How can drama build and strengthen our classroom community?
My project is a community building unit that meets outcomes in drama, health, language arts and physical education. I developed this unit in response to teachers’ feedback about areas of the school’s programming that could use a little bit of extra attention. Early in the year, teachers expressed interest in the development of more drama programming at the school. Teachers were also seeking out more strategies for teaching friendship skills to students. My major is drama and I have experienced the relationship building potential of drama, both as a student and a teacher, so I knew that these areas would be a great combination for my PIP! I combined the two areas to create my inquiry question and sought out drama games and activities that would support the development of a strong classroom community. I also considered the time constraints teachers face and the lack of time they might set aside for drama, an optional area of the curriculum. Knowing this, I strategically geared my unit to meet outcomes from required areas of the curriculum: Health, language arts and physical education. The end product is a unit that builds community and fits conveniently into a variety of instructional blocks.
The first step to creating the unit involved pinning down specific skills that support a strong community. With help from my colleagues and faculty members, I decided that the key factors that contribute to community are trust, respect and working together. These three skills became my goals for the unit: the things that I hoped students would be able to do at the end and the focus of my assessments. I worked backwards, looking for simple activities that would clearly show student progress towards the goals. The bookends of the unit involve a simple lesson that asks students to complete three tasks: get a partner, give someone a compliment and create tableaux. I videotaped students as they completed these activities on the first and last days of the unit. At the end of the unit, we watched those videos together and students reflected on the differences between the two videos.
“Get a partner” is the activity that I use to gauge student progress towards trust. My indicator of progress towards this goal is the length of time it takes students to get a partner. When students only trust a few people, they go running across the room to find those friends to be their partners and it takes a great deal of time to get everyone settled. If students trust everyone, they quickly choose the person closest to them in the room, no matter who they are.
“Give a compliment” is the activity that I use to gauge student progress towards respect. One sign of respect is the ability to find something good about every person, even if they are not your friend. I paired students with a variety of partners and challenged them to identify a specific good quality about their peers. 8-year-olds generally recognize that they need to be nice to everyone and most students found a general compliment to give (e.g. nice shoes) but I challenged students to go deeper. I know that students respect everyone when they can find a specific good quality in all of their peers.
“Tableaux” is the activity that I use to gauge student progress towards working together. The topics I give students are purposefully open-ended and I watch to see if they merely work beside a partner in two independent stories or if they work with a partner to create a tableau where they are both involved in the same story.
We spent 30-60 minutes each week participating in games and activities that build trust, respect and collaborative skill. The activities were primarily teacher-directed in the beginning and the students took on increasing responsibility as we progressed through the unit. I pulled ideas from a variety of experiences and resources, starting with activities and games that were familiar to me and then pulling from other resources to build a dynamic unit that appropriately scaffolds for students. I also worked through several lessons with three other classes to enhance my sense of the needs of a variety of learners.
My project contributed to a strong classroom community that permeated through all subject areas. Students were willing to work with anyone in the class and they became better at working together without teacher intervention. My teacher mentor also commented regularly that she noticed significant improvements that were benefitting student learning during her teaching time. These improvements helped students get more out of their learning experiences because they were spending more time focusing on learning and less time on friendship issues.
These experiences have also helped students embrace others. I had three students in my class who were new to the school and did not know anyone. I also had a student who demonstrated some challenging behaviors that were very disruptive to his peers. As my class progressed through the unit, they became a stronger, more inclusive group. Students recognized that they had things in common with the new kids and built friendships. They learned ways to manage themselves in a group. They embraced their differences. My students navigated a lot of disruptions as teachers and staff worked hard to apply strategies to support the child who was demonstrating challenging behaviors. There were times that students expressed frustration about this student’s disruptions and lack of socially acceptable behavior. Over time, however, they became more accepting and patient, showing admirable kindness to this student. I will never forget the day when that student loudly exclaimed “I’M NOT SPECIAL” in the middle of a lesson and instantly a chorus of 8-year-old voices rang out with compliments and reassurance. Even though the student was often disrespectful to his peers, my class showed him love, kindness and respect. I couldn’t have been more proud!
After using my lesson reflections to improve the unit, I will make this unit available to teachers at my school. The lessons are effective, fun, accessible and convenient so I am hopeful that they will use the unit in the future to build community with their classes as I did with mine. The unit meets outcomes across the curriculum and I have already heard feedback that this element of the project is welcomed and appreciated.
I am very happy with the results of this project. I know that I have supported the development of skills that will serve my students for the rest of their lives.
Emily's passion for teaching has been developing since childhood! In Spring 2016, Emily will complete her final semester of a B.A/B.Ed with a major in Drama, minors in Social Studies and CTS: Community Health, and an Early Childhood special focus. Emily completed PSIII in grade 3 at Lakeview School in Lethbridge.