HEATHER PITT: I’m Heather Pitt. I’m the drama teacher in a fairly small creative arts department in a coed school on the northern beaches. My students are very able and enthusiastic.
In year 11 drama, we explore the syllabus– specifically elements of production– by devising and exploring a play. The class worked together to produce and perform Dags by Debra Oswald. My student– Annsley Y– chose lighting design. And I really encouraged her in this area, because I knew that this is where her skills and talents were.
We had the advantage of rehearsing in the classroom, and we have a lighting bar in the classroom. So Annsley was able to actually create the lighting design during rehearsals, and I supported her in that process. And we sought outside help when we needed it– because I’m no lighting design expert– but between us we were able to muddle through and come up with some really creative ways to light and design the year 11 class production.
I introduce the IP as far back as year 10. When I have students in drama in year 10, I introduce the idea to them that there are a number of projects they can choose– not just performance. That comes from them watching the year 12s performing their pieces and me showing them their projects. Then in year 11, specifically, I introduce the ideas of the projects more specifically, when we’re doing the elements of production. In year 12, I introduce the projects in term one of year 12. I talk the students through the variety of projects available to them and encourage them in areas where they show interest, and where I think their skills are.
I engage my students through practical experience, specifically through the year 11 play. And I knew from that experience that Annsley was very engaged with lighting. I supported her by providing opportunities outside of school for her to seek advice, and through a local theater company. I made a connection there for her. I supported her through theory and discussion and technical advice, which, if I didn’t know, I could steer her to someone else that might be able to help.
I supported her through my knowledge of the texts, encouraging her to choose a text that I think would engage her. My experience of the text– productions that I had seen of the text– help in our discussions together, that I help provide some sort of inspiration for her and insight for her into the plays. And I supported her through ongoing conversations and feedback, looking through the logbook, giving her any feedback that I felt would really help her to progress with the project.
We were fortunate with having such a small cohort, that I could spend a lot of time on the individual project. We were able to set aside lessons where we specifically worked on the project together. We were able to look over the text together. We were able to analyze the text together. We were able to look at different– brainstorm different options and ideas for lighting together.
So we were fortunate in that way that we did have the luxury of time on our side, and the ability to use lessons. In other cases, I’ve had to use outside of lesson time. I had to use lunchtimes and free periods for the student. I always have examples of exemplar logbooks to show my students, way back in year 10. This gives them the idea of what a logbook should be, what it should entail, what should– aims and goals that we should have in the logbook.
So then by the time we get to year 12, the students have a very clear grasp of what a logbook should be, what it is. Then I use the logbook at the beginning of year 12 as a way of outlining the expected timeline of how they should work on the project. They are expected to bring the logbook to classes, and especially to meetings that we have about their projects.
And we use this logbook to record any conversations that we have, brainstorming sessions that we have, specific feedback that I give them about their projects. It’s also a place where they actually contain the theory or the information that I give them, that helps them through the lighting project or any project. And it’s a place for them to keep feedback and visuals and images and stimulation, anything that they feel– research, anything that’s specific to their project.
I always seek help outside the drama room if I need to, and I have a very supportive advisor, creative head advisor. But also, because it was a technical project– lighting– and I knew I was no expert, I sought advice from our technical team here at school. But outside the school community, I have contacts with a local theater company. So I was able to put Annsley in touch with the director of that production that was on at the time. And she was able to go and actually experience that production from the lighting booth, to talk with the technical advisors in that theater. I think that was immensely helpful to her. They were very helpful in giving her a tour of the theater, and designs for the theater, and really helped her– encouraged her in her project.
The main challenge that Annsley faced was lack of time, and I found that because it was over a holiday period, we couldn’t see each other face to face. So I tried to overcome these challenges of time by staying in touch with Annsley over email, during the holiday period especially, when we weren’t seeing each other day to day. I would touch base with her over email to see how she was going, whether she was progressing, and if she was facing any challenges.
The main challenge for me for the project was that it was technical in nature, and I felt that was quite beyond my expertise, so to overcome that we sought advice elsewhere. Annsley was assessed both formally and informally throughout the project. We would meet regularly, and I would give her specific feedback, verbal feedback with her logbook. I would give her written feedback as well.
Then, of course, we had the task that was outlined, based on the outcomes that are in the syllabus. And I would guide Annsley through these outcomes and address them formally and informally through discussions, but also through written work.
It’s such a privilege to be a drama teacher and to be able to work so closely with creative and talented students. I would encourage you– if you feel any hesitancy to guide students through projects you feel unfamiliar with, to always seek help through other colleagues. Because it is such a rewarding experience, like it was with Annsley, to see this lighting project to fruition, and to be such an exemplar of work.
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Content updated 22/9/2020