Embedded within my passion for literacy is my love for developmental drama. I do love theatre as well (I as a professional actress for a couple of years), but developmental drama is fundamentally different than theatre. Theatre is about performance. Developmental drama is about developing human potential, and that is my heart song.
I was recently asked to present a Literacy Workshop for the Royal Conservstory’s new Smart Start Programme . This Early Childhood Education (ECE) programme uses a multiple arts approach to develop four specific cognitive skills: attention, memory, perception, cognitive flexibility. It was my role to model and lead a group of ECE leaders through creative drama experiences so they could experience first-hand how developmental drama can and does develop cognitive skills. We explored many drama strategies in the workshop: storytelling; role play; group drama; teacher-in-role; voice over narration; hot seat; tableaux, and; story drama. My favourite of the eight listed is story drama which uses the events and characters in a story to stimulate the drama experiences, plus, I got to use my storytelling skills. We became the characters; good and bad. We learned about a culture from the other side of the world. We asked questions. We problem solved. We also had fun. The participants left with many practical ideas and felt they were inspired to explore this world with the children they are responsible for. But, in all honesty, I think I was the one who left with the most insight.
I used to present this kind of workshop regularly, but have not done one in a few years. Due to my dissertation work in multiliteracies (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000), I discovered I was seeing the experiences through new eyes. I was identifying modes instead of arts disciplines and using critical discernment instead of point of view. The experience was a literacy event that we constructed within a social paradigm and the participants contributed their own knowledge and expertise in an environment that supported situated practice. It wasn’t just a new set of vocabulary; it was a much more informed and theoretical perspective of the work. Vygotsky, Luke, Peabody, Vasquez, Kress, Cope and Kalantzis occupied every corner of the room. I was well supported. I recognized a noticeable difference between my role as intuitive drama leader and informed theoretical guide. It was progress and it felt good.
Cope, B. & Kalantzis, M. (Eds.) (2000). Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and the Design of Social Futures. New York: Routlage
In general terms, my (Lydia) dissertation research examines the ways in which student teachers construct conceptions of literacy and enact literacy pedagogy when they view themselves as in conversation with a broader field of literacy (e.g. Multiple Literacies, New Literacy Studies). One aspect of this research considers how student teachers’ personal literacy practices inform their approach to literacy pedagogy. In some cases student teachers’ personal reading practices have been influenced by the interests and reading choices of the pupils they teach. These student teachers have often engaged with texts recommended by their pupils (e.g. graphic novels, young adult literature), and these shared texts become a space within which teacher and pupil connect. One of the student teachers participating in this research discussed the text ttyl written by Lauren Myracle, who has been referred to as a modern day Judy Blume. This young adult novel, which is part of a series, is written entirely in instant messages. Interesting, this best selling novel has been on the annual list of the “Most Challenged Books” released by the American Library Association. In other words, people have requested that this book be ban from libraries and schools “due to sexually explicit material and offensive language.” I plan to share this text with the student teachers in our literacy courses this year. I think it could contribute to an interesting conversation about text structure, style, controversies, and pupils’ diverse reading interests.
Congratulations to Tiffany Harris (member of our research team) who successfully defended her PhD thesis yesterday. The thesis, Multiliteracies Theory into Practice: An Inquiry into Junior-level Literacy Classrooms, was a study of classroom teachers (grades 4 – 6) which examined their understanding and use of a multiliteracies approach in their teaching. The thesis is outstanding because Tiffany closely studied her participants’ views of literacy, their practices, and the challenges they face. The analysis is outstanding because Tiffany is both a very accomplished classroom teachers and an excellent researcher. She brought to bear on her work her understanding of the work of teachers and her extensive knowledge of multiliteracies theory. As a result, her work will definitely contribute to our understanding of how literacy is evolving and how teachers are adjusting their teaching. It is rare to have a study that moves so effectively between theory and practice. Her thesis will soon be available through the Proquest Dissertation Database. Congratulations Dr. Harris. Attached is a picture of Tiffany and me (Clare) after her thesis defense.