In today’s economic and educational environment, many schools, particularly those that serve economically disadvantaged youth, find that they do not have the resources to provide arts-based programs. This is particularly unfortunate, as such training has demonstrated results that benefit students in many ways.
A recent UCLA study concluded that students involved in the arts tended to show higher academic performance and better standardized test scores; nearly 100 points better, according to a separate study by the national College Board. Additionally, students who participate in performance-based arts see many positive results including improved oral communications, thinking and social skills development, more self-confidence and a stronger ability to empathize with others.
BAYFEST’s In-School “Drama Process” programs are designed to enhance the students’ educational experience by engaging them and their imaginations in new ways of perceiving and learning. The programs also provide teachers with tools they can use, even after the program is over, to make teaching and learning more fun.
Our methods of working with students and teachers have been developed through years of experience with K–12 students in the U.S. and U.K. and through feedback from classroom teachers. Our teaching artists are all theatre professionals trained in creative dramatics, who develop workshops that compliment existing curriculum, often culminating in a unique class performance. Classroom teachers are encouraged to observe and participate, with the goal that they will gain new techniques to use on their own. Over the years many have reported finding their teaching and learning environments energized and their students more engaged and eager to learn because of the incorporation of these arts and drama techniques. Students gain more understanding of the concepts being learned and ask better questions.
Before coming into the classroom, the BAYFEST teaching artist will confer with the classroom teacher to find a focus for what is usually a multi-week series of sessions with students. After the initial sessions, intended to engage all students in active participation, the class moves into a structured process of developing a group story or dramatic event around the curriculum units, concepts, and goals set out by the classroom teacher. Examples of the process have included various forms of dramatics games and play, dramatizations of books or historical events, kinesthetic explorations of concepts in science or mathematics, and ensemble exercises aimed at achieving class cohesion.
One of BAYFEST’s core principles is that we must contribute to the classroom teacher’s toolbox without adding new burdens to their job. As the great British drama educator Dorothy Heathcote writes, “Anything that makes more work for teachers is a bad idea. Any teaching technique that makes the teacher’s job less fun and exciting ultimately makes the teacher less effective and is an even worse idea.” Specific areas in which our drama-in-action techniques can be especially effective include the following:
- In-class projects, involving the whole class or smaller groups. These may be designed to focus on curriculum content, team-building, or a general kinesthetic learning experiences.
- Reading training through imaginative dramatic techniques, such as talking through and acting out stories.
- Students who find reading challenging often engage quickly with such techniques, and later show that they have made significant strides in literacy, long after the program has ended.
- Workshops on social issues, e.g., stereotyping, gender roles, bullying, media literacy, etc.
- Relationship building among students through exercises focused on body language, language patterning, metaphor, story structure, autobiography, variation in points of view, and group movement.