An interesting guest post by David Evans of the SRE Project on the role of Drama in effective SRE.
“I am an actor really – giving a performance in the classroom.”
I must have heard teachers draw that analogy dozens of times. Often they will develop their thesis with phrases like ‘You’ve got to have your classroom character, wear your teacher’s mask or you wouldn’t survive.’
Having trained as both as an actor and a teacher and worked in both capacities in a variety of institutions, I do not think these kinds of statement are just throwaway quips to re-assure the listener that their bark is worse than their bite; rather, they are heartfelt sentiments of professionals who know just how much planning, energy and formal presentational skill goes into their classroom delivery.
Interestingly, once you start to think of a classroom as a form of theatre, not only do the teachers become actors, but so can the young people. If in SRE we wish to develop young people’s confidence and ability to manage their relationships, then in the most effective forms of classroom learning teachers may need to be more akin to theatre directors with the students increasingly becoming empowered actors.
In the early years of Apause I was hired as a theatre practitioner to help develop the training programme for the peer educators. Dr John Tripp, the founder of the programme, wanted something that would give them more of a performance ‘edge’ and engage the learners as confident actors might. He also thrust a set of script into my hands and explained that they had been adapted from a uniquely successful project in Atlanta,USAand we needed to help peer educators bring them to life in the classroom.
I began to consider the question; “What kind of theatre are we dealing with here?” The beauty of having the scripts was that we had a highly codified account of what the original programme developers had intended.
Indeed, we could begin to see precisely why this programme was one of only two in 1990 that had actually reduced the risk taking practices of the target population, or ‘learners’ as we came to dub them.
These learners, over a period of four sessions were being equipped to recognise and interpret pressure situations, understand the options available to them and then through guidance by the peers, demonstrate that they had a range of skills that would enable them to keep in control in those situations. They had been given the opportunity to observe and practise assertiveness skills.
In fact, by the end of the sessions they could perform entire scenarios in which they both created the pressure situations and played characters who demonstrated how to deal with them. I was in no doubt that this method of empowerment, consistent with Bandura’s social learning theory model of behaviour acquisition was in fact achieved through a novel form of theatre-in-education. We came to call this approach to collaborative learning the ‘Scripted Performance Workshop’ (SPW).
Coming back to consider the adult teacher of SRE, I have long thought how disempowering it can be for a teacher – how little opportunity they have to develop their performance.
Relatively few SRE teachers feel they are specialists or have had sufficient training in the subject. They are often encouraged to believe they should be able to overcome the generation gap and develop spontaneous discussion about taboo matters in a subject area that is not underpinned by either a statutory curriculum or a rigorously developed set of teaching and learning strategies and resources.
Over the years at Apause we have come to look at adult-led SRE as another opportunity to apply the SPW approach. Like peer educators, quite understandably, most teachers come to the subject with some apprehension. They really appreciate highly structured lesson plans with the option of starting with a script.
The small group learning activities are easy to facilitate with most of the subject specific information already intrinsic to the group learning materials themselves. Feedback is carefully structured and often takes the form of role plays or a prepared presentation of their group’s ideas. All of this activity is conceived of by us as kind of performance or ‘theatre’ and it is codified in a set of classroom notes or ‘scripts’.
For schools wanting to take a new approach to teaching relevant and useful SRE, the Scripted Performance Workshop provides a safe and sensible approach. Pupils and teachers feel comfortable within their roles and both gain knowledge, experience and performance skills in a system similar to that described by Albert Bandura as ‘Guided Mastery’. The scripts offer a transparency, enabling parents and governors not only to see the full subject matter covered but to have confidence in the conclusions the learners will reach.
David Evans is the Director of SRE Project – an organisations that supports schools in delivering their SRE programmes. You can find out more about their workshops for teachers and for peer educators by following the links.