HOT TOPIC: Creative Drama
Volume 1, Issue 31 - April 24, 2005

"Of all the memorable things I learned as an undergrad at Ohio State, none captured my imagination like the concept of creative drama: allowing students to experience the curriculum through vicarious dramatic experience. The notion for such a teaching strategy came from one Dorothy Heathcote of the University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. Essentially self-taught, Ms. Heathcote used this approach as a tool to stimulate authentic learning. Rather than having students read or memorize parts in a play, Heathcote provided students with an environment in which they could take on roles and improvise their understanding of a topic, situation or concept. The results were powerful testaments to teaching and learning.

Hughes Mearns of the Teachers' College at Columbia University had similar ideas. He espoused a "theory of permittings" for students whom he perceived as natural creative artists who could express themselves originally if their native language was not squelched in the classroom. His convictions mesh well with those of Dorothy Heathcote.

These are powerful ideas in any age, and when applied by a master teacher they can help all students to understand abstract concepts with more depth and clarity. I fondly recall teaching fourth grade Virginia social studies by having students participate in a morning-long Civil War campout complete with ham, hard tack, black coffee, camp songs, and marching drills with mop handles on their shoulders. Then again, there was the reenactment of the meeting of the Jamestown colonists and the Powhatan held around a large student-constructed wigwam with fowl, shellfish and vegetables to share, each student in character as the drama played out. My favorite memory, though, was the dramatic presentation of the meeting the founding fathers in Philadelphia as they discussed the seminal ideas that needed to be included in the Declaration of Independence. The ideas that students were able to verbalize once they were in character was stirring; explanations of man’s highest aspirations in the native language of nine year olds. Truth be told, creative drama is as significant for me as it was for my students; I live for those moments when I am moved to feel. And I submit to you that those students who experienced Virginia history through these methods still remember those experiences even today. Isn’t that what we want for all our students – to value the learning experiences we provide for them long after they leave our care? This week’s resources offer all teachers the chance to make that difference ....."

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©2005 Walter McKenzie

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