Theatre lends itself to many different and often innovative, forward-thinking teaching strategies. In my time working on my Master's Degree in Applied Theatre, I explored the use of drama outside traditional drama settings, focusing mainly on the use of drama in schools. My current program, the Penn Residency Masters in Teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, focuses on pedagogy and educational psychology, which has spurred my desire to better understand how my students learn. Based on these experiences, I have developed a teaching philosophy that focuses on the integration of drama into the curriculum, the value of drama as its own subject, and encouraging students to become intrinsically motivated through autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
Theatre as a Tool
I have always believed that theatre has inherent value as an art form, but now I am sure that theatre has an additional value as an educational tool. Theatre has special traits that allow participants to connect emotionally to the subject matter and make a lasting impression upon them. As such, I see theatre as a subject that lends itself towards the teaching of other subjects. Integrating theatrical techniques into an English or history curriculum helps increase information retention. By building an emotional connection to the material, students remember the experience as a whole and thus the information dispensed throughout the process. Integration of drama into the curriculum allows for a constructivist methodology wherein students draw connections to their own lives and create meaning from those experiences. By approaching subjects that have the shared basis of narrative, such as English and history, through a theatrical lens, students will not only learn mroe - they'll also have more fun doing it. When completing my MA at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, I argued in my dissertation for the integration of drama as a means to improve students' scores on tests mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. I received a Distinction for my work on the paper, entitled "Drama as a teaching tool: An argument for the integration of drama into the everyday curriculum."
Theatre as an Academic Subject
In addition to its value as a tool towards the teaching of other subjects, of course I also feel that the teaching of theatre as its own discipline is extremely important. Theatre allows for a student to explore issues in an emotional context, to step out of one's own shoes and into the place of another for a short period of time. It teaches students basic skills to prepare them later in life - creative thinking and problem-solving, cooperation and teamwork, leadership, self-reliance, time management, public speaking, empathy, and more. Furthermore, the history of theatre reflects the history of the world. Understanding a play teaches students about the political, social, philosophical, and artistic climate of the time.
Particular passions of mine include teaching Shakespeare and using theatre for social justice. The Bard has been a great source of inspiration for me as I developed my skills as an actor, and I find that to teach students Shakespeare is to also teach them poetry, history, politics, gender studies, character development, and more. Teaching theatre for social justice, using techniques derived from the work of Augusto Boal and Paulo Freire, gives students the opportunity to create their own work about issues that are important to them and in turn develop their awareness of social issues.
Intrinsic Motivation for Life-long Learning
In today's fast-paced academic climate, which is frequently focused on data-driven results and achieving benchmarks, it can be hard for students to find motivation to complete their schoolwork beyond extrinsic motivators - the desire to please their parents, the grades that get them into Harvard, the gleaming credential of "valedictorian" on their transcripts. My teaching practices, therefore, aim to encourage students to find intrinsic motivators by creating a classroom environment that encourages autonomy, mastery, and purpose. I create an autonomous setting by giving students structured choices on different aspects of their work, from which texts they'd like to explore in class to what format they should use on their final project for a unit to best demonstrate their understanding. I encourage mastery by scaffolding students' skills and knowledge in theatre in order for them to achieve smaller goals that build towards large improvements. And lastly, I instill a sense of purpose in my students by encouraging them to determine for themselves what value theatre has in their lives and society as a whole. This topic has become the subject of my research from the PRMT program, which I expect to complete in late April 2016.
A Classroom Built on Passion and Motivation
In summary, I'm committed to using theatre in a variety of ways to make the best use of its many unique qualities. I see theatre as a tool to enhance the learning of non-drama subjects as well as a subject in and of itself. I strive to teach my students to be intrinsically motivated so that they will see learning as a life-long practice rather than a means to an end. Ultimately, the joy that I derive from teaching comes from the students that I work with, and watching them evolve into independent, empowered, socially conscious adults is the best thing I could hope to do with my life.