Drama in the Classroom

In drama class a student learns to speak up, act, entertain, socialize, write, debate, collaborate, and create. I love enlivening curriculum with drama because students don’t have to sit still. They can get up, run around, and embody whatever literature they are reading. They can play. And I believe learning is playing. At the online MIT Learning Creative Learning class, the leaders often discussed learning in connection with tinkering — using tools to mess around as they sought to solve problems.

I’ve noticed that in many traditional classrooms students are required to sit at their seats for a long period of time. And I wonder if we do this because we assume that is the physical posture in which children will be expected to work as adults in their own professional lives. Do teachers do this because we want students to be pliable? Do we believe school is simply a preparation for work? Isn’t school also a preparation to live a creative life? Isn’t learning for the sake of learning one of life’s greatest joys? And isn’t the nature of work — the way we work — changing?

By asking students to sit for long stretches of time, aren’t we training them to be sedentary? I know students have gym class in which they can move freely, but all of us need to incorporate healthy and purposeful movement, beyond organized sports, into our lives.

Look, for many years as a professional writer, I could not write without sitting, plugging in my headphones, and tuning out the world around me. In high school art classes, students wear their headphones to get into the zone. But periods of restlessness ensue and built-in stretch breaks and walking breaks always sparked new ideas.

When I headed up a Christmas Party committee in my old office, I insisted that we have stand-up meetings. This kept our meetings short in duration and high energy in spirit.

Moving and standing while writing and working increases productivity. It may be apocyrphal but I’ve heard Thomas Wolfe wrote while standing and using his fridge as a desk. One day in the Village, I ran into my old dramatic literature teacher and author Una Chaudhuri. What was she doing? She was walking and thinking, she said. This was the best way for her to process her own writing work.

The infusion of any course of study with drama makes it more engaging. I have always loved reading out loud to my children and my students. It’s strangely calming for children (and adults too?) to be read to. Honestly, a read-aloud book is kind of like a drug. More effective than a sleeping pill, my husband and I used to read short stories to each other before bed. Cheever was our favorite.

Besides the calming and energizing qualities to a drama class, there is also the sheer entertainment value of it. I remember laughing so hard in my high school drama class when we did improv. Theater is a collaborative art. The guiding principle of improv — of saying ‘Yes! And’ to your given circumstances — is so needed right now. We need to build each other up and not tear one another down.  There is so much good to teaching drama in schools.

When I covered a maternity leave for the drama program at Riverdale, I loved helping the students write and perform their own plays. (See the press release) Students create such amazing work when given the chance to perform major drama in schools. (See for yourself at St. David’s drama/music program.)

It is our belief that people learn best when they are actively constructing knowledge by working on problems that are particularly meaningful to them, in a playful way. – Lifelong Kindergarten (LLK) Research Group at MIT

Winona-Ryder-SAG-award-2
Speaking of drama and playfulness, isn’t Winona Ryder great? (This tweet got so many likes!)
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