In their own words: How do students relate drama pedagogy to their learning in curriculum subjects?

Chan, Y.-l. P. (2009). In their own words: How do students relate drama pedagogy to their learning in curriculum subjects? Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 14(2), 191-209.

Abstract:

This study explores the ways in which male students in 23 first through fourth grade classrooms in a single all-male Hong Kong elementary school viewed and experienced drama integrated learning. With the help of five teaching-artists and 23 classroom teachers, the school implemented a year-long drama curriculum involving the integration of process drama (in which teachers and students take on dramatic roles) with General Studies and Chinese Language lessons. Each class participated in a cross-subject integrated process drama unit consisting of six sessions of 60 minutes each. Teaching artists taught the drama classes, while classroom teachers assisted and observed selected students. After each session, students recorded their thoughts in journals. Following the close of the unit, all students took a unit-specific assessment and selected students representing every class participated in focus group interviews. Results suggest that students benefited in multiple ways from drama integration: they felt more knowledgeable and motivated to learn, their speaking skills improved, and they were better able to empathize with others—elements which can enhance school culture and learning environments. However, in some cases students were unaware that they had benefited from the use of drama, suggesting a need for drama educators to make such connections more explicit.

Key Findings:

Overall, students found a stronger link between the drama units and their general studies curriculum than with their Chinese Language studies. Though students reported gaining speaking skills and confidence in expression, they did not link these skills to Chinese Language learning. Instead, students almost exclusively associated knowledge in Chinese Language with vocabulary acquisition, which they did not feel improved as a result of the drama units.

Many students reported that the drama units increased their motivation in acquiring knowledge as a result of the engaging method of learning, and that this acquisition of knowledge was most associated with knowledge acquisition in General Studies. Students also associated the drama units with General Studies because they both share inquiry-based approaches to teaching.

Students felt that the drama units helped them understand real-life situations, such as demonstrations against the World Trade Organization, and the views held by people in these situations. Student comments also revealed that the drama units helped them reflect on and develop their values. For example, students reported that taking on multiple perspectives helped them realize that discrimination against groups of people is wrong. Nevertheless, students did not explicitly see the connection between the drama units and impacts on their education.

Significance of the Findings:

The results suggest that the use of process drama within the general curriculum may improve school-wide culture and performance because it helps students develop knowledge and motivation, improve speaking skills, and increase empathy for others. At the same time, however, results indicate that students are largely unaware of these benefits. The research suggests that including students’ voices in their learning, via process drama and reflection, enhances engagement in learning. The findings reveal that drama-integrated education is an innovative approach to teaching which helps students become engaged and aware of their learning.

Methodology:

Male students in 23 first through fourth grade classrooms in one all-male elementary school in Hong Kong participated in the study. Drama teaching artists and classroom teachers jointly planned the drama units, while the panel heads of General Studies and Chinese Language helped ensure alignment between the drama units and the school curriculum. Teaching artists taught the drama sessions with support from the classroom teachers who also observed three to four specific students in each class. The students that were selected for specific observation represent a range of achievement levels.

Students wrote in their journals after each session and took a unit-specific assessment at the close of the unit. Also when the unit ended, drama teachers conducted focus group interviews, each involving two to four students from each class in order to elicit student perceptions of the learning experience. Sixty-eight students, selected because they had been observed by the teachers or because they appeared to change in some way during the unit, participated in these focus group interviews. The researcher video-recorded the interviews and analyzed the qualitative data with some help from the classroom and drama teachers.

Limitations of the Research:

Shy or struggling students may not have participated fully in the focus group interviews and thus, findings may not accurately reflect all participants. Also, these findings apply to a specific curriculum, setting, and sample and may not be generalized to other settings and contexts.

Questions to Guide New Research:

How do students view and experience drama integration according to student surveys or one-on-one interviews? How, if at all, do findings vary when different curricula, settings, and samples are used? If students are more knowledgeable about the intended benefits of drama integration, are they better able to recognize these benefits? How do students’ awareness of the benefits of arts education on other curricular subjects impact their achievement in these subjects when they participate in arts education?