Catterall, J. S. (2007). Enhancing peer conflict resolution skills through drama: An experimental study. Research in Drama Education, 12(2), 163-178.
This quasi-experimental study considers the effects of drama instruction on pro-social behavior, learning processes, and attitudes toward drama for middle school children participating in an after-school drama program. The program, School Project, which took place in three Los Angeles middle schools, was intended to foster positive interactions, conflict-resolution skills, and self-concept through drama.
More than 80 percent of program participants were from low-income families, and two of the three participating schools were among the lowest-performing in their district. The researcher collected data through a dual treatment-comparison and pretest/posttest survey-based design. The researcher found that students who participated in the drama program (the treatment group) made significantly larger gains in the areas of group work, problem resolution, metacognitive skills, self-efficacy, and attitudes about drama as compared to a similar group of students who did not participate in the program (the control group).
Students that participated in the 24-week theater program (the treatment group) developed more self-efficacy, and conflict resolution skills than a control group comprised of students who wanted to participate in the program but could not because of space limitations. Program participants also increased their use of metacognition and ability to work effectively in groups.
In open-ended survey response items, students in the treatment group reported liking acting and theater and felt like they were better actors as a result of participating in the drama program.
Although the researcher also found gains for the treatment group in the areas of ability to work with others when disagreeing and general outlook, these gains did not reach the threshold of statistical significance.
Significance of the Findings:
This study contributes knowledge about the use of drama to develop pro-social behavior and its effect on learning processes, which are important for success in a variety of settings. The findings here support the idea that drama can help develop these competencies.
This study was based on a treatment-comparison group design, also known as a matched group model. The sample consisted of middle school students enrolled in three middle schools in Los Angeles, CA. Students in the treatment group participated in School Project while students not selected for participation served as the control group.
The researcher administered surveys at the start and end of the 24-week long program to assess pro-social behavior, learning processes, and attitudes about drama. The survey instrument was modeled on designs used previously with the project and on evaluation tools used in national-scale studies. It included open-ended questions and multiple items to measure each outcome of interest in the study (excepting attitudes about drama, which was measured through a single item). The researchers interpreted the survey results by comparing changes in scale scores between groups and by looking at the pretest/posttest changes in scale scores for the treatment group.
Limitations of the Research:
The School Project program was conducted at schools with high instances of poverty and low academic track records. Findings may not be generalizable to other settings.
Though the study describes that both treatment and control groups came from the same pool of students interested in the program to avoid self-selection bias, there is no explicit mention of random assignment, and it is unclear if the researcher used this method.
Questions to Guide New Research:
This study finds that collaborative drama has positive effects on pro-social behavior and learning processes. It would be beneficial to conduct similar studies with similar populations of students to attempt to replicate these results. It would also be fruitful to conduct a similar study with other age groups and/or with different variants of the program to increase external validity.