Nick Bentley is a Lead Practitioner for Access & Inclusion and Drama at an all-girls Secondary School in East London. In the spring term of 2017 he conducted an investigation into the use of drama in teaching William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and examined the impact of this on five students in a Year Nine “Nurture Group” class targeted at teaching Literacy and Social Skills. Drawing upon data including a teacher journal, excerpts of student writing and the reflective comments of teaching assistants, the investigation concluded that drama can complement young people’s reading, writing, oral communication and social skills, and contribute to giving them a voice.
What is writing? What is drama? Is there any correlation between the two in terms of individual progress and attainment? These are some of the key questions that influenced this research project, performed and researched by Natasha Cornwell. Natasha is the Teaching and Learning Leader for key stage 3 English at a secondary school academy in Essex. This responsibility invites her to explore ways to enrich the current KS3 curriculum, addressing national expectations and working towards whole-school targets. Her research project was carried out in 2016 with one of her year 8 English classes. It was her ambition to determine whether facilitating drama activities, prior to extended writing tasks, would have any impact upon her students’ writing skills. This was accomplished by comparing written work that took place prior to any drama activities, to written work that took place after drama. She then went on to evaluate samples of work in detail, analysing evidence of the progress, in terms of the school’s assessment criteria, national curriculum expectations and, more interestingly, personal progress which is often too intangible to measure.
At this point of the year, lots of teachers will be breathing a massive sigh of relief having finished their classroom research projects; others will be chewing their nails thinking about the one they’re about to start.
So it’s timely to think about where all this work gets published.
Sophia Bobdiwala is the Head of Key Stage 3 English at a school in Hillingdon, London and carried out this research in her fifth year of teaching during the 2014-2015 academic year. Her enquiry explores the effects of paired reading on the participants involved. The Buddy Reading Scheme (BRS) is an approach to supporting and encouraging reading. It involves ‘pairing’ younger readers with older, more experienced students. The project investigates the effectiveness of this approach in relation to the pupils’ motivation and engagement. It offers an account of the BRS as experienced by different students, their responses and feelings about the project and the extent to which the scheme might be said to improve attitudes to reading. It is an exploratory investigation into the potential benefits and problems of a programme designed to support and develop pupils’ reading, their skills, but also their feelings about themselves as readers and their enthusiasm for reading.
Charlotte is an English teacher in east London and carried out this research during the 2013-2014 academic year. This explorative study provides a snapshot of the process of learning how to write academic essays at A Level. The research involved three sixth form students who studied one or more of the following Humanities subjects: English, Geography and History. Charlotte sought to understand the differences in essay writing across the various Humanities subjects, and how well students negotiate these differences. In her conclusion she outlines a series of practical ideas that could create a more joined-up approach to teaching the essay across the Humanities at her school.
Lucy is a Second in charge of the English department at a leading secondary girls’ independent school in West London. She carried out this school-based research in 2014, in the spring term of her third year of teaching, focusing on her Year 8 class of thirty learners. Lucy wanted to explore how in-role drama activities, particularly writing in role, could be used in the classroom to support and develop students’ understanding and writing in English, principally with Year 8’s study of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Lucy became intrigued with the concept of ‘role’ and the type of learning that takes place when students are immersed in dramatic activity and thus set out to examine the potential benefits and advantages of in-role work in the study of literature.
Mary King is an English teacher with responsibility for A level in an Academy in Lewisham. Confused students and unpredictable exam results inspired her to reflect on learning in relation to the AS English Literature exam unit Aspects of Narrative, (the AS, or Advanced Subsidiary Level, is the first year of the A Level, and is usually taken at age 17, in young people’s penultimate year of school). What started as an investigation into the Literature curriculum and the gap between GCSE and A level study rather unexpectedly turned into a project on the use of creative writing in AS lessons. She found herself researching the relationship between creativity, culture, and agency, and looking closely at the creative writing and class discussions of her two year 12 groups. One of the things that most surprised her was the social nature of much of the learning that took place around re-creative tasks: discussing, negotiating and reading work aloud was a key aspect of lessons centred around re-creativity.
Rhiannon Mapleston is the Art and Literacy Coordinator at a community primary school in East London. She carried out this research in her own Year Three classroom during her fourth year of teaching in 2014. Rhiannon has been attending weekly taught life drawing classes at the Royal Drawing School (formerly known as The Princes Drawing School) for six years. She wanted to use classroom research to develop her teaching of drawing skills and consult the children on what they thought of using drawing as a tool for learning. Through action-research, Rhiannon examined whether a drawing intervention had any effect on the children and how able they thought they were at drawing, whether they enjoyed drawing and how important they believed drawing to be.
Alice Pascoe Hale is a Key Stage 2 teacher and Head of Learning and Teaching in an inner-London primary school. She conducted her research after becoming increasingly aware that the children she was teaching found it difficult to select books that they wanted to read, and to concentrate on reading. Many expressed negative attitudes towards reading, and in particular, towards reading at school. She began to think that the way we teach children to read and relate to books in England has gone badly wrong. The aim of the research was to better understand, from the point of view of the children, how they experienced learning to read at school. To do this, she created a Photographic Instrument, which enabled children to tell their own story of reading and the process of learning to read, from their own point of view.
Amy Green teaches in a large, mixed, non-selective secondary school in a borough with a grammar school system in southeast London. She carried out qualitative research in 2012-13 with a group of ‘able’ year 11 students to capture their own thoughts on what may hinder their achievement. ‘Able students often feature as an underperforming group’ she writes, ‘but research tends to focus on the views of adults’. Her findings suggest that in her context, classroom factors, not family or peer-group factors, had the biggest impact on achievement. The findings are used to make recommendations for establishing a school environment where high achievement is expected, planned for and celebrated.