Key resources 4 - Managing space, time and contracted learning
Contracting in drama
|Because drama poses particular management problems, many trainees are understandably fearful of teaching it! School based training will help with these concerns and will be the most important guide on placement, but trainees should also consider the nature of learning in drama and what kind of groundrules are necessary for it to be taught effectively. Trainees could consider what kind of classroom behaviours and relationships are needed to provide the positive experiences of drama expressed by these urban pupils in the OfSTED Report Improving City Schools (2003).
- Behaviour in arts lessons can be better than in many other lessons in secondary schools.
- Drama is considered by many pupils to be important for the development of social and communication skills and tolerance when working with others. They feel that they get to know people better, especially as they often work with peers with whom they would not normally associate.
- Drama is considered by many pupils to be important for the development of social and communication skills and tolerance when working with others. They feel that they get to know people better, especially as they often work with peers with whom they would not normally associate. This is especially significant when working on large-scale events such as the annual school production, where older pupils commented that they had really got to know and admire the talents of some of the younger pupils.
- Status amongst one's peers is seen as an important element in drama. Being able and confident to perform in front of the class gives them a higher status with the rest of the group. It is acceptable to 'show off' and be good at something.
- This positive reaction contrasted strongly with much more negative comments about some other subjects in the curriculum where pupils spoke of keeping their ability to themselves for fear of being ridiculed.
- The pupils enjoy opportunities in drama to express their feelings and mould them into worthwhile experiences. One girl spoke of how, when she was angry, her anger could be turned into something creative; she could use something negative in a positive way through a piece of drama.
- Significantly, the pupils recognise that it is also very important to be attentive and focused as an audience. They spoke of the sense of mutual support, of knowing what it is like to perform, and of the feelings they get from seeing their peers responding to the same task in a different way, which allows them to know what the situation feels like from a different viewpoint.
Start as you mean to go on!
It's important to establish contracting with pupils as soon as they enter the new school at KS3. The behavioural problems of 11 year olds may not seem as difficult to manage as those of 14/15 year olds. Firmly establishing a contract at the outset will prevent problems emerging later in the student's career.
There has to be an agreement to do drama.
This agreement is easier to make if there is a visible and negotiable framework of groundrules, codes of conduct and behavioural objectives. Knowing what to expect from others and what is expected of them gives pupils confidence, security and protection. Knowing what the rules are and what happens if you, or others, 'cheat' removes the fear of getting it wrong. In every classroom teachers will use an agreed sanctions system to protect the climate for learning. The contract in drama may include the sanctions system but it is more than that – it represents an ongoing dialogue about how to maintain the quality of learning and inter-personal relationships in drama.
'Dialogue' implies that pupils are also contributing to the contract. The concerns that students might have will include what will happen if:
- people laugh at me?
- no one wants to work with me?
- I reveal something that might be used against me?
- no one listens to my ideas?
- I feel uncomfortable about my body?
- I just don't feel like it today?
- people in the group ignore me, or disrupt my work?
- the drama touches a raw nerve?
- the drama disturbs my cultural beliefs?
- I don't agree with what we're doing?
Trainees could consider how they might respond to these concerns and what sort of public discussion might be needed to establish groundrules to protect pupils' from these negative experiences in drama.
The teacher's contracting in drama may serve different pedagogic purposes:
||Setting the parameters of student/teacher behaviours – use of space, noise levels, productivity levels, clarifying objectives, courtesies and sanctions system
||Pre-empting likely problems – talking about specific control/space/personal & inter-personal problems likely to be encountered in the work
||Applying the contract – defusing and managing breaches of contract by referring back to the agreements that have been made and asking for them to be complied with (the contract becomes an impersonal regulator)
|Sharing the maintenance of the contract – open discussion
of problems and breaches of contract with expectation that class, as well as teacher, are responsible for settling difficulties
Never give up! It takes time to create a learning community in which individuals regulate their own behaviour and negotiate the climate for learning. Pulling a group into shape can be a long and difficult process – but you have to hold on to the vision that contracting offers! Why else be a teacher!
In sub-groups trainees could identify five 'rules' from the teacher's perspective and five 'rules' from the pupils'. Trainees should identify examples of school contracts both in drama and elsewhere – how effective are they? How dialogic are they? What do young people learn about communal life, rights and responsibilities from these contracts and what potential learning outcomes might there be for pupils from engaging in communal contracting with the teacher in drama?