As a 2009 Fulbright-Nehru Research Scholar in Education, I will examine the efficacy of using drama as an educational pedagogy with elementary-aged students at Children’s Garden School in Chennai and the Ellen Sharma School in Sholinganallur to develop within them investment in and deeper understanding of mythological history as portrayed through architecture to expand students’ conception of their contemporary cultural identities.
A drama-based process offers students two important steps that bring them to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the mythological representations: 1) Engaged by creating performances based on examinations of and inquiry into the mythologies depicted in the architecture, students develop a strong personal investment in the material, and 2) By dramatically interpreting the material, students learn to ‘essentialize’ the material, discovering the heart of the mythological histories and drawing meaning they can apply to their contemporary lives. As I partner with teachers and schools to guide students through the process, I will have the opportunity to closely examine how students respond to and benefit from the process.
My core objectives are: 1) To develop a model approach for engaging Indian students in their personal and communal cultural heritage, 2) To examine the effectiveness of the proposed model with students of a culture I have had little contact with, 3) To understand effectiveness of applying the model to material culture, such as architecture, and 4) To synthesize my findings to make them available and accessible to Indian teachers. The curricular approach is multi-layered, demonstrating how drama can be comprehensively integrated in the classroom as a pedagogical tool for investigating other subject matter. Over the course of the proposed project, the teachers and I will guide students to: 1) Experiment with drama techniques, to gain comfort and facility with the methodology, 2) Visit and view the architecture, 3) Explore their interpretations and understandings of the material through drama, 4) Listen to and read accounts connected to the mythology depicted in the architecture, 5) Investigate the stories, meanings and symbolism of the mythological history, 6) Imagine, create and reflect on dramatizations related to their newly uncovered understanding of the mythological history, 7) Share and evaluate their work, 8) Discuss and reflect on how the themes are relevant to life today, and 9) Throughout, keep reflective journals about their processes, learning and reactions As the students collaborate to build dramatic interpretations of the mythologies portrayed in the architecture they study, they will gain skills in cooperative learning, text analysis, symbolic interpretation, verbal and non-verbal communication and expression, risk-taking, self-assessment, and meta-cognition. These skills are essential contributors to personal investment in learning.
As students slowly come to understand how these various skills contribute to success accomplishment of their goals, they will become more cognizant of their use and more facile with employing them. In addition, the repeated involvement with the focus material—the mythological histories—will contribute to a better and deeper understanding of that material and a stronger personal connection to it.
My continuing interest focuses on developing engaging methods for connecting and reconnecting students and teachers with significant elements of their cultural traditions that support personal investment while prompting in-depth investigation of the purpose of such materials: historically, for the culture or community; personally, for individuals’ sense of self-identity; and educationally, for engaging students in multiple layers of learning that develop higher order thinking skills and give a grounded purpose to education as a daily and personal experience.
To discover how effectively students can ‘read,’ explore, relate to and eventually come to better understand history-infused architecture will provide new challenges for me, offering opportunities to expand my practice and to further demonstrate the role of drama as a significant pedagogical approach to facilitating effective learning experiences for young people. My personal risks will be concentrated in how I handle the early steps of facilitating the students’ development of their own interpretations of the architecture. I will need to consider whether to have them develop dramatic interpretations based on their suppositions or immediately compare their personal interpretations to the carvers/sculptors’ intentions before dramatizing the latter. Whatever the decision is, I find this the most fascinating and least understood (by me) part of the process of viewing and interpreting. If I contend that the “seeing” is too often taken for granted, how do I encourage the students to look more thoroughly during the visit we will take to the temples? How long can I sustain their attention on a single carving if they have previously visited it; if they have encountered it through reading, school, or in some other fashion unknown to me; if they are convinced they already know the story represented in the picture and don’t feel the necessity to look closer; or if someone thinks they know what is represented and influences the others who may not have known? Then, once we have examined the carvings in detail, how do we analyze and interpret them? Should we start with dramatic interpretations? Should they write? Discuss? How do I generate both a sense of excitement about the analysis and a personal stake in discovering what story or stories are imbedded and/or suggested within? And finally, will the personal investment be stronger if they dramatize their interpretations or compare their ideas to what the sculptors’ intent was first and then dramatize the sculptors’ intents? And, throughout this process, will anyone question whether we are teaching the “wrong” or “incorrect” interpretations?
I also wonder how I will simultaneously track and assess how these students develop a greater capacity and/or desire to “see” that which they might otherwise take for granted, and how the process will encourage them to apply a similar process to other objects of cultural or communal significance that surround them. And, most significantly, I wonder what influence all this will have on their contemporary lives, or if it will matter to them at all.
My desire is to enrich the students by challenging myself with the support of my Indian partners, and so I make this public statement of a personal challenge to hold myself to that goal. I hope someone asks me not what happened, but how I held myself to that challenge and what I learned from it, what risks I took, and how the students benefitted from them. And, most specifically, whether I fell back on what I am comfortable with and missed the opportunity presented me by this incredible gift. The potential benefits for the field of drama as an educational pedagogy are significant. The field has focused primarily on three broad approaches to drama as an effective tool for learning: First, with the artform at the center of the learning; students studying and practicing to become skilled artists; Second, drama as a tool for engaging students in virtual experiences of ethical dilemmas and issue-oriented events to challenge students to imaginatively consider and act on thoughtful choices and their consequences; and Third, the utilization of drama to expand and develop literacy skills. My continued contention is that individuals benefit from drama experiences applied to culture, community and history, not only developing a more comprehensive understanding of each, but also developing a personal investment in each that contributes to a richer definition of themselves culturally and their place in the community becoming more intrinsically motivated learners in the process.
Since 1987, DANIEL A. KELIN II has served as the Honolulu Theatre for Youth Director of Drama Education. A nationally recognized Master Teaching Artist in Drama/Theatre, he holds an MFA in Child Drama from the University of Hawaii and will be President of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education from 2011-2013. He has served as a Consultant and Trainer for many arts and social service organizations nationally and internationally. A 2009 Fulbright Research Scholar, Dan will spend 6 months in 2010 in India working with several schools on the implementation of a culture/history/drama integrated program. Dan was one of the first national Teaching Artist fellows with the Montalvo Arts Center in CA. ASSITEJ/USA awarded him the Ann Shaw Fellowship to collaborate with the Aazhi Children’s Theatre in Pondicherry, India in 2006. The American Alliance for Theatre and Education named him the 1995 Youth Theatre Director of the Year. In 2002, he was the runner-up recipient of the SCBWI Barbara Karlin grant and recipient of the AATE Lin Wright Special Recognition award for work with pre-service teachers. The Children’s Theatre Association of American named him an Aurand Harris Playwriting Fellow. Dan co-founded the Hawaii Professional Development Task Force which guides the statewide development of arts education programming and training. He was also a part of the team that created the Hawaii Arts First K-5 Toolkit for classroom teachers. He performed traditional Beijing Opera in several cities across China as a part of the first all non-Chinese company to perform for Chinese audiences, sponsored by the Chinese government. He has danced Marshallese step dances for the chiefs of those tiny islands, staged a large-scale folk theatre performance with young people for the South Pacific Economic Forum, and performed in radio drama in Vanuatu. He has been invited to present in conferences in Korea, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico, Canada and Australia. An award winning writer, Dan has authored three books, the most recent being In Their Own Words: Drama with Young English Language Learners. Other writing has appeared in NCTE’s Talking Points, NCSS’s Social Studies and the Young Learner, Early Childhood Education Journal, Stage of the Art, Teaching Artist Journal, Storytelling Magazine, Parabola, Spider, Highlights for Children and many others. Dan regularly presents at conferences across the globe, including: 'Storytelling and Cultural Identity' in the Azores Islands, International Federation of Teachers of English in Australia, University of Hawaii Pacific Studies and Library Studies program, the National Association for Multicultural Education, Theatre Communications Group, Popular Culture, and annually for the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, among others. Read more about Daniel's work on http://www.danielakelin.com