Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Drama 20: Implementing the Learning Design Model in High School

By Trina Penner       

A note about Collective Theatre:
Mrs. Penner describes Collective Theatre as a salad.  You add a variety of ingredients to contribute to the deliciousness of the salad.  Each ingredient added represents a scene in Collective Theatre. The salad is the end result which is the production. Ingredients are strung together by the theme or topic. We are all trying to make the most delicious salad possible by growing, developing, and contributing a variety of ingredients in the most collaborative way. Students are first hand contributors and creators of the salad. (P.S. Some ingredients are cultivated better than others which has a direct effect on the quality of the salad in the end.)

I made a very conscious choice to approach the Collective Theatre project in my Grade 11 Drama class (Alberta, Canada Curriculum) differently this time around.  My goal was to increase the creative confidence of my students so much that they ended up immersed in Type 3 learning, controlling the creativity without even noticing it was all them. I was intent on trying out the learning design model for real with students and see what the results would be. This is our experience….

TYPE 1: The Hook or Launch

I started by sending them on their way from class one day to think about what is really important to them right now at this age or something that is pressing on their minds when they go to sleep at night. The purpose for thinking about these things was to come up with a potential topic for our Collective Theatre Project. I knew the importance of ownership within the human spirit. If the topic comes from them, then the meaning is intrinsic when it comes to the creating part of the project.
When the students returned to class the next day, I asked that they write down all the ideas generated from the two items I had them ponder the night before.  The purpose for the writing of the ideas is to generate currency that they can use in the next activity, or ‘bank’ ideas for use later.

TYPE 2: Fuel & Guided Strategies

Speed Dating

Once students had currency to share, we assumed the speed dating (aka idea sharing) formation (see picture). These Grade 11’s spent a large amount of the class cycling through the speed dating: sharing, listening, adding, asking, etc.  It was loud and energetic and great!  They were fully engaged in the exercise. At the end of the speed dating, I asked that some share what they learned from speaking with others.  This was a beautiful way for peers to establish a sense of safety and belonging in a classroom environment. When a student hears someone else share their idea it’s like a compliment that they were heard and acknowledged. Only good came out of this exercise.

Ideas Converge and Diverge

After we had papers full of ideas for potential topics to explore for our project, we started to connect the similarities on the whiteboard. It was messy and loud!  It was interesting to note how many topics / issues / ideas were connected.  As we drew more lines from idea to idea, I assisted with the big picture view and provided words and terms that would allow suggestions to connect and coagulate more easily.  Little by little we got closer to the one topic that would become our base for creativity.  Below is an example of one mind map in its early form that we drew on the board to connect ideas. In the end, we chose IDENTITY as our topic to explore for the Collective Theatre project.
Scripting (from Idea to Form)
After we chose a topic / theme, students started the process of turning their ideas into scenes.  This process involved a lot of prototyping.  The only way we know if something will read well on stage is to actually try it out on our feet; work the scene.  Hours were spent polishing and refining details within each scene.  Technical aspects were added and specific actors were assigned roles.  Lines were typed and formatted into script form. The smallest of ideas converged into form, a scene. This process took weeks and I needed to always monitor the energy of the group. I reminded them constantly of what was working and what needed polishing. Step by step, complimenting their creative process and asking specific questions about areas that needed refining.  Eventually, the group started to be able to see what was working on their own.  They were in flow and it was great to sit back and allow them to ride on their own at these times. Trust, safety, belonging, and a real sense of mutual support grew more and more each day.

Type 3: To Perform or Not To Perform?

The students were scheduled to perform their Identity Collective in class.  My goal was get these students to such a level of creative confidence, that one in-class performance just would not satisfy their creative spirits. We had an opportunity to enter the original collective work into a local Drama Festival for High School students. The decision was unanimous.  Everyone wanted more. The students performed their original work and it was adjudicated by a hired professional. The feedback they received boosted their creative confidence even more.  This group was fearless together in this moment.  The hard work of creative collaboration showed and made them want to stick together and support each other in that precious moment with the adjudicator. I was a proud teacher sitting at the back and watching many of their eyes tear up as some of their classmates experienced their own proud moments. I was no longer driving the learning….they were doing it on their own.
My Drama 20 class was awarded with the only BEST ENSEMBLE 2013 award at the festival. This was icing on the cake (dressing on the salad)! As their teacher, I told them that the award might as well have read BEST COLLABORATORS.  I also explained that being a great creativity collaborator is a huge skill and one that not many people can do well. My experience using this learning design model and the activities from my Creativity In Educational Practice courses with Robert Kelly at the University of Calgary were effective.

Best Ensemble award 2013 Zone 4 West

Please contact Trina Penner should you wish to have her actual learning design blueprint for the Drama 20 Collective described above.
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