Sunday, 11 September 2011
Week 5 extra session
Lynette was absent when I called in for the extra session with the class but she gave us the OK to go ahead. What a trusting sort she must be! Gay introduced the reliever teacher who, as it happened, has a wealth of experience in local theatre so was open to us having a session in drama.
As described in the previous blog, the purpose of the visit was to try to build on the key tension and see whether we could explore a more 'serious' response to the issues at hand.
Overnight I had put quite a bit of thinking in to the issue of HOW to go about this. I was reminded of Heathcote's words - can't recall where she wrote them - something about "every convention I have ever invented is so I can avoid having to tell children off". In this case the children had not done anything wrong (I certainly didn't want to come across as "telling them off") but I did want suggest a shift towards a more ethical and serious minded response to the issues at hand. So the question was how to build on the drama work of the previous session and suggest reworking it without seeming too critical?
Eventually I decided to combine straight honesty with a dramatic convention.
I had promised the children they would receive a strongly worded letter of complaint from the local residents. My intention had been to write this based on the dramatised conversations the children themselves had shown (there is something rich about giving the children back their own words in another form)... However, what I did was as follows.
I arrived in the classroom with a letter (stamped and addressed to the company) but containing a blank piece of paper. I told the children that I (Viva the teacher) had a problem... I reminded them that I had gone away to write a letter in role as one of the people from the neighbourhood, but said that I had found it difficult to do so convincingly. We discussed why this might be - and the conversation turned to how 'cartoonlike' some of the scenes had been. We talked about how enjoyable it had been to generate the rumours - but I asked them whether the conversations we had heard seemed like the
kind of things neighbours would actually bring up? I wondered if they could see my problem in trying to write the letter as a strongly worded, realistic objection....
I guess what I was doing here was trying to be really authentic with them about the real issue of how to make the drama take on a more serious edge. I guess I was also adopting a dramatic stance as "she who needs help" (the difference on this occasion was that I was in quasi role as the TEACHER needing help, rather than teacher in role as someone within the drama).
My sense was that this worked OK. The letter served as a symbol of the drama we were co-constructing together, whilst also distancing them from any sense of critique. I think so anyway. The blank letter became a mini tension for us to solve together.
I was in two minds about the next bit of the lesson... but decided to go with a bit of teacher 'modelling.' I asked the class to imagine they were peeping through the windows of a local cafe and invited them to watch another conversation between two locals (Gay and I in role). Children chose names for us - Gwyneth and Betty - and we improvised a conversation showing our concern about not being able to walk our dogs in the park during the construction process.
When we came out of role, Children were invited to talk about what happened in this scene... not just what the two women said to each other, but also the things that made it seem life like.... I'm still not sure whether I did the 'right' thing here - the last thing I want to do is say to children "No - do it like me" but it seemed useful to engage with this group on a wee conversation ABOUT drama and acting.
It's not an area I have entered into before. In fact, I would have tended to say "don't talk about it- just get on with it and trust drama to do its thing...." However, on this occasion it felt 'right'.
The conversation brought up the difference between "acting a part" and "being" in role. The children said things like "It seemed realer and more believable" and "the things you are talking about are more everyday stuff" and "the faces are kind of serious" - even "you didn't make jokes or try to make us laugh". From this point, the children revisited the roles they had taken on the day before but with an effort to "be" the role more than "act" it. (I know these distinctions are crude but they were the terms that were used by the children).
This time the conversations between neighbours were far richer, more spontaneous and less mannered. I remember that the atmosphere in the class seemed much more focussed. The children were really tired (it had been school cross country in the morning) but they seemed to really get somewhere. We finished the session by reflecting back on the experience - I told them that it now seemed possible to write the letter (we had solved our mini tension, if you like). And I promised to write it and get it to them right away.
So that was the extra session! As a drama teacher, it was an interesting one. If you think about it, there were SO MANY layers of metaxis going on! Children were retaining a sense of their identity as a class - PLUS as a company - PLUS revisiting their roles as neighbours - AND watching their teachers take on parallel roles - AND they were standing back from those and thinking about the tone and believability of them. Funny, come to think of it, we have not needed to talk to the children about "being" rather than "acting" when they are in role in the company. No one has a problem with that - it's only the drama for learning fragments within the mantle that can get a little overblown. Hhmmm, need to keep mulling this issue over!
Why would children be more like to "act" up the drama for learning bits. I guess it's to do with not having built belief in those roles. Yes, of course....! Without built belief, children are likely to play stereotypes and character parts.
Another issue playing into this is that the class was fresh out of a highly successful school production in which many of them had enjoyed playing 'over the top' comic roles. This might help to explain why they tended towards this kind of role play in the classroom.
Perhaps, too, as Gay suggests, children sometimes need the first go at comedic stuff before going deeper.
I'm also wondering whether all the extra pairs of eyes in the classroom might tend to encourage showmanship (yesterday there were not only 13 student teachers, three teachers and the video camera - there was also the university photographer to perform to). The children appear to have assimilated the student teachers into the culture of their classroom but it is almost inevitable that lots of extra folk in the room would add to the
sense of being on show. This was one reason why I felt it was good to go in for a more private session today.
Anyway - lots to think about. Meantime, the ever obliging children in the class did a great job and, I thought, demonstrated empathy with the problems faced by neighbours.
Immediately after the class I retired to Gay's office and wrote the letter from Gwyneth. On Lynette's return to the class this letter was used to provoke persuasive writing in the form of letters in role from the company to Gwyneth and her resident's society. Lovely stuff. I have asked her for some samples so I can share them here.