Conceptualising the drama classroom as community: a case study approach to effective learning and teaching

Caitlin Munday

PhD thesis, conferred 2015

This study explores the relationship between effective learning and teaching within best-practice drama classrooms. It draws on the convergence of two complementary fields: drama in education and sociocultural approaches to learning. It particularly focuses on an ensemble-based approach to drama (Neelands, 2009a) and communities of learners (Rogoff, 1994).

Three secondary drama classes from two New South Wales schools participated in this research. These formed two qualitative case studies that sat within a broader ARC funded project investigating The role of arts education in academic motivation, engagement and achievement, conducted in partnership with the Australia Council for the Arts.

This study found that effective drama pedagogy was best understood within the context of community. Distinct communities of learners emerged within each drama classroom. They were temporally formed and spatially located, bound together by shared relational and experiential histories. Community membership was dependent on the reciprocation of trust, respect and commitment as codified social values that encouraged social cohesion, shaped participation, and created a safe space. The preservation of these values determined the conditions for effective learning and teaching as characterised by four interrelated practices: collaboration, creativity, critique and risk-taking. Together, students engaged in a collaborative creative process that promoted democratic decision-making, and emphasised responsibility and autonomy. Drama learning was found to be multi-dimensional, oriented towards social and aesthetic understanding, and supported by a flexible and relational pedagogy that negotiated the emerging paradoxes of bounded freedom and ordered disorder indicative of classroom action and interaction. This study conceptualises the drama classroom as community, an inclusive model for understanding effective learning and teaching. The creation of such communities realises the potential for drama to enact a participatory, ensemble-based model of learning, which pursues both aesthetic and social understanding and purposes within current curriculum. In doing so it contributes to an ongoing discussion about the particular nature of classroom drama, and the significance of the arts more broadly.

Supervisor: Professor Michael Anderson