Three Lessons to Engage Your Drama Class Using Differentiation
I wasn’t a very good math student when I was a child. I made to third grade when Mrs. Gibson had to take off the rest of the school year. Mrs. Butterfield tried to teach me, but I fell through the cracks. Of course, we only learned from textbooks–no cute clipart, certainly nothing thematic and blah, blah blah.
Our daughters were great math students. Of course, that was some thirty years later and students were using manipulatives and calculators. Wow, what a difference! Observing them utilizing various methods of learning to arrive at an answer, I know I could have done it, too. My math skills would be much better than at present.
What does “differentiation” mean to you?
“Differentiation means tailoring instruction to meet individual needs. Whether teachers differentiate content, process, products, or the learning environment, the use of ongoing assessment and flexible grouping makes this a successful approach to instruction.”
I can’t imagine a drama teacher not using differentation, can you?
When I was researching this topic, I found some great information and suggestions. One in particular from the Ontario Ministry of Education shared a tremendous example. You really should check this out: edugain.ca
The best point made was that differentiation can offer many choices for students in their learning. Throughout this terrific lesson the students were instructed to change their groupings, involve other classmates, shuffle themselves while continuing to learn.
Oh, I do that naturally! I don’t know about you, but I like changing the group chemistry. Have you ever worked on a problem with student learning groups and they solve it one way and another group solves it a different way?
Number One: Creative Movement
After reading this cool lesson from the Ontario Ministry of Education, I was reminded of a movement warm-up exercise from Viola Spolin’s book, Theater Games in the Classroom.
The warm up is called Freeze and Melt. It’s not an easy warm-up (best with middle grades and older.) Usually students need to be fairly comfortable with each other and/or willing participants.
Basically, they create a statue.
Here is my version–I encourage them to put themselves in unusual positions–twists, bent over, one arm stretched out, etc. One requirement is absolutely a must– They must be physically connected to their partner. Usually, I suggest they connect foot to foot because it’s the least threatening contact.
As always, the lights are turned low in the classroom which helps them feel less vulnerable and exposed. Classical music is played in the background to encourage a calm and relaxed feeling.
Once the students create their “statue”, I give them instructions about the different places the imaginary sun would be warmest on their body. Their job is to melt very slowly focused on that part of their body where the sun is warming them. I give each melting movement about five to ten seconds. I coach them as they move, so they don’t rush by counting them down. At this point, I ask them to freeze again. Observing them, I point out interesting shapes which occurred for them. We try a different place for the sun to warm them. They melt and freeze when I direct them.
Now they understand the warm up.
We end the exercise. They shake out. I give them a second to chat with their friend and take a new position.
We begin again and go through the same steps. I encourage them to remember their face can express a particular emotion. This deepends the experience for them as they realize the value of facial expression. This time, the exercise lasts at least a minute (which sounds like a short time, but is actually quite long when you consider what I’ve asked of them to do.)
Now for differentiation--the group brings in two more people. I give them very little time to make this new group, because I don’t want them to think too much.
The third time I push them to freeze in unusual positions. At the very end of the exerise, I charged the students slowly “ooze” to the floor. We do this very slowly–on a ten count. I encourage them to take unusual, ugly positions. This is absolutely fascinating to watch!
If the class is very comfortable with the exercise, I’ve been known to have all of them create a statue together. I like to push my students because I know if they trust me and they are relaxed and having fun, anything is possible. Check out this blog post for more movement suggestions: The Ultimate Guide for Drama Teachers: Creative Movement? Are you Kidding Me?
Number Two: Set Design
It is very infrequent for me when I do not give students choices. I mean, don’t you like it when you get to select the size of drink you’d like instead of someone just slapping down a huge soda when you thought it would be of a reasonable size? Me too.
My set design unit gives allows for differentiation. After they study set design, they have many choices. For instance, high school students are required to read a play of their choice. Middle grade students might read aloud a play they are studying, but they’ll design a set for it which they choose. In one set design unit, students design sets of their school. Again, choice!
When it comes time to build a scale model of their set, they find a partner. This gives them an opportunity to make a decision as to who they would work best with and could work cooperatively with for several days. I like this requirement because it teaches them to consider their own learning styles while carefully considering their classmates’. Check out this blog post for more information Critical Steps in Producing a Play or Musical: Set Design
Number Three: Improvisation
No matter the class or grade level, I give students who are new to a drama class an opportunity to learn at their own pace. This does not mean we can wait until next year to try improvisation however.
If a class is extremely reluctant, I’ll seek out the least worried student and demonstrate with them. If the students are ELL and language is a barrier for us, I will stay with theater games until I see them relax and begin enjoying the experiences. Again, this gives students another method of differentation.
Sometimes I will group students by the color of their shirt, shoes or season in which they were born. They never know how I will group them, because it depends upon their willingness to “play” along with me. Other times, they group themselves.
In most situations students write, read, listen, speak and demonstrate their learning to me. You might say I’m thorough, but I’m not pedantic–I ignore the small stuff and concentrate on the big picture. There is time enough to be perfectionistic down the road. Besides, no one is perfect. For more information about me, check out this blog post The Lessons I Learned from Working as a Drama Teacher
I’d never really thought about the ways I use differentiation in my classroom. This was a good exercise for me to do!
How do you use differentiation in your classroom? Contact me at DhcBaldwin@gmail.com or DeborahBaldwin.net