Basic structure and layout of the curriculum
The content of the drama curriculum is set out in four levels: infant classes, first and second classes, third and fourth classes, and fifth and sixth classes.
The content is presented in one strand at each level:
Drama to explore feelings, knowledge and ideas, leading to understanding.
The title of the strand defines the nature of drama. The learning experience encompasses both the cognitive and the affective abilities of the child and involves an exploration that will lead to a greater understanding of himself/herself and of the world.
Within the strand the detailed elements of content are presented in three strand units which describe aspects of drama exploration, experience and activity. The strand units are:
- Exploring and making drama
- Reflecting on drama
- Co-operating and communicating in making drama.
Exemplars are given with each content objective which indicate the kind of explorations, experiences and activities that are envisaged in it.
These are neither prescriptive nor comprehensive. They are merely suggestions that may help the teacher in planning a programme of effective learning through drama.
The elements of drama
Drama is characterised by certain features that give it its unique power. These may be called the elements of drama. They are:
- role and character
These elements will be treated in detail in Section 5, ‘Approaches and methodologies’, pp. 35–101.
The prerequisites for making drama
The approach to drama in the curriculum may be termed process drama. It involves children in a process of improvisation and exploration that leads to definable drama outcomes and learning outcomes. In order to make the process effective three prerequisites are necessary:
- the fictional lens
- a safe environment.
Content will supply the subject matter of the drama. This will be based on some aspect of life, on the child’s experience or on the content of some other curriculum area.
By using the fictional lens the teacher can look at the content through the medium of a story and frame it as a dramatic fiction. He/she can then suggest that the children improvise an enactment in which they engage with characters who find themselves in the particular dilemma, location or situation suggested by the action.
In order to increase children’s confidence, allay their fears and dissipate their inhibitions they must be allowed to make the drama in a safe environment, where what they do is valued and validated by other children and by the teacher.
These three prerequisites for making drama will be treated in greater detail in Section 5, ‘Approaches and methodologies’.
The strand units
There is a close correlation between the content objectives of the curriculum and the elements of drama. Through the objectives the children will become familiar with the elements and how they provide the structure for drama, and they will learn to use them to explore the possibilities of drama activity.
In keeping with the gradual development of the child, progression can be seen in the content objectives from level to level. For example, in infant classes the child will merely explore and develop what is still a strong instinct for makebelieve play, whereas in first and secondclasses he/she will use the ability to play at make-believe in order to enter fully into participation in drama. Similarly, in infant classes children will explore and develop the ability to play in role, but in third and fourth classes they will begin to understand the relationship between role and character. Other content objectives, such as those dealing with using script as one of the pre-texts for drama or distinguishing between genres, such as the comic and the absurd, are not approached until the senior classes. The following is a brief description of each of the content objectives as they appear in the strand units of the curriculum.
Exploring and making drama
The continuum of make-believe play and drama
Make-believe play is the basis of all educational drama. The impulse to make-believe is spontaneous in the young child, and when this begins to wane it is important that the teacher fosters and encourages its essential characteristics in drama activity.
Role and character
It is through ‘entering into’ the different characters in the drama and playing the characters in various roles in the context of the drama that the children experience the drama process. Taking a role can be described as pretending to be someone or something else while character refers to the entire intellectual, emotional and physical make-up of a real or fictional person. The nature and function of both of these and their relationship to each other will be explained in more detail in Section 5, ‘Approaches and methodologies’.
Using space and objects to deepen the drama context and add to its reality
The space in which the drama takes place will, as the story or drama text is created, come to represent the location of the drama. It is important that children are encouraged to develop the imaginative flexibility to exploit the drama space and the objects it contains in order to extend and deepen the reality of the drama.
Exploring how the fictional past and the desired future influence the dramatic action
This content objective deals with the element of time. Drama always takes place in the present moment but the present moment contains residues of the past and the seeds of the future. In entering into the character the child should be encouraged to imagine the character’s past and what may have happened before the drama. This will impinge on the course of the dramatic action. Similarly, in striving towards a particular future the character will influence the action.
Maintaining focus in the dramatic action
In fostering the impulse to make-believe, the teacher can encourage children to enter as fully as possible into the fiction they are creating and accept the fictionalconsequence s of their actions in the drama situation. In doing this they will learn to contribute to maintaining the focus of the story as it develops in the drama.
The function and effect of tension in the drama
In drama, as in life, it is the element of choice that constitutes the dynamic of change and development. It arises from the conflicting demands of two (or more) desires, ideas or needs and engenders the need for decision. This is the source of tension in drama, and its roots are twofold: the impetus to come to a decision and the conflict inherent in choice.
Using script as one of the pre-texts of the drama
The pre-text is the springboard that launches the drama and it can take a number of forms. In the senior classes these can be extended to include the use of a written script. This will not entail a performance of the script: it will usefully consist of giving the children the opportunity to adopt the characters and the situation of the script and reinterpret their development through their own imaginative dramatic action. In situations in which a short script is made into a drama text for performance to the rest of the class, the children themselves should act as ‘directors’, using their knowledge of making the drama text.
Distinguishing between various genres such as comic, tragic, fantastic, poetic, absurd
Drama has many genres and each offers a particular perception and clarification of aspects of the human condition. In the junior and middle classes children will be limited in their understanding and appreciation of genre and therefore, though using various genres to explore feelings, knowledge and ideas, may not consciously distinguish between them. However, by the senior classes, with a consistent experience of drama, children will begin to appreciate the possibilities of some of the principal genres: the comic, the tragic, the fantastic, the poetic, the absurd.
Reflecting on drama
The content of the second strand unit is an integral part of the drama process. It is concerned with reflecting on the drama, making connections between plots and themes and establishing relationships between drama and life experience.
Reflecting on a particular dramatic action in order to create possible alternative courses for the action
As the drama activity is taking place the child will be helping to create a story and will be reflecting continuously on how it is developing: what has happened, where the situation is leading, how his/her own character and other characters are developing, and many other questions. In this reflective response the child will make choices and create alternative courses of action and so contribute to the development of the drama.
The relationship between story, theme and life experience
The creation of a story or fiction is at the heart of the drama process. The themes that the story explores will be drawn from the child’s general experience, from concepts, knowledge and experiences encountered in the various curriculum areas and from other contexts. In exploring these the child can come to new perceptions, insights and knowledge about life. In this way drama is a learning experience that is valuable and relevant.
Using insights arising out of dramatic action to draw conclusions about life and people
Reflection can also take place after a particular drama activity. Children may discuss not only what has happened but the ideas and feelings encountered and the new knowledge gained. Above all, they can examine and explore the ways in which the drama has given them new insights into human attitudes and concerns and a greater understanding of people and life.
Co-operating and communicating in making drama
Co-operating and communicating with others, out of role, in order to shape the drama
One of the important learning benefits in drama is the experience it gives children in working together and with the teacher. Opportunities for cooperation arise all the time in deciding on content, in choosing the fictional lens (particularly as they mature and gain experience in making drama), in using place and space, and in choosing different directions for the drama. This will also involve them in discussion and negotiation with each other and with the teacher and so lead to the development of communication skills. In this way the children take the principal role in shaping the drama and so enhance their sense of ownership of it.
Co-operating and communicating, in role, in order to shape the drama
Children also shape the drama when they are in role in the enactment. The extent to which they enter into the role or character, progressively developing in it more depth and believability, will have a crucial influence on the directions the enactment will take. Through reacting in character in co-operation with each other they are continually making decisions that lead to the further development of characters and of the drama. The ability to communicate the character’s thoughts and emotions is a facility that will grow and will provide them with the experience of living in and through the character. This allows them to express and clarify intuitions, to experience new perspectives and to communicate them effectively.
Developing fictional relationships through interacting with the other characters as the drama text is being made
A great part of the development of character can come through interaction with other fictional characters in the drama. The extent to which this happens will, in the first place, be a factor of the measure of belief each child brings to the drama. Through believing in the drama and accepting the fictional consequences of the enactment, he/she will deal seriously with the attitudes, opinions and feelings of the other characters. The different registers of language in which these are expressed and the dimension the sub-text adds to it through gesture, facial expression and unspoken attitude and feeling will also influence the quality of the interaction and so enhance the effectiveness of the drama.
Enacting for others a scene that has been made in small-group work The value of drama in the classroom both as a learning and a developmental experience resides in the actual making of the drama and in reflecting on it. This of its nature is an improvisational process. The children explore the content through the fictional lens by adopting characters and allowing them to develop through the enactment. The direction this will take is wholly dependent on spontaneous interaction among the characters as the drama is made. It can be useful, however, to ask a group to re-enact a scene that has already been done in small-group work, for other members of the class. This can lead to reflection on particular aspects of content and the way it has been refracted through the drama, thus adding to the children’s learning experience. This will always be done in the class as part of the drama process and need not lead to any emphasis on ‘performance’ or ‘presentation’.