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Change the nature of your interactions with students by playing a role - a villain or a celebrity even - and you may just increase their engagement in lessons dramatically!
Teacher-in-Role is a Process Drama strategy.
Process Drama is a method of teaching and learning in which both the students and teacher work in various roles and participate in an imagined dramatic situation.
Both of the words “process” and “drama” are critical to its name:
It is not “theater” - A performance practiced to present for an audience.
It is “drama” - The immediate experience of dealing with tension, conflict, searching for solutions, planning, persuading, refuting, advising, and defending, etc.
It is not about creating a “product” - a play or a performance.
It is about agreeing to play a role and go through a “process” of thinking and responding in that role.
Process Drama is unscripted. Teachers and students usually research, plan, and prepare in advance of the drama, but the drama itself is improvised. Improvisation practice and skills, therefore, are helpful for Process Drama work.
Basic information about process drama is readily available online, so the articles in this series will use examples to increase an understanding of this kind of drama and provide ideas for its use in educational settings. There are many drama strategies that fall under the larger term “Process Drama.”
Along with the students in a role, the teacher plays a role. This role does not require a costume or a Tony Award-winning performance. By simply adopting the attitude of the character he or she plays and making even just small vocal changes, the teacher is in role.
Being in the role allows the teacher to keep the drama going by questioning, challenging, organizing thoughts, involving students, and managing difficulties. In role, the teacher can protect the drama from failure, encourage greater language use, point out consequences, summarize ideas, and engage the students in the dramatic action.
Because Process Drama is not theatre, teachers and students need to know that the drama can stop and re-start as often as necessary. Often there is a need to stop and clarify or correct something or to question or research information. Taking a “time out” to attend to such things is fine.
Examples of Process Drama
The following are examples of Teacher-in-Role dramas connected to curriculum content. Note that in many cases, the dramatic circumstance and the characters are made up. The goal of the drama is to involve the whole group and to explore the issues, conflicts, arguments, problems, or personalities inherent in a topic or a text.
Topic or Text: Settling the American West in the 1850s
Teacher's Role: A government official paid to persuade Midwesterners to join wagon trains and settle the U.S. western territories.
Students' Roles: Citizens of a Midwest town who want to learn about the journey and inquire about opportunities and dangers
Setting: A town meeting hall
Topic or Text: The Pearl by John Steinbeck:
Teacher's Role: A villager who feels that Kino was a fool to reject the pearl buyer's highest offer
Students' Roles: Kino's and Juana's neighbors. They meet and talk after the family has flown the village. Half of them feel that Kino should have accepted the pearl buyer's offer. Half of them feel that Kino was right to refuse to sell the pearl for so low a price.
Setting: A neighbor's home or yard
Topic or Text: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Teacher's Role: Juliet's best friend who is worried and wonders if she should do anything to interfere with Juliet's plans
Students' Roles: Juliet's friends who learn about Juliet and Romeo and discuss whether they can stop her upcoming marriage.
Setting: A secret place in the city of Padua
Topic or Text: The Underground Railroad
Teacher's Role: Harriet Tubman
Students' Roles: Harriet's family, many of whom are concerned about her safety and want to convince her to stop risking her life to guide slaves to freedom
Setting: The slave quarters at night
Process Drama Online Resources
One excellent online resource is a webpage supplement to Chapter 9 of Interactive and Improvisational Drama: Varieties of Applied Theatre & Performance. It contains historical information on this genre of educational drama and some general considerations regarding the use of process drama.
Planning Process Drama: Enriching Teaching and Learning by Pamela Bowell and Brian S. Heap
Cooling Conflicts: Process Drama is an online document shared online by the New South Wales Department of Education and Training provides a clear and concise but comprehensive explanation of Process Drama, its components, and an example of called “Leaving Home.”