Connecting drama and writing: Seizing the moment to write.

Cremin, T., Goouch, K., Blakemore, L., Goff, E., & Macdonald, R. (2006). Connecting drama and writing: Seizing the moment to write. Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 11(3), 273 - 291.

Abstract:

A research team consisting of three teacher-researchers and two university researcher partners implemented and investigated a pilot study of a process drama program to understand the nature of the support that process drama offers to children’s development of writing skills. Three classrooms, two with children aged 10 and 11 and one with children aged six and seven participated in the pilot program, and the researchers identified six of the participating students to serve as in-depth case studies. Teacher-researchers and the university researchers jointly planned two variations of process drama sessions that included writing exercises and goals. The teacher-researchers recorded notes as participant observers during the sessions, collected student writing samples, and engaged case study students in a focus group. Teachers and researchers met throughout the study to discuss the sessions and identify emerging categories from the data. Findings suggest that the use of process drama is beneficial for student writing development.

Key Findings:

The presence of tension in process drama and dramatic play appeared to stimulate children’s imaginative thinking and creative energy, prompting students to enter a state of “flow,” in which they were involved in the writing tasks.

The students’ engagement in the drama activity appeared to be sustained through the writing exercise, possibly intensifying and increasing their concentration and commitment levels. Some of the case study students chose to return to themes explored in the drama and writing exercise in other, unrelated writing assignments, highlighting the processes of affective engagement and incubation (growth and development of an idea), both aspects of creative endeavors.

When children were given the opportunity to write in-role (from the perspective of their character), their writing was more focused and made better use of details to describe the setting, characters, or imagined events, ultimately increasing the quality of the children’s writing.

Children’s concentration, focus, and persistence (ability to follow through) in their written work were positively affected by their involvement in process drama.

Significance of the Findings:

This case study suggests that process drama contributes to writing skills for elementary and middle school students, beyond creating conditions that motivate and engage the students. Process drama has the capacity to foster thoughtful, imaginative, and effective writing in participating students. When combined with previous research on the impact of drama on other English Language Arts (ELA) skills such as vocabulary, drama emerges as a worthwhile avenue for teaching ELA skills.

Methodology:

The research group for the year-long study consisted of two university partners, two teacher-researchers each teaching a class of 10 and 11 year old children, and one teacher-researcher teaching a class of six and seven year old children in Southern England. The researchers selected six high-, middle-, and low- achieving students (three girls and three boys, all of whom spoke English as a first language) to focus on as in-depth case studies.

In total, the teacher-researchers administered eight 60 to 90 minute drama sessions during which teacher-researchers selected opportunities for students to write in-role with minimal directives with respect to writing conventions. The teacher-researchers and university partners jointly planned the drama sessions using texts intended to elicit visualizing and reading between the lines.

Teacher-researchers served as participant observers in their classrooms. They conducted observations of student roles and involvement, collected student writing samples, held focus groups, and created particularly detailed records for the case study students. Throughout the study, the teacher-researchers and university partners met, reviewed, and discussed these data sources and collaboratively identified and developed categories that emerged. The research group analyzed writing samples by the case study students for quality of writing and imagined experience.

Limitations of the Research:

Because this is a non-experimental study, it is not possible to say unequivocally that participating in drama is what caused the observed benefits for students’ writing to occur. Also, results may reflect teacher or student enthusiasm about participating in a new activity or research study. Findings may not generalize to other groups or when other drama structures are used.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Future research in this area should compare writing-integrated drama to other instructional approaches for a variety of student populations. Also, new research should consider the relative importance of the factors herein identified as leading to quality writing.