Working with Leeds Beckett’s Carnegie School of Education and the Alive and Kicking Theatre Company, Key Stage 2 (KS2) teachers in a Bradford primary school were trained in using drama to make writing more meaningful for children.
The Leeds Beckett researchers, led by Dr Tom Dobson and Lisa Stephenson, found that, after two terms, the children became highly motivated to write and developed a personal investment in the process of writing and in their final written pieces. Their writing was also found to be highly sophisticated and to meet the technical requirement of the national curriculum testing.
Dr Dobson, Principal Lecturer with expertise in creative writing, explained: “We observed taught lessons as well as the children’s writing and their reflections on the processes involved. Our findings show that the children’s motivation to write and the quality of their writing is improved by their involvement in drama. The main reason behind this is that drama provides children with an embodied experience of character, setting and story which the children can draw upon in their writing – when children write about their embodied experience, the act of writing becomes a problem-solving activity where the children think about how to translate their embodied experiences into text.
“We observed one class literally run to fetch their writing journals in a drama lesson and the children often spoke about how their writing had ‘real meaning’ for them. Surely these are kinds of writers our schools should be nurturing.”
Alive and Kicking Theatre Company
The research was funded by the United Kingdom Literary Association (UKLA) and findings will be published in the forthcoming edition of Literacy journal.
The teachers were trained to use drama and to adopt the identity of a writer when teaching writing to their classes. At a time when government testing of spelling, punctuation and grammar can lead to less creativity in the teaching of writing, this research provides compelling alternative approaches for schools and their teachers to engage children and give them a strong investment in their writing, whilst also being able to satisfy curriculum demands and statutory testing.
John Mee, Associate Director at Alive and Kicking Theatre Company, said: “In all our work at Alive and Kicking we attempt to build dramas that create a problem to be solved and serve to introduce creative thinking, adoption of role, skill sets in art, music, design, story making and storytelling.
“To be able to work with every child and every member of staff across KS2 in our partner schools was terrific. Here we are now with a developed relationship with the lead teacher and an opportunity to take this work on into other schools as we work across the north of England.
“At Alive and Kicking we have always been intent upon reflecting on the strategies, techniques and forms that we use to create relationships and to build characters, narrative and dramatic tension. Here we have a moment to look at our work through the eyes of the children, the teachers and the researchers in detail and within a theoretical framework that we do not always have time for.
“Our learning from this work will be incorporated directly into our new planning and we will engage the teachers we work with in seeking opportunities to write within and beyond the drama, to build writing links that reflect and steer us into the next action in our stories. The work outlined in this paper should be a clarion call to teachers and teacher trainers to consider the launch pad that drama can offer in terms of context and purpose for writing.”
John Mee, Alive and Kicking Theatre Company
The Deputy Head Teacher at the primary school in Bradford, commented: “Working across KS2 and including all teaching and support staff has enabled school to quickly develop and embed new teaching approaches that directly benefit children's learning. It has also helped the teaching staff to foster a culture of reflective practice and professional development which has helped us to promote and create a culture of learning throughout the school for children and adults alike.
“The research programme has enabled teachers to develop how they present writing opportunities to the children. Working with the writing journals and writing alongside the children has helped them to develop their teaching in order to create a writing community inside the classroom. Writing in role in direct response to moments of dramatic tension was a 'risky' new approach. It has resulted in teachers seeing increased levels of engagement and creativity from the children. Working through drama provided children with real ownership of their writing because of the creative ideas they had invested in it. This has made the redrafting and editing process even more relevant to the children as they remodel, refine and develop their initial ideas.”