In this issue of Drama Research two of the five articles published here set out to research two opposite ends of the Drama/Theatre spectrum: the new world of digital media at one end; and the very old world of traditional pantomime at the other. Each article makes a convincing case for further research into the value to Drama pedagogy of their respective areas of Drama and Theatre.
In his article, In Search of an Intermedial Drama Pedagogy, Mark Crossley makes an argument for the mapping out of the new territory that is opening up with respect to developments in digital technology as it relates to, and interfaces with, Drama practice and to embrace and celebrate the potential for developing true intermediality beyond mere multimediality.
However, it is not a stance that is shared by everybody in the world of Drama education, and here lies the tension driving Crossley’s argument. Notably, Juliana Saxton in her essay Unfolding the cosmos or divining ‘what’s up’? (Saxton 2010) has reservations about what she feels is a corrosive effect of the modern digital age:
‘I do not think that face-to face experience can be replicated in a virtual world. But I do think that it is possible that our fascination with the new media will change how our brains are wired and that, with those changes, our mirror neurons will be reconfigured through the exposure to second-order experience in ways that will dull our empathic responses. That, of course, may indeed be the art of technology, preparing us already for a future in which empathy will be a luxury we cannot afford as we fight each other for breath, space and life itself.’ (2010: 231-232)
To the contrary Crossley argues that intermediality provides learners with new opportunities for not only understanding themselves and the world they live in but to become active agents in it. It is a fascinating and well argued case.
The territory explored by Andy Kempe, on the other hand, has been so familiar to us for many years – indeed generations – that we may not have thought about it much at all and perhaps not valued it as a powerful educational medium, particularly for the inclusion of
‘children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and other additional needs including photo-sensitive epilepsy.’
Kempe tracks the development of the ‘Relaxed Theatre Movement’, as it is known, which culminated in 2013 in a Conference which focused on how performances could be more inclusive and sympathetic to children with disabilities and their families. It provided
‘a new example of how theatres – and their programmes – might impact upon those critical social issues of access, inclusion, tolerance and understanding.’ (Relaxed Performance Project Conference Evaluation 2013: 5).
As with so many aspects of inclusion it is a question of attention to detail and Kempe’s illuminating article outlines exactly what details have been attended to and should be attended to in future if true inclusion in theatre is to be achieved.
Katerina Kosti et al also re-evaluate more familiar drama territory: its relationship to historical study, particularly with Secondary pupils in that country with a great historical legacy and significance: Greece. They re-affirm that
we could define historical empathy as the ability to place ones’ self in the shoes of another person within a specific historical context, with the aim of understanding the actions of the person in that context (Yilmaz 2007; Portal 1987).
Basing their study on Lee, Dickinson and Ashby’s five Stages of Empathy: ‘The Divi Past’ [least empathy]; ‘Generalized Stereotypes’; ‘Everyday Empathy’; ‘Restricted Historical Empathy’; and ‘Contextual Historical Empathy’ [greatest empathy] they outline a project that they undertook with Greek secondary students. Although it was a small scale project on a limited time scale, involving just four drama interventions in the teaching of four different periods of Greek history, the authors found significant development in the students’ understanding along the stages outlined above. Their ultimate argument, based on the evidence of their findings, is for the inclusion of drama methodology in the teaching of History in Greek schools. It is an important argument and it is hoped that they will pursue this further.
Two studies reported in this issue emanate from the United States, but are on two entirely different scales. One is an action research project on a very small scale: with fourteen male and fourteen female students from one class of a school in a small town in Illinois:
‘Because the town is so small, there is only one big building that houses the elementary, junior high, and high school students.’
The other, funded by a U.S. Government grant, worked with
’96 visual art, music, dance and theatre specialists and their 48,000 students in grades 3 through 8 at high-poverty schools in a very large city in the northeastern United States.’
Jase Teoh sets out to evaluate the effect of action based research on English teaching and learning, particularly with respect to writing, in a single school environment with one teacher. Using Cross & Stedman’s (1996) seven characteristics of action research she based her study on interviews with the students at various stages of the project and after selected activities. She concludes that the role of action researcher when combined with that of the active Drama teacher is beneficial for both students and teachers alike: the students because they have the opportunity to reflect on the enjoyment they experienced in the sessions; and the teachers because of the way they could evaluate the convergence of two different roles of researcher and teacher. It is a convergence that many drama teachers have experienced and valued and it is good to report on a project that sets out to confirm this congruence.
Fei Chen et al, on the other hand, are on less comfortable territory. They make an argument for the value of formative assessment in Drama education, which, like intermediality, is regarded with some suspicion in some quarters of the Drama community. The researchers set out the issues and their stance in relation to them:
‘Formal evaluation in the arts is a contentious issue. Arts educators tend to have two opinions on evaluation: either they believe, often correctly, that they are continually evaluating student learning as a natural part of their practice, or they believe that the important outcomes of their teaching defy systematic assessment (Colwell 2004). We believe both arguments are true..’
One of the key tools the researchers used in their assessments was the use of ‘rubrics’, documents or tables that articulated the expectations for an assignment by listing the criteria and describing levels of quality from excellent to poor. This was a particularly challenging strategy for the teachers involved in the study:
‘Rubric-referenced assessment is a similarly polarizing issue. Some educators argue that rubrics can actually “hurt kids,” replace professional decision making by attempting to standardize creative processes (Wilson, 2006), and undermine learning by focusing only on the most quantifiable and least important qualities of student work (Kohn 2006).‘
The Artful Learning Communities: Assessing Learning in the Arts (ALC) programme set out to test whether views such as these were true or not. The sheer scale of this research project is certainly impressive and the conclusion that
‘rather than impeding learning, the rubrics and checklists that supported peer and self-assessment appeared to provide an impetus for improvement’
will therefore carry considerable weight. It will also be quite a challenge for arts educators everywhere but should lead them to reevaluate the use of rubrics as an aid to enhanced creativity and progress in their work.
We feel this issue of Drama Research contains much to stimulate new thinking and discussion; the articles here may assist the reader to evaluate new and unfamiliar practices and re-evaluate older more familiar ones.
Pam Bowell, Viv Kerridge, Amanda Kipling and Chris Lawrence.
Drama Research Editorial Board.