How do you teach teachers to consider the impact of diversity, transition and inclusion?
This report is a brief analysis of the impact of a bespoke professional development workshop with a group of 18 trainee drama teachers. The workshop aims were to explore the notions of diversity, transition and inclusion in an educational context; model an appropriate ‘theatre in education’ (TIE) strategy as a means to enhance the learning environment for learners; and implicitly use assessment for learning strategies to drive forward trainee learning and development.
Following a week long focus on the three themes aforementioned, it was intended that this workshop would approach these areas with a specific subject focus; drama. Trainees not only explored diversity, transition and inclusion theoretically but were actively participating in this exploration using a dramatic pedagogical approach developed by a professional theatre company. Despite a focus on ‘inclusion’ and trying to reduce exclusion within the education system through tackling, responding to and meeting the different needs of all learners, much of the learning within this theme had focused on dealing with Special Educational Needs, Gifted and Talented Students and those learners for whom English was an additional language. Ironically, by focusing on these areas other areas of inclusion were excluded. Inclusion and diversity are not only concerned with these areas. Trainees needed to consider how poverty, ethnicity, social stereotypes and gender inequality, amongst other things, could lead to exclusion from learning. Furthermore, it was felt that the day should be about understanding and recognizing that inclusive learning was about reducing all types of barriers to learning. (UNESCO 2001)
My experience of working with Big Brum has taught me that they seek to provide the highest quality Theatre in Education programme for young people across all age ranges and abilities. In addition, the company uses theatre and drama alongside young peoples’ knowledge and understanding to make meaning of their lives and the world around them. Their work has a strong theoretical basis: focusing artistically on the power of theatre images and dramatic action to create resonances and challenging us to new ways of thinking; whilst being educationally grounded in active learning and problem solving.
The play Touched by Chris Cooper was the material that we used to explore the learning. The subject matter of the play involved one girl’s exclusion from society by her fearful father in the guise of ‘protection’. However, it was exactly her innocence that gave her clear insight about the world in which she lived. Despite her apparent exclusion from society she was undergoing a period of transition in her desire to explore and construct her world. Through the use of drama, trainees were enabled to explore these issues in relation to not only their developing role as teachers but also as themselves. As Ainscow (2004:4) points out ‘inclusion in education involves the processes of increasing the participation of students in, and reducing their exclusion from, the cultures, curricula and communities of local schools’. Therefore, the use of the play worked on three levels. Firstly, as an aesthetic presentation to challenge trainees’ personal thinking about diversity, inclusion and transition. Secondly, as a platform to consider how the themes of the play link to inclusion, transition and diversity in an educational context and for the audience as teachers. Thirdly, as an inclusive pedagogical approach to explore culture, appropriate curricula and the communities in which trainees are training to teach. This idea is further supported by Bond’s (2005:7) concept that ‘imagination creates reality’. By learning to use reasoned imagination in an aesthetic context, trainees were challenged to consider the themes beyond a traditional transmission of knowledge model.
During the collaborative planning stage with the company, it was agreed that the most effective way to address the three themes of the day was to model the use of a dramatic approach; thus we agreed that using the dramatic form (structure) would model how to tackle the dramatic content of the play. This interesting interplay has also been a focus for the PGCE Secondary Drama course in that trainees have continually reflected upon the balance of learning about drama and learning through drama (Bowell & Heap 2001). Furthermore, Cooper (2005:50) also develops this aspect of drama learning further when he writes;
“In TIE (Theatre in Education) learning is not instrumental but conceptual, using the power of theatre to resonate with our own lives in order to reach new social understandings about the world we inhabit, to explore the human condition and behaviour so that it can be integrated into young people’s minds and make them more human by, as Bond says, allowing them to know themselves.”
As the session progressed, and through the use of assessment for learning strategies, it was clear that our planning for the day quickly became redundant as the trainees took ownership of the learning and directed it to where they wanted to take it. Therefore, as facilitators of learning, the actor-teachers and I had to assess the progress of the learning and adapt the workshop accordingly. This interaction between trainee, Lecturer and actor-teacher took the learning forward and was a clear example of assessment in action (Fautley & Savage. 2008). This progression in learning was led through a participation in reasoned discussions. It was only through the authentic aesthetic experience that all participants could build upon each other’s learning.
By creating this workshop in collaboration with Big Brum, it was clear that meaning was created through a social act and that this was an attempt not only to connect people in their learning but also to connect their learning to the world in which they live. I believe that education and drama are both vehicles to enable this connection. The use of the drama form resonated meaningfully with the trainees to learn about an abstract concept. This is also evident in my educational philosophy in that ‘to be truly inclusive and connected, education needs to relate to this wider cultural context.
Ainscow, M. (2004) Developing inclusive education systems: what are the levers for change?. file:///C:/Users/id118087/Downloads/Developing%20educational%20inclusive%20setings.pdf [Accessed on 22/02/2014]
Black, P. (2007) Formative Assessment: Promises or Problems?. The Journal for Drama in Education. Vol. 23 Issue 2 P.35-42.
Bond, E. cited in Davis, D. (2005) Edward Bond and the Dramatic Child. Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books
Bowell, P. & Heap, B S. (2001) Planning Process Drama. London: David Fulton Publishers.
Cooper, C. cited in Jackson, A. & Vine, C. Third Ed. (2013) Learning through Theatre. London: Routledge.
Fautley, M. & Savage, J. (2008) Assessment for Learning and Teaching in Secondary Schools. Exeter: Learning Matters.
UNESCO (2001) The Open File on Inclusive Education. Paris: UNESCO accessed on 21/02/2014 http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001252/125237eo.pdf