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Opinions on Edexcels Explorative Strategies.

Discussion in 'Drama and performing arts' started by Dancing_Man, Jul 9, 2011.

  1. Dear all,
    I am conducting some research for on behalf of Middlesesx University and I am interested in seeking the opinions of drama teachers in the UK who are familiar with GCSE specifications.
    My research is concerned with the development of the different exam boards specifications, their history and future.
    For those people teaching the new Edexcel GCSE Drama specification, do you see the Explorative Strategies as being majoritively 'process drama' or 'product drama' in their application?
    I hope that you can take sometime to respond to my question and hopefully create some discussion between us.
    If you want to know more about my research, or want to get involved, then please email me through TES.
    Thanks in advance.
     
  2. for Edexcel the strategies are seen as a tool for exploration and the assessment is on process not product.

    Naturally there is an element of product creation, but the marks and strategies are primarily for process. Although with the level of freedom allowed for Edexcel and the initiative that allows, some teachers may be more product focused. It is hard to focus on product when you only have 6 hours. I used to find this quite a hard concept to grasp and the students are always product focused so it can be a challenge to pitch it appropriately.
     

  3. They should be process drama, they are explorative strategies, not performance strategies. They are used in this way in the Edexcel 6 hour workshop; however, in several school I know, and I'm sure many others, they are presented to KS3 as 'drama techniques' to be learned and shoehorned into all performance pieces to garner praise and reach higher levels. I think this completely subverts the point of them, a scene doesn't need a thought track to be a good piece of drama (although sometimes it can be effective), thought tracking is a rehearsal technique to aid understanding of characters and themes.
    Apologies for name dropping, but I studied a course with Jonothan Neelands and he stated that while writing his book "Structuring Drama Work" he had nightmares of it being misinterpreted and teachers saying "right children, today we're going to learn technique number 7, thought-tracking" and unfortunately this is exactly what has happened, in several schools I know at any rate.
    There is a line from a Michael (?) Fleming book which I like, which is something along the lines of "With basic instruction anyone can create a still image, what is important is creating a still image with significant meaning". The original quote was better! I have seen whole schemes of work devoted to freeze frames with no context, theme or story to explore. Obviously children do need to learn how to do these things, but I equate it with learning grammar in English, the grammar is a tool to be able to express yourself; it's a means not an end. I feel a lot of drama teaching has lost sight of this.

     
  4. I think that the explorative strategies are very much rooted in product drama.
    Firstly, many of them can be parts of a performance. One of the reasons I take my students to see Blood Brothers every year is for this. Within that performance you've got several of the explorative strategies at work there - Still Images, Narration, Thought Tracking, Marking The Moment and Cross Cutting all come to mind straight away.
    Secondly, each one has a root to a practitioner - Hotseating and Role-Play (Magic If) can be seen as rehearsal strategies to develop characters for performance. Things like Narration, Still Image, Thought Tracking (Direct Audience Address), Cross Cutting are forms that Brecht used to distance his audience. Forum Theatre is of course Boal.
    I agree with worksleepwork that you can't just focus on the skills without looking at content - but content to make theatre from rather than content to explore.
    I disagree with BigBrother, I think the process isn't process drama of the kind that Gavin Bolton was making but the process of creating theatre. Much of the assessment criteria is given over to the students creative and imaginative response to a stimulus.
     
  5. I started teaching drama before there were any drama exams other than those run by the drama schools, which have continued to run in parallel with GCSE/A level but mainly in the private sector. I was there at the inception of and have taught CSE and ‘O' level drama and have even been a senior moderator for two exam boards. The current GCSE specifications carry with them the intellectual and philosophical baggage that was present at their inception. In fact I am amazed how little they have changed since their inception. If you are a new fresh faced drama teacher I suspect that, if you think about the origins of drama specifications at all, you will imagine that they are the product of great thought and deliberation: not so I'm afraid. GCSE exam specs were written by just a few people, sometimes only one, who all had their particular philosophical axes to grind and their own particular pressures to keep up their own exam board's candidate intake (never forget that that exam boards are businesses). If you add into the mix endless government interference which often precipitated last minute changes you will see why some elements of drama specifications reflect muddled and confused thinking which now appears to have been set in stone.
    The specification which seems to me to have the most muddled thinking is the Edexcel GCSE. Explorative strategies, the ‘drama conventions' or ‘drama techniques' (although I doubt that anyone in theatre, film or TV would recognise them as such) clearly have a place in drama teaching particularly at primary level, but as ‘Worksleepwork' pointed out any attempt to examine them out of context and to grade their use is clearly nonsense. ‘Hey sir, what grade am I at still image?' ‘Did I get a grade 'A' for thought tracking, miss?'. I stopped using them a long time ago when I realised that students particularly, but not exclusively, boys enjoy performing.
    Somewhere in the muddled thinking that is the Edexcel GCSE spec is the idea that these ‘drama techniques' will in some way help with student performance , they will not. They were never intended for that purpose nor do they have any utility as performance techniques. The fact is that drama teachers mediate the specification for their students and sneak performance into their ‘process' work. Edexcel of course, like all exam boards, turns a blind eye to what is inconvenient.
    ‘Process drama' and ‘product drama' is a false dichotomy thought up in the UK sometime in the 1970's in an unwise attempt to try and suggest that the drama taught in schools was in some unique way different to what the rest of the world was doing. There isn't ‘process drama' or ‘product drama' there is only drama; some drama is good and some, sad to say, is appalling.

     
  6. I am in agreement with Mrgroom here. I believe there is evidence of a lack of consultation between writers of specifications for Drama. Edexcel for example; how can a GCSE spec be so far away in use of language and terminology than the same subject AS spec? Explorative startegies don't exist here and elements and medium become mixed up with values.
    Explorative strategies are there so that non-specialist Drama teachers can understand how to mark process. Yes, these strategies do exist in some areas for performance, and some can be highly effective, ie narration. But the fact that students MUST use 4 strategies in order to pass unit 1 at GCSE is ridiculous. Spoon-feeding nonsense, that unfortunately, as the paying customer, I have to use!
     
  7. Thank you for your interesting responses. I find it interesting that there is a variety of responses and ways that we see the explorative strategies. It is seemingly such a simple term, until you lift off the lid to find a wide variety of interpretations and uses. I don't suppose that this was Edexcels intention.

    I will try to contact each of you individually because I am genuinely interested in hearing more of your opinions but perhaps I can move this discussion on by asking another question;

    What do you think the explorative strategies should be?
     
  8. I wanted to clarify that I think the Explorative Strategies are rooted in product drama, I understand that Edexcel want them used in a very different way.
    In terms of what I think they should be then, I would have them as a product based set of keywords that could be treated as perhaps the 'bones' of a piece of theatre - the ingrediants of a piece of theatre. Hotseating - Role-Play used in rehearsal to develop a character or Thought Tracking and Cross Cutting used in the Brachtian way to distance the audience from the characters.
    I think when you look at them this way, they do become the bones of a piece of theatre with the elements being things to give depth and feeling to the piece and the mediums to dress them up and add meaning.
    However, I wouldn't limit them to just the 8 - I'd widen it to include other performance techniques too.
    I think I'd also change the way Unit 1 and 2 are delivered too. I'm not too bothered by the 6 hours, but I do think the students should have the opportunity to develop maybe a final performance at the end to and that the students aren't made to do a minimum of 4 explorative strategies or whatever it is. I think that as long as there is evidence that students have considered their use, then that is fine, even if in the end they decide not to use them because they aren't appropriate to the piece.
    I personally do something similar to this in my teaching anyway. After every Unit 1 or 2, we use the material explored in the 6 hour assessments to inform a short Unit 3 mock performance, all in preperation for the real Unit 3 at the end of the course.
     
  9. I think if you aim for a final performance then you lose the explorative nature of Units 1 and 2. For me, the Unit 3 gives an opportunity for that and I enjoy the different approach for Units 1 and 2.

    I do feel that the strategies, mediums and elements are fairly arbitrary in the way they're grouped. I can't entirely see why they were chosen over other things. I think the 8 elements at AS are far clearer. I find it hard to explain to the kids why those things are on the list and not others and why they fall under each category. Eg. Why is characterisation an element in the same way as contrasts and symbols?!

    I was taught by someone who was involved in the creation of the original GCSE spec and he said they were keen to include some subject specific language. They decided 3 groups of 8 would work and they were selected on a train journey on the way to a meeting.
     
  10. Ah the old Process /product Drama / Theatre dichotomy. The arbitrary eight Strategies are a strange phenomenon when some are so basic such as still image and others like cross cutting more advanced. They do have their roots in the practitoners Brecht, Stan and Boal but have to open to all sorts of stimuli for unit 1 rather than just text. For text the strategies should be rehearsal techniques from theatre practitioners and for other stimuli such as photos / poetry more stylised techniques might be more useful. Thre trouble is these strategies do creep into unit 3 pieces and become cliches. We've all seen the devised piece that has a chinese menu style approach that opens with linked tableaux to music followed by thoughts aloud culminating in a screaming crescendo and then moving into a a conscience alley with a few duologues interspersed. To be fair to EdExcel the strategies need to fit an open spec with no prescribed texts or topics so they need to be a bit generic. Exploration comes with a view to understanding character and theme which may lead to an understanding of the dramatic elements with which they dove tail. The problem is that purely devised theatre is becoming harder for students to access professionally - there is the odd devised show in the London and the regions but they are not so prevalent as they were 15 years ago with Devising companies have moved on to texts and adaptations. One can argue about which eight strategies and bemoan the absence of essence machine but at least they're a guide and they do work. Howevef for Unit 2 (play ) they should in my opinion be tailored around the practitioners( Stan, Brecht and Artaud) to help pave the way for A Level study where Brook Grotowski, Berkoff, Churchill et al can be pursued earlieer if desired.
     

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