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Ellie Roberts-Williams asks can written work in Drama help to improve Oracy at KS3?

Introduction

Last year, my Action Research concluded that written work in Drama was worthwhile, when it had a purpose and when it was useful to the practical exploration. When re-imagining the KS3 curriculum, I introduced the more independent drama diary, which was carefully considered through my PM targets. This year, i wanted to see how the Drama Diary could be a help, instead of a hindrance, for students in Drama, by supporting them to improve their verbal contributions in lessons, in the form of discussion, sharing ideas and peer and self-evaluation.  I wanted to investigate how written work could be used as a tool to supporting students to want to contribute verbally, allowing them more thinking time and time to prepare their verbal contributions and their confidence to improve their oracy. With there being such an emphasis at GCSE and A Level on Oracy in Drama, the new KS3 curriculum needed to include more emphasis on this area for development; thus I wanted to see how written work could support this.

Relevant/reading influences

Talk is the sea upon which all else floats ~ James Britton, Language and Learning, 1970 With oracy being such a large part of any Drama course, the practical work produced means little at GCSE and A level unless students can fully articulate the process and their ideas/reasons for using particular strategies, mediums and elements, to improve the quality of their work. In this particular article, I focused more on the ‘clarify, probe and recommend approach to improve my level of questioning to enhance student responses.

Apart from approaches to how I could improve my level of questioning to improve student oracy, there was not a lot of other reading that was relevant to my research, as I was potentially using a more unconventional way of developing oracy, by using written work to help oracy, as opposed to oracy helping written work.

Methods

I decided to use two year 9 groups, one Y and one x band, both mixed ability, including pupil premium, SEND and GTMAS students. On average, at the start of September 2014, Y band had slightly higher attainment than X band and had less PP students. I used end of year 8 summative report data and PP1 and 2 year 9 data to assess progress. I also targeted a mixed ability cohort to fill in a questionnaire that prompted them to think about how the written work could improve their oracy.

  1. Structuring a routine: bringing their drama diaries to the discussion circle at the start of each lesson, allowing them to read my leading question and giving them thinking time to answer in their books, to support their delivery.
  2. More searching questions: Discussion in pairs, writing final interpretation of the question in their books, highlighting that the correct drama terminology had to be present in their answers.
  3. Peer Assessed terminology tests: Checking student’s knowledge of drama terms and how to apply them to their responses/evaluation
  4. Introduction of Mini whiteboards: Progressing from the diaries to something quicker and more competitive to really engage the boys with my research. These were used at the start, during and when evaluating class work.

Impact on learning and findings

Summary: Routine helped to establish that the diaries were being used to help them to think about the questions and to write down possible answers to the questions, which gave them the confidence to volunteer their responses more often. This was a positive start. The more searching questions separated the groups into GTMAS and some PP (group 1) and lower ability and SEN (group 2) as the level of challenge to use more drama terminology in their responses was more appealing to those who had the desire to progress further. PP1  A2L and sub level improvement  data supported this finding.

This however changed slightly when the competitive element was brought into the equation. The testing at first highlighted that they disregard/forget teacher and peer oral feedback quite quickly, as well as important strategies and mediums (even though they’re displayed around the room and they’re encouraged to use them each lesson). When tested about how these techniques can be used and how they can implement them in their practical work, this at first was weak. As testing became more regular, more lower ability, SEN and some PP students knew they had to engage more with the terms to get a reward, which worked for some male students in both Y and X band and was evidenced in PP2 data. The use of whiteboards worked very well for X band’s less confident and some PP girls, as well as more outspoken boys as they felt this helped with their engagement and willingness to get involved and the thinking time helped them to contribute more confidently.

Conclusions

Overall, I feel that my research has shown that writing down key findings or key terminology and allowing more thinking time to write, before speaking, can be effective for improving oracy, if sustained,  for many, but not all. When I tried the same lesson using written work with X band and no written work with Y band, the engagement with writing slightly affected the atmosphere and pace of the lesson at times, but more students did contribute and were starting to use their drama terminology in their responses, using their white boards as a prompt. The lesson with no written work was faster paced, had more energy and the usual students volunteered to contribute, attempting to use drama terminology in their verbal responses.  Students who often lose focus used the white boards inappropriately or wrote one word answers in their diaries, so the written element did not help these students with their oracy. GTMAS and less confident girls did benefit from the written element and did show an improvement in the quality of their verbal contributions and how they interacted with each other when sharing ideas during the direction of the drama process, which was reflected in the data, also highlighting how different genders responded to my research. The questionnaire feedback also confirmed these findings.

Next Steps

I still believe that using written work in Drama is effective when used appropriately and can support student’s oracy when discussing Drama in lessons, in many cases. The mini whiteboards work better than the diaries for short term exercises such as discussing a topic as a whole group to check student progress and to feedback immediately, however the diaries are useful for testing and referring back to work to help revise key terms that contribute to the practical exploration.

It’s a good starting point for KS3 to help them to consider their use of terminology when discussing and evaluating drama. With there being such an emphasis on how students articulate their verbal responses at GCSE and A Level, especially how they confidently discuss Drama strategies, mediums and elements, it does have to be factored in as an assessment area to improve on when re-imagining the new KS3 curriculum.