Teaching literacy through the arts – especially drama – is effective in providing entry points and improving engagement from young students.
This is the message from early years teacher Lucy, who recently joined literacy expert Sharon Callen on Episode 42 of The Teacher’s Tool Kit for Literacy to discuss how the arts can be a springboard for the four key capabilities of curiosity, compassion, connection and courage.
The Year 1 teacher explained how using drama devices and other artistic techniques will allow all students to feel nurtured and included in the classroom.
“Sometimes we need to let go a little bit of it being a ‘learning task’ where this is how you have to do it, because the already disengaged children are the first ones to continue to be disengaged,” she said.
“So, if a child doesn’t have strong oral language and they’re not connecting to it straight away in the written format, doing it in other form ways through the arts, such as visual images and drama devices, they get to connect into it and build up that knowledge.”
“I feel as if it’s just a natural step for children. They forget about the fact they’re doing school learning and they just get engaged in being involved with an experience.”
Lucy said she experienced this difference in students’ learning first-hand when using immersive techniques while reading Mrs. Wishy Washy by Joy Cowley.
“I always remember years ago I used to read Mrs. Wishy Washy and I would turn around with an apron on and the students would know that I was going to read it. So I was the role of Mrs Wishy Washy and they were the animals and I addressed them as the animals,” she explained.
“Then we would go back to the text and read what happened after we’d been through some stuff as a class. And this little boy jumped up and said, it’s like we jumped into the story. So to me the value of drama is that whole involvement in the story, because we know that you captivate children with texts, but this is another way of captivating them.”
Sharon added: “When a child understands that it’s like we’ve jumped into the story, we really know then that we’ve captured their hearts and minds and their thinking and creativity and curiosity…our involvement and our engagement with literacy needs to be alive”.
Lucy further explained that using this technique is particularly powerful when teaching students about character development. It also helps to unlock greater empathy and compassion from children.
“I think it’s just a very natural way. If you want to do the content descriptor of understanding how characters are developed, talking about character development is very dry. But being a character and enacting it, and not necessarily reenacting it exactly, but maybe even just being creative with being that character and doing something that we didn’t even know that character could do but would fit what that character would do, is effective,” she said.
“Drama makes the children not just empathise but be the character.
“So I think what I’m trying to get back to the arts is the fact that it’s not just the writing bit standing on its own – it’s all of the other things that enrich it before you get there.”
But Lucy emphasised drama shouldn’t be used in isolation, for the most effective teaching process is one which builds upon different literacy and artistic techniques.
“When we did Elmer the Patchwork Elephant, they worked as partners on a great big piece of chart paper divided into eight squares. And I gave them little snippets of the key events and eight squares. And then they worked on illustrating. I wanted them to really focus on the idea that those images needed to work with that part of the text. So they had all the images from Elma and they went and early retold it,” she said.
“So by that time, they’ve been doing class drama work around it, they’ve been doing drawing about it, they’ve been reading the key events and I got a lot of oral language that was really close to the text.”
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