Guest Author: Eva Knight, Springbank Middle School Drama Teacher – This year Springbank Middle School has embarked on a creative journey by expanding the fine arts program to include drama classes for all Grade 5 and 6 students. This program will be the building blocks for the already existing Grade 7 and 8 Drama option, and for the newly minted Glee Club option. For the past six years I have been a Drama Specialist in a Junior and Senior High, but this is my first opportunity to implement a program for 10-12 year olds. The response of parents and students has been very positive and encouraging. Parents are excited to have students implementing public speaking, presentation, and group work skills into their learning on a weekly basis. Students are enjoying an extra period a week to move about the classroom and to perform in front of their peers.
Indeed, these are all skills and activities that happen in the drama classroom, but I believe the benefits of implementing a weekly drama class go far beyond these evident and tangible skills. Drama allows students to extend their thinking beyond themselves and others. It pushes them to come up with creative solutions to complex relationship and social issues. During any given drama class students will work with between five and 10 different people. Within a term, students will have been partnered with every other student in their class. When students are given the opportunity to work with everyone in their class, it creates a community of learners striving towards a common goal.
There is a sense of trust and companionship present in a drama class that is hard to re-create in other classroom settings. In a drama class, students are not competing with one another for a better mark, for a higher score, or for the right answer. Instead they are asked to create, to laugh, and to learn from one another. In middle school, when children are beginning to come into their own and discover themselves, this sense of community gives them a safe environment to express who they are, and who the are becoming, without fear of ridicule or judgment. It gives them the emotional freedom to “try on” other personas in a welcoming and trusting atmosphere.
Drama encourages students to make mistakes. Mistakes are celebrated, accepted, and changed into something new. There is no right or wrong answer in the drama class. If a performance does not go as planned, you must adapt, improvise and work together with your classmates to finish. In the end, it is not the performance that is important, but the effort, learning, and growth to get to the finale that is celebrated
When I asked for feedback from past and present drama colleagues about what they think drama brings to the middle school classroom I received a plethora of valued anecdotes and advice. One piece of wisdom that stood out comes from my sister, Sue Merry, a Drama and English teacher in Red Deer. She wrote:
“We underestimate the importance of fun and laughter, thinking that these are unimportant extras in life. I’ve found that the laughter and smiles I share with my Drama students connect us together into a caring community. Often, it’s a primary support for them when things go wrong in their lives. It’s a support for me, too: a rejuvenation, an energy boost, a reassurance that the world is in good hands since it’s in the hands of these wonderful, creative, caring young people who I have the honour of guiding through their creative journey.”