Exploring moral values with young adolescents through process drama

Gervais, M. (2006). Exploring moral values with young adolescents through process drama. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 7(2).

Abstract:

This qualitative, arts-based research study examines adolescents’ experiences in a process drama program and explores the general decision making processes of junior high school students (grades seven, eight, and nine) related to their moral values. The researcher used storytelling on themes such as family and friendships to elicit the participants’ identification of their moral values. When experiences of dramatic cognitive dissonance (experiences in which youth realized that their professed values did not always match up with how they acted) arose, the researcher led a debrief through group discussion and reflection that led to greater self-awareness and understanding. The research culminated in a script co-authored and performed by the students.

The researcher illustrates the benefits and unique qualities of this moral education project, as well as how process drama can be used as a tool for moral values exploration among adolescents. Student benefits included an increase in conflict resolution skills, changes in attitudes, changes in understanding and behavior related to moral values, increased self-confidence, and more positive self-identity. Additional benefits included building a sense of community characterized by caring, respect, and mutual commitment, and developing a greater respect for peers and family.

Key Findings:

The project engaged young adolescents in expanding their ability to understand themselves and to know when their behavior was hurtful or caring toward others. As they gained a greater understanding of context as it related to moral decision-making, students showed an increase in their abilities to receive reinforcement and support from each other through positive comments when sharing personal experience. Judgmental comments, put-downs, insults and swearing that were prominent at the beginning of the process, were completely absent from all recorded transcripts after the fifth rehearsal. The students learned to see themselves as agents of change through the process drama project scenes and from the group discussions that emerged from these scenes.

The project found that participants developed a deeper commitment to global issues as a result of their understanding evolving from superficial to the realization of the complexity inherent in issues with no easy resolution. They requested a longer listening time to all viewpoints for deepened understanding before moving on to collaborate on creative solutions. Students became interested in learning about global issues and became involved in planning and executing fundraisers to address social issues of interest.

Significance of the Findings:

The project allowed the participants space, time, and an artistic process to build communication skills that range from performance to interpersonal relationship building. Students were able to identify and articulate their moral values. The findings indicate that the project allowed students who may not otherwise interact with one another to build a community of trust and collaborate successfully. The changes in attitudes, knowledge and behavior can be carried into the personal, familial, and larger community life (i.e., school) where these students might impact those around them.

Methodology:

The researcher recruited 26 middle school students who were all prior students of the researcher (a former drama teacher). Of the 26, 19 students contributed to the final script and performed in front of their peers. The researcher acted as participant-observer and led students through the dramatic process. She also conducted in-depth individual interviews and group interviews throughout the process. She used the dramatic process as one research methodology (arts-based research) and data collected included: video recordings from weekly rehearsals, photographs, students’ reflective writing, researcher reflective writings, and the final script and video recording of the final performance.

Limitations of the Research:

The study did not follow-up with participants to identify what aspects of the research experience have been carried forward into their lives. All participants were self-selected volunteers and were previously known to the researcher as former students. Because the researcher was also the director of the process drama program, it is possible that her bias may have affected her data and that the program participants may have been biased when she interviewed them.

Questions to Guide New Research:

What impact does this project have on other developmental outcomes? How can these be measured? What are the effects of the project on the school climate and/or family dynamic? How has participation in this research project affected students’ school participation?