Dramatic Interventions: A multi-site case study analysis of student outcomes in the School Drama program

Year: 2019

Author: Saunders, John, Nicholas

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

For the last two decades a growing body of research has articulated the transformative potential of learning in, about and through the Arts. In particular, it is clear that there can be a powerful relationship between drama-based pedagogy and the enhancement of student literacies. At the same time there has been a need to equip educators with the knowledge, confidence and expertise in the use of drama as critical, quality pedagogy.

This paper reports on Saunders’ PhD research that has examined the process and outcomes of one teacher professional learning program, the School Drama program. School Drama is a teacher professional learning program developed through a partnership between Sydney Theatre Company and The University of Sydney’s School of Education and Social Work. The program’s dual aims are to provide primary classroom teachers with the knowledge, understanding, skills and confidence to use drama-based pedagogy with quality children’s literature and to improve student literacy in a designated focus area such as inferential comprehension, confidence in oracy, descriptive language or creative/imaginative writing. Based on a co-mentoring professional learning model (Ewing, 2002, 2006), a teaching artist works alongside a primary classroom teacher to co-plan, co-teach and co-mentor each other during seven weekly in-class workshops over a term using quality children’s literature and process drama-based strategies.

The School Drama program has been operating for ten years (from 2009 to 2019) reaching over 30,000 teachers and their students across Australia. This research aimed to investigate the impact of the program on students. An analysis of all data collected in 2017 from a range of participating schools, teachers and students provides a top-level meta-view of the program’s outcomes. A fine grained analysis of three case study classrooms in diverse school contexts followed. A range of data was collected from students, the class teacher and the teaching artist/researcher including: student pre- and post-program literacy benchmarking tasks; student pre- and post-program surveys; student focus groups; teacher interviews; and teaching artist/researcher observations and journals.

While the findings suggest positive shifts in student English and literacy outcomes in the selected focus area, particularly in less able male students, perhaps even more importantly there is strong evidence that quality drama-based pedagogy enhances student confidence, collaboration, imagination, engagement and connection to character. A model is proposed to explain how drama-based pedagogy enables more holistic outcomes for students.