Stage 6 Drama – Scriptwriting – Engadine High School – Teacher reflections

[MUSIC PLAYING] MICHAEL HERON: My name is Michael Heron. I am one of the drama teachers here in a large comprehensive high school with a growing drama department. We teach, on average, from 80 to 100 drama students each and every year. I think year 11 is crucial to a HSE drama student’s success and their learning journey in that last year of this schooling. Even though it’s a very short year, year 11, it’s a pivotal time in allowing a student to find the skills that best suit the eventual IP they end up choosing in year 12.

And as we all know, there are so many project options for year 12 drama. It’s often very hard to stay abreast of all of them, but year 11 is really important, I think, in terms of allowing students to sample a whole range of project options. So they write a bit of script. They do a bit of performing, obviously. They do a bit of design work. And they find the skill that they want to continue growing and honing in year 12 for their IP.

So the IP we actually introduce here well before year 11 and year 12, and we start in year 9 and 10 getting students to not only perform, obviously, in terms of the performance IP available in year 12. They’re always performing in drama from year 9 right through to year 12. But from year 9 on, we get students working in the skill areas and working with the skill sets that are available as a year 12 IP choice. So they design some costumes for the place that they study and put on in year 9 and 10. And they engage in some script work that’s inspired by those plays.

In year 10, we have a verbatim theatre unit where they engage in a director’s folio task that allows them to write about a potential hypothetical production for verbatim theatre. So you’re constantly providing platforms for those students to sample the skills that are available in those year 12 major work options, so that by the time they get there, they know exactly what all of those IP choices are. And usually, ideally, they always know what IP choice they want to make and continue with as a HSE option.

I think when it comes to catering for all student needs for the major work in year 12 drama, the best approach a drama teacher can take is to guide students towards an IP choice and an IP idea that suits their personal context. So for example, with students I’ve had in the past to have selected script as an option, and script writing is a great IP choice for any student with the writing skills required to do well in that option, you direct students to write a script that means something to them.

So if I think about students in particular who succeeded as script writers in year 12 drama in the past, they’ve written scripts that are inspired by their personal histories, their personal backgrounds, whether that be cultural, whether it be events or circumstances that they’ve had direct experience of as opposed to an idea that they’ve really wanted to write, but they don’t necessarily have any connection to. Sometimes it can be a process, guiding students towards ideas that matter to them and that they have experience of.

But I think, in terms of allowing them to succeed and showcase the full range of their skills, it’s important that they write about issues. And that applies to every other IP choice. Perform about issues, design costumes in a space that they have some sort of experience of.

It’s crucial, I think, to provide year 12 drama students with time in class on their IP, and I think, as drama teachers, we have a responsibility to make that time available to them to work in class. It can’t just be a homework thing. I don’t think that’s– it’s not equitable. It’s not fair. But it is extremely challenging, I think, for a year 12 drama teacher to balance the delivery of coursework, and there’s a lot of it in year 12 drama. It’s not as if we don’t have much.

The implementation and the building up of a group performance alongside a major work option, that will vary from one student to the next. And for year 12 drama teachers with large drama classes, we may be managing anywhere between 5, maybe even up to 10 different major work options, depending on student choices. So you provide students with time in class to work on those IPs, and you give them feedback constantly in class and outside of class.

But I think the most important thing is to make sure that the instructions you’re providing to them, the scaffolds around what step they need to move on to the next to get that major work completed, those things need to be differentiated based on the project. So when I’m telling a script writing student at the end of term four, after their first term of the HSE, will vary dramatically from what I’m telling a monologue student, in terms of what steps they need to be up to in that process. And it will vary from one student to the next and one year to the next too.

So if I write, OK, now you’re doing script writing at the end of term one. In the next year you need to be at this stage. That may change for a student doing script writing the next year because every student is different. And so it’s a big task for a drama teacher. Project managing, if you will, all of those different projects and students, but it’s crucial that that differentiation is really our core business in terms of how we go about guiding students through the major work process.

The IP log book is a really important part of the process for a year 12 drama student and their IP. It can be, at times, the bugbear for a drama teacher, absolutely. And all drama teachers would know what I mean. But I think, especially in the early stages, perhaps more so than the middle and later stages in the major work development process, that log book is crucial for the development and refinement of ideas.

But actually, what I find is, in those early stages, it’s not so much what students are doing in their log book, it’s what I give them to put in their log book that matters most, initially. So for a student doing script writing, for example, sure, I’ll give them all the syllabus documents and get them to brainstorm ideas in their log book, all that usual stuff that comes with developing a creative idea and following a creative process, but I always start by giving one of my script writing students former scripts from ex-students that vary in that place on the marking scale. And students read those scripts. They engage with them, and they mark them.

What did that script get? What did that one get? And I give them a range of scripts. I’m lucky to have a bank of scripts that I’ve built up over the years from students that, again, vary in terms of their success.

But by reading those scripts as a first step, students doing that major work option not only get this wonderful exposure to this plethora of stories that previous drama students have written, but they get exposure to different standards of script writing that showcase different skills. And in that process, they learn what separates out an effective successful script from one that maybe hasn’t been as successful, based on the marking criteria and everything that we expect a good HSE drama script to be.

I think in drama, the school community has a massive part to play in what students are doing all of the time, whether they’re in year 9, year 12, doing a major work or not. But in year 12, where it matters most and that major work is an ongoing process and represents the best of what they can do, the school community is an audience, as they always are for drama. And a good drama, whether it’s on a page of a script or a performance exists within an audience, or whether it’s as a consultee possibly, as part of some sort of consultation process, or simply a family or friend providing support for that student and the completion of their major work.

And certainly other colleagues here in the school. I would not have experienced the success that I’ve seen with some students and their major works without the support of my colleagues. That second pair of eyes is crucial to seeing where a major work can be pushed, where it can succeed, and where it potentially can grow further and maybe go off into a whole different direction.

I’ve been so immersed in a student’s major work in the past, you get lost in it sometimes. I think of students who have done script writing for me recently, and sometimes you fall in love with their plot and their characters, and you become biased. And your perspective is skewed, and you miss things as their editor. You essentially do become, for script writers, their editor as their teacher. They’re publishing this work, and you’re providing professional advice about its direction and its quality and things they need to go back and refine and what not.

But by being able to give that script or any other major work, this applies to all of them, to a second set of eyes, then you are allowing yourself to step back a little and reframe that major work to be able to then give that student the best possible advice. So the whole communities is crucial, but I think having a drama teacher community and network of people that you can draw on for feedback for student major works, I think that that makes a big difference.

I have encountered a range of complexities in student’s development of their major works for year 12 drama. Often, the work that students do in drama is very personal, and it should be. But that can give rise to a whole range of sensitive issues that need really careful management, especially in year 12 where there’s processes that need to be followed, and where there’s marks at stake. But we’re also students. A creative work that means a lot to them is also at stake.

Working with [? Skye ?] on her script was, at times, a big challenge for me as a teacher, but also for her as a student and as an Aboriginal person, writing in a really personal way about issues that matter to Aboriginal Australia and that also matter to her and her family situation as well. But the rule of thumb for me in how I approach those challenges was to always bring [? Skye ?] back to the fact that this script was a creative work that needed to follow these conventions.

And sure, it could get personal, and she could explore or tease out aspects of the personal experience. And she should because doing that through a creative process like in a major work can be can be really great and cathartic, but always reframing that major work as a creative process with these guidelines allows a teacher and a student to get back to the core principles or core expectations for that major work and to make it as best as it can be on top of whatever personal context that student is exploring and teasing out.

Formative assessment is one of the most powerful ways to add value to what a student does in the context of the major work for year 12 drama. But for all subjects. And of course it’s a summative task, and it’s marked externally, but where an individual classroom teacher can make the most difference and add the most value to that work is through formative assessment.

I am relentless, I would probably pick that as the word, in how I manage a student’s major works from the start of year 12 to the end. And I think a teacher needs to be. Not relentless in a nagging way. Sometimes I’m sure a student would have a different perspective and say that’s what I am, but I am relentless in the sense that I try my best to get the absolute best out of that individual student because they have so many months to work on this project, whether it’s performance script, costume design. Why not make it the best that you can do?

And my students know that that’s my attitude, and they’re my expectations as well. And I think it’s a really difficult dance at times, being relentless, but there is a way to do it where it is supportive and where you are a source of inspiration and structure and really good advice and the student sees that.

At the end of the day, you can only get from a student what you can get. There’s no point chasing them and making the major work process arduous and onerous and negative, but should always be positive. But by being relentless, by always being there, wanting the next scene, wanting to see the next few pages, wanting to see the next minute of the performance, and always starting with positive feedback first, no matter what they’ve presented.

Always start with the positive. Then sure, go constructive, and then talk about what’s next. What about we do this and this? And be the ideas person.

They’re only 17, 18 years old. When I was 17, 18, my ideas weren’t great. Give them ideas, and be prepared to write a page of script for them that’s drawn from the context of a plot of the idea that they’re currently working around and within. Be prepared to get up and perform a bit of a scene. Show them how it’s done.

And always be positive in how you do that. And when I do that, students have never been anything but thankful in whatever way that thankful means to them or works for them. And it always adds value to what they do. Sometimes they take on your ideas, sometimes they don’t. But I think if you’re positive and you’re passionate and you’re energetic, then chances are they will take on those ideas, and their own ideas will be thrown in the mix. And what that produces is even better.

The one thing I would say to fellow HSE drama teachers, and I’m no expert, I’m still really new to it, but one of the biggest lessons that I’ve learnt recently that I possibly wasn’t– I hadn’t learnt when I first started teaching HSE drama, which has made a big difference I think to student success in year 12 is how important it is to guide students into the right IP choice at the very outset.

Sure, we have to give students autonomy in the choice that they make whether they choose performance or a director’s folio or a script, but as their teacher, and often we’ve taught them in year 11 and probably for a bit in year 9 and 10 as well at least, as their teacher we often know what will be best suited to them as a major work choice, where their best skills lie or where they have the most room to grow.

And I think by approaching that initial decision with those students in a way that’s positive and not too assertive but in a way that still really clearly communicates to that student, this is where your potential lies. These are where your strengths lie. I really think you should do this IP choice. Look, you already have all of these ideas. And prove to them that your recommendation is a good one.

Then that benefits that student so much in the long run. By letting a student choose an IP option that isn’t suited to them, and by not being transparent with them about the fact that it’s not suitable for these reasons, we do them absolutely no favors. I think by being upfront with them at the outset about what we think they should do, well, what options we think are best suited and why, then we give them the best possible chance to make the right choice, to own it creatively and to succeed.

I remember distinctly working with [? Skye ?] on her year 12 major work, a script.


And what I remember most about it was how much of a learning experience it was for me as her teacher. Often, we always learn a lot from our students, and we should. But when I think back to [? Skye’s ?] script and the months and months of work that it took and all the proofreads and all the sit-downs and those discussions about where a plot should go or shouldn’t. And going back and changing the idea halfway through and all that laboring away at the idea.

I think the best thing to come out of it for me as her teacher was what I learned from her about Aboriginal Australia and on Aboriginal Australia. And what I learnt through her perspective as an Aboriginal playwright on that major work. And I think that learning for me and that reflection says everything that needs to be said about how special the HSE drama major work can be.

End of transcript

Content updated 22/9/2020

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