Monday, February 16, 2015

The Value of Using Drama in the Classroom

Students perform skits they prepared in class.
As one who has read my blog probably knows, I love to utilize drama in my classroom.  Admittedly, being a social studies teacher provides me many opportunities for this. And the more and more I use it, the more I am convinced of its value in instruction. Today, rather than share how I use it or ways to use drama, I'd rather focus on the why I use it.

1. Drama increases student engagement. When students have to perform, they have to be involved. If done properly, drama as instruction (or yes, even assessment), students must participate. One reason I value drama as a teaching technique is that it takes the focus off of me as the teacher and places it firmly on the students. Whether formally or informally, they will be on stage and will have to be actively involved in the content.

2. Drama gives opportunities for students to develop their creativity. Too often education today has become standardized. Students take standardized tests. Students are asked to do the same activity, at the same time as everyone else, in the same way. Drama lets me break that mold. Students may have to decide how something is performed, or maybe they have to write a script. They may be adapting a historical event or retelling it in a new way. Regardless, they have opportunities to be creative.

Students collaborate on a the text of a skit.
3. Drama allows students to travel down multiple pathways of learning. Extra-personal learners enjoy the interaction as skits are developed. Kinesthetic learners get to move around. Artistic learners will help create props. Verbal learners will find creative means of writing and creating dialogue. Everyone gets a chance to add. Even when it isn't required, students may add music or dance to a performance. It is always fun to see how it plays out. When I ask my student to "act it out", I am always a bit amazed at the outcomes. And drama often gives them a chance to synthesize what I'm trying to teach with what they enjoy.

4. Drama increases what students know. When they have to act it out, they remember. It allows points of reference for the teacher to use later. They are not always going to watch what I show them, read it closely from the text, or listen to what I say. But if they have to perform an event, they will learn about it in a way I could never make them, and their classmates will watch and listen to the performances in ways they would never watch and listen to me. So, drama is a win-win all around.

5. Drama makes learning fun. Some of the best moments in my class have been watching the humor come out during a performance. The smiles the students have when they leave class after the use of drama let me know its value. My goal in teaching is not to have everyone like my class or be fun all the time, but if I can get students to learn and keep it fun at the same time, is not that a worthy goal!

Students perform a teacher-created script
to aid learning.
There are so many ways to utilize drama. It can be a week-long process or something as simple as dividing the class into groups and giving them a short time to create a reinactment. Lessons can be as structured as one would like. Sometimes students are given an exact script to work from, sometimes a topic with a well-developed rubric, and other times just a simple sentence telling them what to do. Those decisions depend a lot on your students, the time, or your overall goal. Regardless of the how, drama has many benefits to students.
Students perform a recreation of the painting "Signing the U.S. Constitution" using a technique called tableau.

Friday, February 6, 2015

So Should I Change the Name of This Blog?

Back in August, I started posting to this blog again after a little hiatus. I deleted some of my old posts and kept a few up. As I'm getting into the swing of sharing thoughts- mostly about what I like to do in my classroom- I've had to decide if I need to change the title and maybe even the background for the blog.

The tile "Room 213" was the classroom I was using when I started the blog. At the time, I couldn't think of a catchy title, and that one seemed appropriate. Now, that I've moved to a different school, I've wondered if I should change the name and if so- to what?

Also, the background is a picture of one of my previous classrooms. Should I change that to something more recent or does it matter?

These are thoughts that have been bouncing around my head today. So, for all six of my loyal readers, what say you?

Post ideas and thoughts in the comments please!

Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Engaging Students through Debate and Role Play: Simulating the Election of 1860

I have found one of the best ways to create enduring understanding in students is to let them take the roles of others. Simulations, role play, and drama are excellent tools to make this happen. There are lots of great resources out there for teachers wanting to bring these elements into their classrooms.

As my eighth grade students began to study the years leading to the Civil War, I like for them to see the political issues. I discovered a great resource on the web site www.teacherspayteachers to help with this objective. The Election of 1860- Student Debate Simulation was purchased and adapted for my uses.

First, I broke the students into four groups, one for each candidate: Lincoln, Douglas, Bell, and Breckinridge. While I used the debate script and candidate bios from the purchased resources, but  I changed the assignment to accommodate my class size and the tasks I wanted my students to complete.

Each group was instructed to read the bio for their candidate and outline his views on the key issue of slavery. Students then worked collaboratively to answer the questions on the debate script. This was important to me. Even though when it came time to debate, one student would play the role of the candidate, I wanted every group member involved in creating the answers to the script. The reading of the bios and answering the script took approximately one class period. Students divided the remaining questions and finished for homework.

 On the second day, the students created campaign signs and slogans for the candidates. In addition, students created fictional characters who would support each candidate and wrote testimonials for the candidates. Each member of the group was responsible for these tasks. They really enjoyed attempting to decide campaign ideas for these candidates. This also reinforced their candidates views on the issues.

On the last day, we held the debate. Each group selected a spokesperson to represent each of the four candidates: Lincoln, Douglas, Bell, and Breckinridge. During the debate, group members were allowed to cheer and jeer as points were made. Things tended to get a little chaotic. In addition, students posted their signs and slogans around the room and group members posed as supporters and read the testimonials for each candidate.

When the activity was completed, I led a class discussion, making sure the students understood where each person fell on the issues in the election. The final class period was spend on students coloring a map with the election results and answering questions which helped them see how this election led to Southern secession and eventually the Civil War.

I love activities for this because it does a number of things. First, as students play the role of others, they have to critically think about what that person would do or say. The creation of the posters allow the students to use their artistic talents and creativity. The collaborative element helps in understanding and the performance creates a more interesting and engaging method for me to teach the ideas without lecturing or requiring a lot of reading of the students.

So, how do you use simulations, drama and art in your lessons? Anyone have lessons to share?