The Importance of Theatre in the Classroom - The role of theatre by uploaddoc


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Laura Dixon




                        “Acting Out” in the Classroom

         A dull and empty classroom, devoid of all creativity and imagination describes a

classroom without the influence of theatre. The positive impact the theatre arts have on

youth has been increasing, as well as the effect theatre has on academic performance ;

however, theatre’s role in the classroom is disappearing. Ben Cameron from American

Theatre stresses this point in his article “The Arts and Education Conundrum”

(Cameron). Likewise, those of us who participate in theatre understand the important role

theatre play’s in the classroom. Also we, as future teachers, need to understand how

exactly that role can be played. The role of theatre in the classroom should be replaced, it

is up to teachers and future teachers to make sure the arts are not left behind.

         A luring question is whether or not the emphasis of theatre in the classroom helps

academic achievement. Elliot Eisner from Clearing House writes about a 1995 study

entitled “Eloquent Evidence: Arts at the Core of Learning.” The results of this study

showed that according to the College Entrance Examination Board students who had

received four or more years of arts influence in their education outperformed non-arts

students on the SAT. The scores showed that arts students scored 59 points higher in

verbal and 44 points higher in math than non-arts students (Eisner). The results of this

study displays the importance of theatre’s influence in the classroom
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       Another influence theatre can have in the classroom is teaching children to read.

According to Miriam Martinez, Nancy L. Roser, and Susan Strecker journalists for

Reading Teacher reader’s theatre is a theatre based reading activity that allows students

to act out the stories they read. Students use their voices to create the sounds of the

different characters. Students read from a script to achieve the goal of voice projection

and reading efficiency. (Martinez, Roser, and Strecker). Michelle Green from NEA Today

wrote that this program was established by Nancy Roser, a professor of education at

University of Texas at Austin in 2000 as a way to measure effective reading skills

(Green). Reader’s theatre plays a cultural role in teaching children who are learning

English as second language how to read. Reader’s theatre uses culturally diverse texts,

such a poetry and fairy tales to help students make the transition to what can called

“second language reading” (Green). Reader’s theatre can also be effective in improving

comprehension and fluent reading skills. According to Martinez, Roser, and Strecker

readers’ theatre has the ability to increase a child’s ability to read fluently and understand

what they read (Martinez, Roser, and Strecker).

       In the special education class room, theatre can play a vital role in developing

social skills students otherwise might not receive. Sherry Humphries, a 7th and 8th grade

science teacher at the Illinois School for the Deaf, explained this concept by saying that

special need students who might have trouble in social scenes can find an outlet in theatre

(Humphries). To go along with social skills theatre allows special needs children to build

their self -confidence and develop critical thinking skills (Humphries). Having special

needs children become involved in theatre can be as simple as role playing or combining

general students with special needs students to put on a play. Teresa Maebori and Joan
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Bobrow from Teaching Pre K-8 calls this “a different type of theatre” (Maebori and

Bobrow). To continue a Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia, where Maebori

teaches and a neighboring school for children with Cerebral Palsy, put on combined

school plays (Maebori and Bobrow). Maebori thought her students were isolated from

students with special needs. Therefore she directed the play “The Return of Halley’s

Comet” in 2000 which combined students from both Germantown Friends School and the

school for children with Cerebral Palsy. The play dealt with space creatures who learned

how to get along with humans (Maebori and Bobrow). This taught the children the idea

of diversity and acceptance.

       Similarly, Kathleen Gallagher from Canadian Theatre Review expressed the point

that theater education “can allow for a diverse classroom with many opportunities” (9).

To continue, the ability for students to feel a sense of belonging in the classroom setting

is imperative for developing a positive self-esteem and self-concept. Stacey Coates from

Stage of the Art uses the term “pouring paint” to describe behavior from others that

destroys a person’s ability to be creative. She states that this idea of “pouring paint” is

especially relevant in a theatre classroom where self-conscious students may come into

play (27). By implementing the term “pouring paint” students learn the effects of

negative actions towards others. As mentioned by Gregory Freeman, Kathleen Sullivan

and C. Ray Fulton from the Journal of Educational Research theatre activities can be

used to enforce emotional well-being and social skills (131). Penny Bundy from

Research in Drama Education makes the point that theatre emphasizes the idea of

developing a personal identity (Bundy). These two ideas correlate because as students

interact with others in a theatrical setting they are able to build a self-concept and
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personal identity that will last them throughout their lives. Therefore it can be said that

theatre in the classroom should being as early as elementary school.

        With small children, specifically at the elementary school level, it is important to

provide them with social activities that deal with cooperation and the developing of social

skills. Freeman, Sullivan and Fulton from the Journal of Educational Research believe

theatre or dramatic activities help children learn how to role play, analyze different roles

and work cooperatively with others (131). Freeman, Sullivan and Fulton claim “the

ability of a person to interact with others is considered one of the most important and

significant attributes of mankind,” (132). This quote emphasizes the importance of

learning social interactions at a young age. Theatre can be a great way for young children

to learn this quality. A teacher at an elementary school suggests Freeman, Sullivan and

Fulton from Journal of Educational Research, can use simple role playing exercise to

emphases how to follow basic instructions. The instructions may include raising hands

before speaking and not talking while others are talking (132). To go along with that

theatre has the ability to mold how children think and interact with others. As children act

out stories that contain a truth or relevance to real life instances they are given the

opportunity to explore their world (133).

        In the same way, Ben Cameron author in American Theatre emphasizes the

importance of theatre in the class room by stating, “give me a child and she is mine for

life; let her finish childhood without the arts and she is lost to me forever” (Cameron).

This quote correlates with a Rhode Island program called Project Discovery. This

program demands that each school child in the state attend performances at the Trinity

Repertory Company (Cameron). When children are given the opportunity to see live
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theatre they are witnessing different types of characters, and attitudes that could help

them form their own personal view towards themselves and others.

         In the Middle school setting drama can play a vast role in dealing with social

issues. This is especially true at Elkhorn Area Middle School where twenty-two sixth

through eighth graders joined together to build an improv troupe. Penny Reddy in her

article in Principal notes that this troupe performs skits that deal with social issues and

helps students become better decision makers (52). The troupe has been known to

perform at various organizations to showcase important messages dealing with adolescent

behavior (52). By being involved in this theatrical troupe middle schoolers learn valuable

lessons that will help them in their high school years.

         Likewise, Theatre can play an important role in the high school class room as

well. Theatre in the high school class room, as Charles Banaszewaki from Stage of the

Art adds, can give a voice to the usually voiceless student (Banaszewaki 19). The use of

drama related activities can hold a strong emphasis on the way students interact with each


         Author Nevine Yassa from Research in Drama Education illustrates a study that

was done surrounding the effects drama education had on the social interactions of high

school students. The study included three female teachers and six students from

Northwest Ontario high school (Yassa). According to Yassa the students were asked

questions such as, “How would studying the dramatic arts influence your relationship

with your peers?” Students were also asked if they could find a place for the dramatic arts

once they entered the workplace (Yassa). After the results of the study, the teachers at the

Ontario high school concluded that drama helps increase self-confidence and helps
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students who have trouble in school. Yassa concluded that one could easily differentiate

between the students who participated in theatre and those who did not. Students who had

participated in drama education were more open with their feelings and expressed to

others what was on their mind (Yassa). In order for schools to emphasize the importance

of theatre, better programs in the schools are needed.

       Ben Cameron from American Theatre acknowledges that the art of theatre and

schools are interwoven into a significant relationship. He states that as funding for the

arts continues to decrease public theatres are taking on the responsibility of teaching

young people the arts (Cameron). Laura McCammon from Stage of the Art agrees with

this idea of failing arts programs. She believes that drama and theatre education can

provide programs that teach youth, citizenship and responsibility. Also theatre allows for

students to make new friends. The question she asks is if theatre and drama education are

important then why are there not programs in every school in the United States?

(McCammon). The answer, McCammon states, is that there are too many state officials

that believe theatre education is linked back to the childish 4 th grade play or high school

musical that has nothing to do with education (McCammon). To continue, Elliot Eisner

from Clearing House asserts, when the arts are not a part of a persons life it is hard to

know what they can contribute to it or to the lives of others, basically saying that people

tend to underestimate the power of the arts when they are not exposed to them (Eisner).

Furthermore, Laura McCammon continues with another reason for lack of programs in

schools. The reason is that there are not enough teachers to teach drama and theatre

education, and the teachers that are around are isolated from the rest of the school

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       Coincidently, Laura McCammon wrote in her article “Deconstruction Youthland:

Problems and Possibilities for Drama/Theatre Education,” that in 1992 it was found that

only 28% of accredited University theater programs offered teacher education as an

option. In 2002 that number was decreased to only 23%. This showcases that theatre

programs do not place a high emphasis on teacher education but yet they expect the

programs to flourish in elementary and high schools (McCammon). In order to solve the

problem of the lack of emphasis on theatre in elementary through high school we need to

start at the source. State officials who make the rules regarding programs in schools,

writes McCammon, need to broaden their knowledge on what theatre can bring to the

classroom. Also Universities need to expand their teacher education programs

(McCammon). However, one does not need to be an accredited teacher in the field of

drama education to teach a theatre based curriculum in their classroom.

       Those of us involved in a community theatre environment feel that importance of

incorporating theatre in to the classroom even if the class being taught is not theatrical.

Having children or teenagers act out historical figures or put together plays representing

the multiplication tables has the ability to engage the thought processes and help students

learn. I believe that the influence theatre activities can have in the classroom is immense.

Joe Winston from Research in Drama Education writes that theatre in the lives of

children can help them to be successful in the future (203). His article “Playing on the

Magic Mountain: theatre education and teacher training at a children’s theatre in

Brussels,” talks about a theatre venue in Brussels called La Montagne Magique or The

Magic Mountain. This children’s theatre in 2000-2001 saw 50,000 three to fourteen year

olds and 20,000 teachers come into the theatre to enjoy twenty different plays. Also
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through this program over 10,000 children became involved in school based theatre

programs (203). This draws some insight on the development of theatre influence in the


       Although the role theatre plays in the classroom has been decreasing hopefully

some thoughts have been raised dealing with the effects theatre education has on youth.

Whether it be social issues, or teaching children to read theatre has an important place in

all classrooms. To sum it up, Laura McCammon from Stage of the Art exclaims “drama

legitimizes held knowledge and allows students to build new learning and old,”

(McCammon). Theatre in the class holds the future to successful learning and

achievement that will help students of all ages take center stage.
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                                        Works Cited

Banaszewski, Charles. “Lunch Period Drama: An Invisible Theatre Performance w ith

       High School Students.” Stage of the Art. 14.1 (2001): 19-25.

Bundy, Penny. “Extending the Possibilities: The use of drama in addressing problems of

       aggression.” Research in Drama Education. 5.2 (2000). PerAbs. FirstSearch.

       Lincoln Land Community Coll. Lib., Springfield, IL. 9 Nov. 2004.


Cameron, Ben. “The Art and Education Conundrum.” American Theatre 6 July/Aug.

       2004: 6. PerAbs. FirstSearch. Lincoln Land Community Coll. Lib., Springfield,

       IL. 11 Oct. 2004

Coates, Stacey. “Pouring Paint: Using Drama to Address Intolerance.” Stage of the Art

       13.1 (2001): 27-30

Eisner, Elliot W. “Does Experience in the Arts Boost Academic Achievement?” Clearing

       House 72.3 (1999). PerAbs. FirstSearch. Lincoln Land Community Coll. Lib.,

       Springfield, IL. 9 Nov. 2004. <>.

Freeman, Gregory D., Kathleen Sullivan and C. Ray Fulton. “Effects of Creative Drama

       on Self-Concept, Social Skills and Problem Behavior.” Journal of Educational

       Research. 96.3 (2003): 131-137.

Gallagher, Kathleen. “Gendered Bodies and High School Girls: Devising Theatre.”

       Canadian Theatre Review 109. (2002): 8-11
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Green, Michelle Y. “The Play’s the Thing.” NEA Today 20.1 September 2001. PerAbs.

       FirstSearch. Lincoln Land Community Coll. Lib., Springfield,

       IL. 11 Oct. 2004 <>

Humphries, Sherry. Personal Interview. 26 October 2004.

Maebori, Teresa. Joan Bobrow. “A Stage Filled with Stars.” Teaching Pre-K-8 32.6

       March 2002. PerAbs. FirstSearch. Lincoln Land Community Coll. Lib.,

       Springfield, IL. 11 Oct. 2004 <>

McCammon, Laura A. “Deconstructing Youthland: Problems and Possibilities for Drama

       Theatre Education.” Stage of the Art 14.2. (2002). PerAbs. FirstSearch. Lincoln

       Land Community Coll. Lib., Springfield, IL. 9 Nov. 2004.


Miriam, Martinez. Nancy L Roser. Susan Strecker. “I Never Thought I could be a Star: A

       Readers Theatre Ticket to Fluency.” Reading Teacher 52.4 January 1999.

Reedy, Penny A. “Improve and the Middle School.” Principal 80.4 (2001): 52.

Winston, Joe. “Playing on The Magic Mountain: theatre education and teacher training at

       a children’s theatre in Brussels.” Research in Drama Education. 8.2 September

       2003: 203-216.

Yassa, Nevine A. “High School Involvement in Creative Drama.” Research in Drama

       Education 4.1 February 1999. PerAbs. First Search. Lincoln Land Community

       Coll. Lib., Springfield, IL. 28 Oct. 2004. <>.

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