I have come to the conclusion over many years of teaching that the best drama classes run themselves.
I had a magic moment in a drama class this morning where I stepped back and witnessed my senior class of 21 students in five groups happily undertaking an activity all by themselves. At first glance this doesn’t seem like anything special, but in a way it was.
I had a similar moment at the other end of the curriculum with a group of Year 7s last week. So this proves age and maturity has nothing to do with it. The senior drama class is full of 17-18 year olds, while the Year 7s are only 12 years old. They’ve only been in high school for a month now and with few exceptions, had never been in a drama class at primary school. Heck, they didn’t even know how to rehearse a play script two weeks ago, yet here they were running a class on their own like pros.
This situation merely confirms engagement is crucial in a drama class. Whatever the age or experience of your students, engaging them with an activity they can grab hold of is essential. It also confirms how vital it is for educators to observe our own practice and critically reflect on it if we can.
When I become invisible in my own drama classes, I know something good is going on. It is at these moments that as drama teachers, we should literally take a few steps back in the classroom and really consume what is going on around us. Do your students seem happy? Are they animated and lively? Are they on track and focused with the work you set them? Do they seem engaged in the learning activity?
If not, then take stock and determine what isn’t working properly? On many occasions I have directly asked my own students what isn’t working in an activity that I clearly set them fifteen minutes earlier. If I can’t discover it for myself, how will I find out if I don’t ask the students, and if i don’t discover what is going wrong, then how will I improve the quality of my teaching in the future (or next time I run the same activity)?
We never stop learning in teaching and this is very true for drama. In a less traditional subject such as ours with less structure (boundaries, desks, text books etc) than some other subjects at school, we are sometimes at a higher risk of the teaching and learning being successful. But you don’t need to be a gambler to know that high risk often means a high return and when a drama class is running like clockwork, the rewards for the teacher (and our students, of course) can be great, indeed.
So next time you find yourself quietly standing in the corner of your own drama class, observe and enjoy the moment. Chances are, it is one of your best drama classes running all by itself, while you suddenly become invisible to your students around you who by now have quite happily forgotten you are even in the room.