Towards a more Dramatic Education Author: Susan Hillyard B.Ed.(Hons)The plenary is opened with Susan singing this extract:This moment is differentFrom any before itThis moment is differentIt’s nowAnd if I don’t kiss youThat kiss is untastedI´ll never, I´ll neverGet it backThe walls of this roomAre differentFrom any before themThey are nowThey are nowThe air that you breatheIs different from any before itIt is nowIt is NOW Incredible String Band ¨This Moment¨ from the album ¨I Looked Up¨ 1970 (Mike Heron)What is more special to a human being than a magic moment? Of what are ourfondest memories made up? What can be more uplifting for a student, whatgreater respect can you pay to a student than to say: ¨This moment is now, it is ours and we only need us. And when this moment is over and we have experienced something true together, just using ourselves, then we have both changed. This moment is now. ¨For some children in some schools the only time real life meets life in theclassroom head-on is during educational drama. Drama is life and life is drama.Only through our sadness do we appreciate our happiness, only throughmovement do we understand stillness, only through darkness are we shockedby light, only after illness do we value our health. Drama uses the whole childin the whole classroom with the whole teacher to express the human conditionwithout resource to resources.
You may be wondering how drama can be so simple when it needs costume,lighting, sound effects, stage management, props, script and so on. To behonest, I wondered about that when I was a student but only because I wasconfusing drama with theatre. The debate continues, but in my twenty oddyears of teaching in five countries I have constructed a reality which has, in myhumble opinion, served my students well.For me, and I want to insist that this is truly a personal definition, educationaldrama has its roots in theatre techniques but its aims and objectives areworlds apart. Theatre, as an academic subject, is an Art whereas drama is amainstream subject for all in the regular curriculum. Theatre is for the talentedminority and therefore can justifiably be extra-curricular while drama is for allwithout threat or fear, explored in a safe environment without written tests ofmemorised facts or diagrams. Theatre demands an audience, a script, a criticand competition is fierce. Drama gently asks for a group of people to workthrough a process, searching for expression of the human condition. It is theonly subject which combines, in the classroom, movement, voice, intellect,emotion, co-operation, imagination, creativity, empathy and intuition. Whatcould be more WHOLE ?Drama is for all, without discrimination. Drama is for self development leadingto creativity in using your own words and your own ideas. Perhaps its greatestfeature is its temporary, fleeting nature which relates far more closely to thefleeting nature of life experiences. Drama is experiential, experimental - it doesnot pretend to be pure art. It does not need to be recorded, written, evaluated.We have become so bound up in educational resources that we have forgottenthe myriad of experiences the child can bring to the learning situation. Wehave taken the child out of his/her context and transplanted him/her in anartificial conglomeration of so called educational devices which have little todo with the content schemata in his/her head. We must not and cannot denythe world of technology and publishing and visual aids but the child must comefirst. Drama is essentially the only subject that allows one to do this. Toconduct an effective, quality drama lesson the teacher needs nothing but anempty space, a group of students, and a wealth of ideas.Nothing else is essential to the effective completion of the lesson. This is thewholeness of drama. Frightening? Yes. Why? Because the demands on theteacher are greater than in any other subject. No desks to hide behind. No books and pens imposing extraneous discipline and restrictions. No chairs to keep the wriggling bottoms still. No teacher-student void to maintain the traditional distance. No right and wrong. No textbook to keep us all on track together.
You may argue that any subject can become student-centred if the teacherchooses to make it so. I agree, to a degree, but no subject lends itself soreadily as does educational drama. Simply put, there is no drama without astudent. The student is the very essence, nothing else is required. In othersubjects the student often sits on the periphery, secondary to the essentialmaterials; the lesson plan, the teacher’s schedule, the syllabus, the predictedoutcome, the necessary previous step before the next stipulated step.Attempts by students to encourage learner-centredness are often cut off intheir prime being seen by the teacher as red herrings, irrelevancies, stallingtechniques, interruptions, carefully planned manoeuvres by dissident studentbodies bent on delaying the carefully laid curriculum. But teachers need tolearn to listen, to respect, to empower, to develop the rich wealth ofexperiences each individual brings to the classroom environment.What is learner-centredness ? It is a philosophy, just as whole language is aphilosophy, made up of complex layers of implications for teachers andstudents alike. It accepts the learner as the starting point of the learningprocess.The ramifications are enormous but nevertheless true to life and this is why itis not only whole but wholesome.The traditional teacher in the teacher-centred classroom using traditionalmaterials in a traditional style creates an environment not found anywhere elsein the real world. As Yetta Goodman so succinctly puts it, ¨There is no field - not medicine, not law, not any field - that has as its notion that everybody is going to be operating in the same way, at the same point in time.¨Thus the complex layers unfold. The teacher, the students, the environment,the content, the support systems need to work in a philosophical harmonybringing together all the elements layer upon layer. To the outside observerthese elements are not obvious, for they make a unified whole and here liesthe core of the enigma. Frank Smith delves into the complexities admitting, ¨Our starting point is at the threshold of a shadowy realm of enigma and paradox, the human brain.¨We are dealing with uncertainties, this is our only certainty and the teacher, asa professional, must learn to adapt to new strategies as research brings tolight untold truths.Let us look momentarily at these complex elements. Let us fragment thatwhich cannot, in reality, be fragmented but which we as investigatingprofessionals must attempt to analyse. We begin with our major resource - thestudent. But we also begin by making a whole set of assumptions about thewholeness of the teacher. Why do we need the term learner- centredness ?
Only because many classrooms through bureaucracy, expediency, the rigoursof politics, and time, have become, in contrast, teacher- centred.The establishment, in its desire for credibility has structured its regimes topresent a façade of efficiency. An apparent peace, a hierarchy of values, arecord of desirable activities, an organization which is visually and auditorilyacceptable for the educational institution. What an easy life for the teacher -no contingencies, no interruptions, no questions, an aseptic tank of hypocrisy.But how easily we fall into the trap. It looks good. It sounds good but does itdo anybody any good?The whole teacher is able to twist and shake to the rhythm of each individualbelieving in all sincerity that a teacher- centred classroom is mere surface. Shedoes not relinquish control but exercises, at every juncture, her professionaljudgement and integrity accepting positively all the problems which mustinevitably arise from collaboration which replaces authoritarianism. It is noteasy; it takes many years of patient practice.If you believe in this moment and can accept a classroom with nothing morethan time, space, students and teachers then go ahead and plan your steps fora more dramatic education. This moment is different from any before it This moment is different It’s NOW.Transcript of plenary first delivered by Susan Hillyard at Longman´s FirstArgentine Conference on Teaching English organised by Oriel Villa Garcia2/4/94From an article. by Susan Hillyard, first published in”ELT News & Views” Year Number 3, Sept.96