Thoughts About Arts Education

Less is More | Minimal Scripts As An Entry Point Into Character

Today I just spent some time planning the ADA 10 Grade 9 Dramatic Arts course with a colleague.  It was an excellent exercise in reflecting on what works best for our student learners, focusing on how the dramatic activities will bring about our key learnings in the course: communication, collaboration, confidence and critical thinking.  

As we were going through the course and outlining the units, we landed upon minimal scripts as an entry point into character and script work.  Starting small but using clues in the text to develop: 

  • character relationships

  • character building based on the facts found in the script

  • confidence in lines and memorization

As an arts educator, I'm gearing my lessons everyday for my students to build confidence.  I honestly believe that we need to help students learn their parts.  By encouraging students to be "off book" from the beginning of the year, especially with short burst activities such as minimal scripts, it will help the students to gain confidence in longer sections of material.  For memorization has two main components: confidence and accuracy.  Both concept are rooted in the idea of knowing one's character, relationship, objectives and motivations inside and out.  

I have linked a handout and activity to minimal scripts to the Dramatic Arts resource page.   In terms of planning where minimal scripts could go in your curriculum, consider the following: 

  • at the beginning of a script writing unit to study character voice and what needs to be said in order to get the message across

  • during the elements of drama units to bring out concepts of physicalization, staging, communicating character's reactions between the dialogue lines

  • as a warm-up activity to extend characterization

  • anywhere else where it fits.

Remember: minimal script doesn't have to be a beginning activity.  It could be used to dive into characterization at any point in the process. 

Also remember that this is a great technique to develop student voice and confidence.  Give the students prompts and encourage them to place these lines into a context that is relevant to their lives.  When you are reflecting on the activity, how did the text allow the students to enter into situations that matter to their lives?  What is the difference between what is said on stage and what can be inferred by body language?  What context does the audience need to understand the storyline?  Be direct with your reflection questions and prompt the students to develop their literacy skills in their response to the activity (both as performers and audience members). 

A warning to all of my fellow drama teachers and directors out there in the world: be careful of timing with minimal scripts.  You need to schedule enough time so the students feel confident in their decision making and choices, but not too much time so rehearsal becomes unproductive.  In an Ontario curriculum 75 minute lesson, you could totally use this sample lesson as your action portion of the lesson plan with a characterization minds on and a performance reflection at the end.  

Less is more.  How can you use minimal dialogue and have maximum impact on stage?  Encourage your students to round out their characters using physicalization.  


Active Reflection Linked to Authentic Need, Not Dictated Activities

How many of us explicitly use reflection tasks to link professional development to our school/classroom goals? Take the 3-2-1 comments from the exit card and apply those comments to daily work in the classroom?

What if we flipped and incorporated these reflection tools into our pedagogy and not as a “check the box activity” or for performance appraisal purposes? But to make explicit links through our reflection tasks on how their daily practices are addressing the school’s goals and urgent student learning needs.

A good place to start is through professional development. After identifying the key learning from the professional development, ask:

  1. How do you take the theory and/or examples and then turn them into action?  

  2. How do you drive the learning forward in away that will not only uphold strong pedagogy, but address the learning needs of the students in your classroom?

  3. What else do you need to keep learning as an educator while addressing the learning needs of your students?

  4. How will you monitor the impact on student learning through the work?

Through my experience leading activities on school improvement, quite often hear (or read on feedback forms) that a barrier to completing this work is “not enough time.” The teams needed more time to talk, more time to gather data, more time to reflect. In fact, “more time” was the number one requested resource.

Let’s just face it, there will never be enough time.

What if we switched it around, made time and structured reflective conversations that aligned with our professional development into our long range planning time? Instead of “pop reflections” where we pose a question and encourage five minutes or focused discussion, encourage educators to bring data to frame the conversation. Build on that data to create next steps and then apply those next steps in the classroom.

In order for this to be truly successful we need monitoring systems that work for the individual teacher. Methods where the teacher doesn’t only collect the data, but uses their own framework to analyze the data and plan next steps. In this framework, the teacher can synthesize all of the observations/conversations and funnel them into actionable next steps.

Create a sustainable monitoring system that works for you. There are lots of options - from running log using a Google Doc to physical portfolio of student work. Pick one that works for you and set aside some time to link your professional development with addressing the student learning needs.

I encourage educators to start moving away from “pop reflections” and reflecting when someone tells you to do so. Being explicit, and setting goals the merge your professional development, data and student learning needs, will have great, positive impact not only on student learning, but your own pedagogical development.