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Reflection - "the goal in all learning"

Reflection and experience …

All my teaching lures, strategies and skills seek this marriage.

It is my golden key to my mind’s working and my practice.

For I believe experience without reflection

leaves the person hungering for more.

... So every teaching tool I have

has been hewn to supply and feed reflection. (1)

“Now there's been this daft thing said about drama for so long, that drama’s doing. Come off it. It’s not. That’s only a tenth of it. Art is that which is done that creates reflection about that which is done. And therefore, that which is done must be fastened into remembering. ... It's how it gets into the reflective elements that make drama work educationally for you.” (2)

“… so much time is spent on action [in drama], instead of building what is in the mind, the density of meaning, to feed the ‘doing’.” (3)

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Reflection from within a situation – “not afterwards”

Dorothy Heathcote saw reflection as the “goal in all learning” – in order to root “knowledge into the individual’s and then into the group’s understanding”. (4)

She looked for ways to invoke reflection from within the drama – rather than reflection after the drama, “which I've never liked.” As she said: “Thinking from within a situation forces a different type of thinking.” (5)

She gave us the following example.

In 2007, she was working with a group of 18-year old students in New York, on a Mantle based on the idea of rebuilding a neglected vineyard. A number of teachers were watching throughout.

The vineyard had “recruited” a number of migrant workers. The teacher-observers made up stories about the migrant workers and their families. At the end of the second day, Dorothy asked them to record 2-minute videos, as “phone calls” that the workers had made to their families back home. She told them: “And I want you to choose the smallest niggle that they [the students] are going to have to deal with, that could actually turn out to be quite serious. And so the teachers chose very interesting things.”

Two young women from France, for example, complained to their parents that hadn't come to California to cut vines and dig: “You promised we'd go to school.” A man from Lebanon put his concerns in a letter to a friend: “He was writing to say he really knew he wanted to settle here, and the work looked really interesting. There was just one problem. There was a rather difficult overseer that he suspected might turn into a bully. So in his letter he’s saying: ‘I didn't run away from bullies, to work under another one’.”

The next day, the students arrived; and Dorothy told them: “There's one or two queries come up - one or two complaints to the lawyer who's dealing with it. And so I asked him if he could send us any evidence.”

The students watched the videos,

and I gave them all post-it notes … I’d said: “Don't talk. As soon as one’s finished, fill in your post-it notes; and you see the family photograph there. Just put any advice on, any help you can offer, any suggestions you have, that would be useful for them to have. And course they [the photos] became plastered with post-it notes, you know, of 16 kids on one short video. And so they went right through the whole 16 videos.

In this way, they were not speaking directly to the “roles.” They were still engaging with them as individuals; and so the affective dimension remained strong.  Watching the videos, however, gave the students space and time to really grapple with the problems.

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And that was an interesting way to do it, because writing it gave them time to think; because they would write a post-it note and then screw it up, and then do another one.


And then they’d go over [to the photo], and you'd see them thinking: “I'll put it on here, because it’s really about her – how he could deal with her”; and so they gradually got covered with his purple and yellow post-it notes.

And then, you see, instead of the students having to say the advice, which would have taken forever, the people took the post-it notes off, and said: “I am advised to really listen to what you're saying”; and it was good for the kids to see that they were understanding. And occasionally the kid would say: “No, no, you’ve got that wrong”, and they’d butt in and say: “I didn't mean that. It's no good doing that, you've got to do this” – and he’d write another post-it note on it.

And that was dynamic, a really interesting group dynamic. That public voice - but only [through] reading the post-it notes; so it was echoing that.

This is why I got so interested in reflection, ‘cos these were all reflections within the situation. Not: “What do you think about it, afterwards?”, which I've never liked.

Sources: Unpublished transcript of meeting with Gill Adamson, David Allen & Iona Towler-Evans, 28.8.07; except (1) “Of these Seeds Becoming”, in R. Shuman (Ed.), Educational Drama for Today's Schools [1978]; (2) from the film, Drama as a Medium for Learning: Dorothy Heathcote Talks to Teachers [1978]; (3) Dorothy speaking at an event for trainee teachers in 1984; (4) letter to David Allen, 10.5.07.; (5) “Of these Seeds Becoming”

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