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Core Principles of Drama for Learning

In this section, we look at some of Dorothy Heathcote's core principles of drama for learning. We begin by looking at :


The Real Curriculum in Your Classroom

Dorothy argued that the "real curriculum in our classrooms is that which we cannot help teaching" - and she recognised certain "drives" in her own teaching: “It seems to me we have two curricula – or curriculums, whatever you say here. One curriculum we try to teach because we agree to do the best we can for the educational system we find ourselves teaching in. Now that curriculum in England would include things like history, geography, science, biology, mathematics, numeracy, language of all sorts, and so on. Now that is the curriculum I try to teach, but it is not the real curriculum in my classroom. And it's not the real curriculum in your classroom.

The real curriculum in our classrooms is that which we cannot help teaching. And so it seems to me the fundamental thing we have to come to terms with first, and I'd like us to share this a bit, is what do you - and I say you now, because obviously it means each one of us - what do you teach, no matter what you think you are teaching? Because that is where it all joins up.

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It seems to me, giving language, making language to define those things that you could no more not teach, than fly, is the fundamental centre of a teacher's peace, and a teacher’s growth.


Now some days, I can clarify these very clearly. Some days I find I can't clarify them very well at all, but by slow painful inch, it seems to me if you take the trouble to wrinkle them out, and find appropriate language that suits you, to get a hold of them every time, very clearly, you are forever off that awful hobbyhorse of terror in teaching, that [whispers] “I don't know what to do here.” Or: “I don't know why that lesson was so awful.” ... And the more difficult your classes, the more you need this enormous security.

It's not less painful, but what it gives you is a measurement; it gives you a detachment to say, “I already know why something will have gone wrong, because I know me, and I don't have to wonder about that.” ... Now some of my drives may bring echoes in you. (From the film “Dorothy Heathcote Talks to Teachers”  - 1978) 

Here is how she described her “drives” as a teacher, in the book Exploring Theatre & Education (ed. Ken Robinson):

I have struggled to perfect techniques which allow my classes opportunities to stumble upon authenticity in their work and to be able both to experience and reflect upon their experience at the same time: simultaneously to understand their journey while being both the cause and the medium of the work. My techniques embrace all the ways which enable classes to do what seems important to me. In learning these enabling techniques, I have neglected others. ... These are three ingredients to my growth as a teacher:

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1. To remain accepting of the ways and present conditions of others while considering how best to interfere, and that I seek to bring about shifting perspectives and understanding. This includes me as well as those I am responsible for.

2. To be able to affirm and receive from others.

3. Remain curious.

It is in the spirit of the accepter of what children bring to the situation - always the receiver, the curious one, the playwright, the creator of tensions and occasionally the director and the actor - that I have to function.

Dorothy also saw that the questions you ask in the classroom reflect "how you are really driven as a teacher". She observed that her concerns take her "to contemplation; to birth (and where there is birth, there must be death); and to questions of: 'wherein lies the energy?' "

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But you cannot ask "teacher" questions: "You can only be invented by the question that is their right to answer’"– at that conjunction in time and space. Her questioning tends to explore – growings and fadings, beginnings and endings, contrasts, counterpoints, focuses, colours.”

An example: “An oak – has it nurtured? Will it nurture? How long will it nurture? After it has died, it will nurture ants, termites for thousands of years, until finally there is no physical presence. Dorothy said she might formulate this as a question, "If the seed is the beginning, what then is the ending?" Such as question does not demand an intellectual response. It is, at once, concerned with science and wisdom. Theatre never answers anything: it poses questions that the audience answers. …

Teaching, Dorothy said, makes you dig into the "you" that is "you": "You are continually recreating yourself. This is the gift I would like to give to teachers, and marks the difference between the teacher-technician and the teacher-artist.”

(Based on notes from a trainee teacher event in 1984 - by David Allen)

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