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Behind the scenes: Middle School drama classes

“Drama is about teaching the kids life skills, but it's also about developing skills that are particular to drama and to being a performer. I always start out class with a short meditation, because it’s great in life and it’s crucial for a performer: You can get hit by anxiety and nerves and you're outside of your comfort zone, ‘I have to be a risk-taker here and how do I do that?’ So developing those skills to stay calm and focused and grounded are super important skills for them to develop in drama for performances, but obviously also for life. When they've done those 10 minutes of meditation in the beginning, I give them a question for the day based on what the meditation was about or a reflection question, like ‘Is it easier for you to meditate now that we've been doing it for a while?’ I'll give them a minute to think and write so everybody gets space to have their own reflections and share them in a safe format afterwards.”

What happens after the meditation?
“We do warm-up exercises. We’ll typically do a couple of whole group drama games where students need to work together and be fully focused and present for the game to work. Afterwards I will guide them in an acting exercise by giving them different input, for example to imagine that it's a hot summer day, and they have to use their imagination and their body to explore. Afterwards I might give them a prompt or ask them to reflect to see how they approached the exercise, so it's my way of keeping a leash on what's happening. These are little warm-up exercises building towards doing an improvisation exercise, to help them understand that for an improvisation scene to work and be successful, they have to build characters and a relationship between the characters, they have to create a conflict or a situation that is interesting for the audience so the audience understands the situation, where we are and what's happening.”

Can you give me an example? Something that went well in your class?
“Yes, the task they're working on now is doing an ‘Intro to Improv’ as a kind of TED talk, to tell somebody about improv theater who doesn’t know anything about it. You probably know that drama also has the Knowledge and Understanding criteria, so here they're creating an introduction to improvisation based on everything they’ve learned about improv during the unit. They've created a script, and now they have to do the filming. As a teacher, you want to be able to give feedback to your students but at the same time, you have between 80 and 100 students that require feedback,so you'll have to find models for them to receive feedback. Peer feedback is a great way to do that but it requires some structure on my part to set it up in a way where they're actually able to gain relevant feedback. So I am pleased that I succeeded in creating a structure to help them give appropriate feedback to each other and improve their work based on that. These are skills that students will learn in all their classes - also in the Arts. The Arts include Drama, Music and Visual Art, and these subjects get as much time on the schedule as all other subjects. In the IB, they are considered equally important in developing the student’s literacy, study and ATL skills.”

What are ATL skills?
“Approaches To Learning.”

Aha. That makes sense. Thanks for giving us a behind-the-scenes peek into your drama class, Lena!
“You’re welcome.”