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

"It's time to reflect." 

Sometimes those words, especially when they arrive during a formal meeting, can be a curse.  Forced reflection, or "top down reflection" is reflection for the sake of doing the activity because it has been prompted by someone else or a necessary checkmark on the completion checklist. 

How many of us actually act on the reflection work?  A conversation a gets captured on an exit card and then forgotten.  

But, what if reflection was ingrained in our daily practice as educators.  Not as a staff meeting activity but as a part of daily planning.  

And you might read this and say, but Cathy, I do reflect daily. 


My follow-up question is: how do you take those reflections and then turn them into action?  How do you drive the learning forward in away that will not only uphold strong pedagogy, but be best for the learners in front of you?  And not overwhelming? 

"There isn't enough time" is a common phrase that I hear in the staff work spaces.  The "enough time" phrase has been echoed consistency for years, from teacher's college private school placement to current day leadership role in the public system.   

We know that there will never be enough time.  What if we switched it around and made time and scheduled in time for reflection.  Put it directly into your planning time with a monitoring system that works for you.  And make it a priority and not something that gets filled with other tasks.  

I don’t have any answers when it comes to monitoring.  I’m a journal writer - I have books and books of reflection.  What am I going to do with that information?  It is providing a guide for the revamp of my courses.  However, this is afterfact.  My current practice in my Principal’s Qualification Program is to set aside twenty minutes at the end of the day to put down point form notes of reflection with action items and timelines.  It’s early days, so I have no results, but it’s a start.

What would the impact be on our professional practice if you had daily reflection time linked to active implementation during the year?  How would it impact your learning, your approach to teaching and learning, and your school’s community’s experience?