Teaching Literacy Through Drama: Creative Approaches

Author(s) Baldwin P. & Fleming K.
Publisher Routledge-Falmer
Published 2003
Price 35.00
ISBN 0415255783
Reviewed by Ms Angela Pickard
Canterbury Christ Church University College-Education
Review published 18 December 2006

This book is divided into three parts: part one provides a convincing rationale for using drama as a teaching and learning tool in literacy. Here connections are made to national curriculum and national literacy strategy requirements with some references to the curriculum guidance for the foundation stage. Although the new framework for primary literacy has just gone live which might be seen as dating this book, the pedagogical ideas argued in this part remain very relevant. These ideas include a commitment to the view that language is about the word and the world; that contextual learning, with real life purposes, motives and intentions is most effective; that there is a need for imaginative, dramatic play; the nature of creative teaching and learning; and the development of thinking skills.

Part two offers a range of practical units for reception and key stages one and two that use imagined and physical contexts and well-known quality texts in order to apply drama strategies and activities. Opportunities for reading, writing, speaking and listening in context are suggested, with some ICT activities, and NLS and NC/QCA speaking and listening/drama objectives highlighted, most of which are comparable to the new framework for primary literacy. Although key stages and year groups are suggested, some of the ideas could easily be adapted to suit other year groups and key stages appropriately. Foundation stage/reception options are limited in this resource. In many cases as with other practical resources, one creative idea can inspire and stimulate the reader to create three more creative ideas of their own.

Helpful examples of quality texts to use with this resource book are featured in the units. These include Anthony Browne’s Voices in the Park, The Man who Sold his Shadow, retold by Michael Rosen. Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters retold by John Steptoe and The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson. The text choices offer a range of genre from fiction and poetry. The activities suggested also engage children in non-fiction text types such as instructions, discussion and persuasion. However, there is, in my opinion, greater scope for cross-curricular connections.

Part three is the least inspired and reductionist in my opinion, as it offers optional literacy support worksheets linked to the units for teachers to lean on and photocopy. I would hope that after such active engagement advocated in the units themselves, both students and practicing teachers, and indeed the children, could respond in more creative ways, such as writing in role, that do not need to rely on recording on a worksheet. As all the ideas are ‘tried and tested’ it would have been helpful to have included examples of children’s responses from oral, pictorial and in the written form, perhaps as photographs, noted dialogue, pictures and writing samples. Powerful examples such as these, of possible outcomes/products would make this an even stronger resource. I can also see how the word and phrase definition sheets featured in this section, might be used just as a resource by the teacher when planning.

This accessible and practical book will be welcomed by trainee and practising teachers as it would support any primary English/literacy course with an emphasis on practical ways of teaching and learning through drama. Although not explicitly theoretically underpinned by very many references, research evidence or critical, reflective debate from the field of drama and education, the book offers sound principles, justifications and understanding in relation to practice. It does provide useful insights into the prescribed curriculum requirements and developments in the UK. Although curriculum requirements are ever changing the principles that underpin teaching and learning and good practice should remain.

Reading this book prompted me to revisit my own book co- authored with Teresa Grainger, theory-practice links minibook (18) - Drama: Reading, Writing and Speaking Our Way Forwards (2004), United Kingdom Literacy Association. With Teaching Literacy through Drama these two would make a useful pairing for primary education students and others, especially those who wish to become subject specialists in English/literacy and indeed those training through school based routes. Many drama texts with a stronger range of theoretical reading and research evidence exist (Booth, 1994; Grainger, 2003; Heathcote and Bolton; Winston, 1998, 2000). These texts are recommended for developing students’ understanding of theory and practice links, and critically reflective discourse.

Overall, I do think there is a place for a useful resource such as this with the pertinent focus on creative teaching and learning. However, this is a costly resource at £35.00 as there are others on the market that make theory –practice links more explicit. Given that many cohorts of students have limited money to spend on books and resources I’m not sure that this would be their first choice, especially as it is so closely linked to ever-changing curriculum requirements. However, for practicing teachers with a school budget, this would certainly be a helpful resource.