Leah Shaeffer is Gulfshore Playhouse’s Director of Education. She will be blogging every Thursday throughout the 2014-2015 season.
There are many ways to create a theatre arts-integrated lesson for the classroom. There are so many rich theatrical styles that lend themselves beautifully to content curriculum: Pantomime, role-playing, movement exercises, guided improvisation, and more. But my very favorite kind of arts-integrated lesson, both to create and to teach, has to be classroom drama. Hands down.
Classroom drama is a very special type of arts-integrated lesson. Students are given a script and assigned a role, and they perform an honest-to-goodness play for each other right there in their classroom. Their bodies, voices, and minds are fully engaged with the curricular content as they take on the persona of important historical figures, fauna and flora, even stars and planets. Their reading and speaking skills are strengthened, and of course, they are given the chance to be actors themselves!
As they re-enact events, processes, or systems, the students teach themselves and each other. Though the scripts are prepared by educators like me, the students take ownership of their own learning while having a kinesthetic, “first-hand” experience with the curriculum. It’s truly something to behold.
I am writing this blog entry on Veterans Day. There is a community concert of sorts happening just outside my office window, across the street at the Naples Depot. Listening to the exuberantly patriotic songs inspires me as I sit and write a classroom drama aimed at teaching the three levels of government: Federal, state, and local.
The classroom teacher whose students will be acting out this classroom drama assured me that I only need to cover the structure of local government during my lesson. But as I begin to write the lesson plan, bobbing my head to the strains of “The Star-Spangled Banner” wafting into my office from across the street, I realize that I need to dig—REALLY dig—into our nation’s history if I want these third-grade students to truly understand government. And the best way to understand something is to live it.
I pull up a classroom drama I had written for another school about the creation of the U.S. Constitution. As most teachers do, I cobbled together bits of the old with the new. We teachers know better than to reinvent the wheel. I crafted a new classroom drama script, which will take an entire third grade on a journey from that momentous occasion in history when our Founding Fathers came together to structure our government, to the county and municipal governments that exist across Florida today.
These students will be there in 1787 Philadelphia, and they will be there in the contemporary Capitol Building in Tallahassee. They will become George Washington and Governor Scott and the local fire department. They won’t just learn about the government—they will create it and live it. They will have an immersive learning experience, but they will also have an amazing, hands-on theatre arts experience. I have no doubt that these students will learn and grow in their love of both learning and the arts through this classroom drama—and I can’t wait to be there when they do!
Leah…you are so incredibly creative! I am sure my own history learning experience would have been much more enjoyable and interesting had I had an innovative teacher as yourself.. These students are so fortunate!