?
    Would the scheme be "hammers and chisels - their uses in making furniture" from which might result a table, a chair and a gazebo
    Would the scheme be "Explore this lump of oak and make something useful or decorative using some or all of the equipment on the table over there".
  16. pussycat

    pussycat New commenter

    Yes - Drama is a subject in its own right and schools should not automatically think 'oh yes, we have a boring topic here - let's get Drama in to make it more interesting'. Sadly this happens a great deal and although it can sometimes be very successful, it often has the effect of de-valuing Drama as it becomes merely a medium of exploration. Genuine arts cross curricular work is hugely exciting and can be wonderful.
  17. pussycat

    pussycat New commenter

    Perhaps philosophical there are many types of Drama teacher and we all have our quirks and preferences - some people may think that Drama is best 'utilised' as a 'vehicle' for 'delivering' PHSE - I strongly disagree. Thankfully I now work in a school in which Drama is valued as a subject in its own right and is not forced in to unholy alliances with other curriculum subjects. If we want them to happen then they can, if not then not.
  18. I disagree absolutely with an entirely skills based curriculum for Drama. That would be like an English teacher teaching nothing but grammar and vocabulary and never linking them to writing or interpreting literature. Skills and content should be developed in tandem, just as in English. It has always seemed bizarre to me that Drama feels the need to justify itself as a subject by focusing on skills, whereas English (never doubted as a 'proper' subject) has no problem with teaching lessons which focus entirely on exploring content, themes and characters (I also teach English).
    IMHO the best drama comes about when students have something to say (content) and the means to say it effectively (skills).
    I absolutely agree with the poster above who said that teaching through story is the most effective way of teaching, and in my experience produces the best results. Lessons on 'knife crime' are tedious and superficial, a class creating Brechtian style pieces exploring the horrific stabbing of a boy from a nearby school and making their own links to attitudes of the police; passers by; other teenagers: amazing. Drama comes out of a human need to tell and hear stories which explore the human condition.
  19. When it comes to what drama teachers should or should not teach by way of subject and content; this is a matter of personal predilection just as it is with writers and directors. In many senses the drama teacher functions as writer, director and dramaturg all mixed together. What drama teachers should and mostly do teach, is how to make and perform plays and how to realise written drama. The choice of subject matter and content of the plays is largely irrelevant. In my view students should also be given an insight into the drama that they mostly consume ie the drama they see on TV and film.As to the question what is unique to drama? The answer has to be performance and audience. As I said before drama teachers are fond of tieing themselves in semantic knots and creating schisms when none exist: they talk of ‘process', and ‘product' and so called ‘drama skills' and ‘theatre skills' (whatever they are) etc etc etc. Simple - if you put an audience in front of a piece of drama, even if that audience is only one person then it becomes a piece of realised art ie theatre. As Peter Brook wrote: "I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged."
    As a footnote, Philosphical, why would you want to ‘explore the problems of parenting'? You are putting the cart before the horse. Whenever possible start with a story. If you want to explore the problems of parenting dramatise the story of Hansel and Gretel instead; the drama will be so much richer and may well yield the outcomes you want. Shakespeare didn't set you to ‘explore the issues of teenage love' he dramatised a story he knew and came up with ‘Romeo and Juliet'. Emma Rice the director of ‘Kneehigh' states the following; ‘There is no formula to the way we make theatre. However it always starts with a story'.
    Laurenpitt likes this.
  20. mrg, thanks again for your reply, it seems we're the only two interested in this debate. I get your point re Hansel and Gretel, perhaps couching it in terms of the 'problems of parenting' i was coming over all Boal.
    I am not completely convinced however that the choice of content and subject matter is largely irrelevant. Indeed your thoughts regarding students being given an insight into Drama they consume is content, is perhaps 'subject matter', and may even indeed be an 'issue'.
    Performance and audience is also an interesting concept, something I often raise with my students and at the last count we had decided there can be seven 'audiences' to any Drama, that is
    The audience audience
    The other performers
    The director/teacher/facilitator
    The writer/creator/even storyteller if you like
    The muse, the aesthetic force, the God of Drama, the thing that tries to make it any good
    Just recently the examiner/judge
    There are probably more!

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