Sydney Theatre Company, in partnership with the University of Sydney Faculty of Education and Social Work, has developed a unique program that helps primary school teachers to use drama to cultivate better literacy outcomes.
School DramaTM is a professional learning program that challenges the traditional approach to education. It partners a teacher with an artist over a school term and together, the team explores the different ways in which drama strategies can be integrated into English and literacy.
This initiative puts into action a truth acknowledged by international and Australian studies – that children who participate in quality arts experiences do better academically, are more comfortable socially and better equipped emotionally.
Conscious of different personalities and learning styles, it helps children study in an unconventional way, using the dynamics of an actor’s rehearsal process. For example, the students would participate in story in order to understand what’s happening in it.
Teachers say it helps their students undertake character analysis and build descriptive writing skills. Charmaine Welstead who teaches at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Waterloo describes the impact of the program,
“I’ve been noticing more confidence within their language when exploring a text, begging to do the activities that Anna (Martin, artist facilitator) had taught us to do.” These techniques are used not only for literacy activities, but to develop empathy and a better ability to communicate.
Sydney Theatre Company’s Education Manager John Saunders says, “Each year we receive overwhelmingly positive feedback from teachers and students. I think our success is most evident in the number of schools that have stayed with the program over a number of years.”
Every effort is made to work with schools from diverse areas, those with behavioural or learning difficulties, as well as schools with high populations of children from non-English speaking and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.
School Drama was created over a four-year pilot program with academic Professor Robyn Ewing. In 2014, Sydney Theatre Company worked with 87 classroom teachers across 34 schools (of this, 11 teachers and 6 schools in the inner city). Over 2,610 students have participated since the program began in 2009.
To find out more, head to sydneytheatre.com.au/schooldrama.