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Teaching Drama in the Classroom: A Toolbox for Teachers

Reviewer: Jean Rattigan-Rohr
Elon University
Elon, NC

Editor's Note: Although this book is written for teachers of elementary through high school students, the activities can be adapted for students in adult literacy classes.

In As You Like It, William Shakespeare's melancholy Jaques tells us that "all the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players, and one man in his time plays many parts." If that is true, then today's classrooms are ready-made spaces for students to learn how to creatively prepare for some, if not most of these important parts each person must play. By encouraging creativity in the classroom, teachers can help students discover new and different insights, perspective, and connections to things they might have never before considered.

Such is the challenge Joanne Kilgour Dowdy and Sarah Kaplan have undertaken in their book Teaching Drama in the Classroom: A Toolbox for Teachers. Dowdy and Kaplan have combined writing and acting talents, as well as their experiences as educators to create a practitioner-friendly "toolbox" for classroom teachers. This new addition to literacy education is a very handy resource book for classroom teachers whose desire it is to intentionally include students' creativity and imaginations in the learning process.

The book's constructive introduction outlines the importance of the kinds of abilities that are often refined when students are exposed to drama. Anthony Manna, Professor Emeritus, notes "When teachers harness drama's power with accurate learning outcomes, a precise structure, and appropriate drama techniques, drama activity can become a fertile method for integrating reading, writing, speaking, listening, researching, technology applications, and art experiences" (p. 1).

Dramatic learning activities are not only important but imperative for today's students, who must be able to use creative abilities, innovative thinking, and acquired knowledge to solve problems in an increasingly complex world. In today's diverse school population, students then must find their own ways to mitigate varying points of views and values while respecting the beliefs of others; and drama is an effective method for self-expression in the classroom. That is, drama is effective if teachers know how to tap into its power and use the many techniques provided in Teaching Drama in the Classroom: A Toolbox for Teachers.

In this timely book, Dowdy and Kaplan explain how teachers can use genres like poetry to demonstrate to students various ways of seeing how their thoughts, feelings, and experiences can be captured and expressed. They have developed easy- to- use workshops with step-by-step instructions listed under the heading "What to Do." Here, teachers are provided detailed lesson outlines for exactly how they might present selected narratives, poetry, comic strips, or dramatic selections. Students are involved in every step of the learning process, for example, from choosing a poem to setting the poems to music and performance.

With such student-centered involvement as a central style in the book, one quickly becomes aware that the many activities are both useful and sound instructional practice. This is because students are given opportunities to not only build reading, writing, and performance skills, but more important, to engage in critical thinking. Dowdy and Kaplan see this skill development as a natural extension when teachers utilize drama to help students: create an awareness of others, communicate new values and attitudes, affirm their own thoughts and feelings, and develop a more positive sense of self. This book will undoubtedly be a very useful tool to classroom teachers' repertoire. Teachers of adult students will find practical steps to use drama as a strategy for teaching their content. The student-centered approaches to using these drama tools make it an appealing addition to the learning process.

Kilgour-Dowdy, J.& Kaplan, S. (2010). Teaching Drama in the Classroom: A Toolbox for Teachers. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers

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