Stage 6 Drama – Scriptwriting – Fort Street High School – Teacher reflections

[MUSIC PLAYING] CAROLYN MATTICK: My name’s Carolyn Mattick, and I work as a drama teacher and head teacher at an academically selective high school in the Inner Western Sydney. In year 11, I always try to introduce as many of the styles– the forms and styles as I can in order to get students to understand theater holistically so that whatever choices they’re making in terms of the project, their individual project, they can use that knowledge to shape their work effectively.

We study scripts in order to look at other people’s works to get some inspiration. And then towards the end of the year 11 course, I will introduce the IP and what it is, the different options that are available, and then ask students to think about their strengths. I think that’s really important that they’re choosing those IP options based on where their strengths lie. So those experiences looking at other forms, other people’s works, are going to be really useful then to inform the work that they’re producing.

So I introduce the IP at the end of year 11. We go through all of the different options. And I always make sure I’m using the NESA website in order to do this. I get the students to log on to that website and walk them through it and show so that they know exactly where to find the current and accurate information that guides them in their development of their individual project. So we do that at the end of year 11, and then I reinforce this again at the start of the year 12 course.

So in order to support the individual needs of students, again, I think it’s really important to find where their strengths and their passions lie. There’s no point encouraging a student to do a project choice that they’re not going to be interested in. So what I’ll do is I spend quite a bit of time one on one with students. We find time during class where I interview students, and we walk through the different options, thinking about their strengths.

I’ll talk about the potential issues that they might face with any of those, and I will advise them if I think that a particular project might be particularly difficult for them. So we work together. I will always support the choices they make. But I do think it’s important that the teacher is guiding them to make those right decisions.

So in order to support the development of the individual project, I make sure that we have one lesson per week. We have four periods per week at our school. So I’ll have one of those lessons set aside every week for working on the individual project. Students will get to use that time to develop their work, but I spend that time interviewing and engaging with the students to check their progress, which is really important, obviously, as our role as the mentor through this project development.

I try and find as much time as I can to meet with them, to check in with them, and to give them some assessment and feedback along the way. We work together. I advise them. But obviously, this is the student’s individual project. They need to be leading the way. And my job is obviously to give them some feedback and to help them develop it further.

So when we’re thinking specifically about the scriptwriting option, we use the logbook extensively. It’s really important that we start the process right away from term 4 when the students start their HSC course. And we use the logbook a lot to generate ideas.

The first thing that I always stress to students who are choosing scriptwriting is that they have to pinpoint exactly what their message of their play is going to be. It has to have a purpose before they start working on it. So we will always use the logbook at the start to develop that idea. And I really encourage them to explore something that they’re passionate about, find a statement they want to make about the world that they live in that they really feel strongly about, because it’s going to help them keep interested in the project. And it’s also going to mean that it really feels like it’s their own original, unique work.

Then the process from there using that logbook would be any research that’s needed. We use the logbook to collate any kind of information they need, whether that’s exploring the style that they’re writing in or whether it’s looking at a particular issue and researching that issue.

Then it’s all about planning, and that’s why the logbook is so vital when students are doing scriptwriting. Because I always say to my students that you can’t start writing a script unless you know where it’s going. So right from the beginning, I get the students to map out in their logbook exactly what is going to happen in the play. They need to have formulated the ending before they can start the writing process.

After that, the logbook is used for drafts, drafting different scenes. They can keep all of those in there. And it’s then about going back and engaging with that, writing all over the script what works, what’s not working so well. Reflection is really important, just literally spending 20 minutes writing general thoughts on what is working and what are those areas that need to work. It helps to really give structure to the process for the students.

Again, with scriptwriting, it is really important to reach out for readers. When I’m working with a student, between the two of us, we would have read those drafts over and over. So it’s hard sometimes to keep perspective. You’ve read the drafts. You know what they are.

So getting fresh eyes is always really important. And we do reach out to parents in the community to just read the script, give the student feedback, even if it’s as simple as identifying what the message of the plays is and ensuring that a reader who is just picking that script up is understanding and getting that just from what’s written on the page.

Another really important thing that we do is we have the scripts read aloud, because remembering that these are texts that we’re creating, in order that they’re seen and heard rather than read. So often, I’ll get students from year 9 or year 10 who will come in, and they might workshop the script so that the playwright can hear that dialogue aloud, which is really important because they’ve got to remember that that script is going to be read by someone, that they need to be able to hear the voices coming through in each of the characters.

In the development of any individual project, there are always problems that come up. And they’re going to be unique and different for different students. However, I guess with scriptwriting, the one thing that I see quite regularly is that students will, first of all, struggle to find an idea in the first place. So we’ll do a whole lot of brainstorming. And again, I really get students to think about, what is it that they care about?

When we look at the marking criteria for scriptwriting, there’s nowhere that it says that your play has to be about something specific. So I will get them to explore things that they care about, whether that be politics, sport, art. Anything at all can be the material that they use for a script. So we’ll do a whole lot of brainstorming to deal with that, that students struggle to get that initial idea.

And then when we’ve got that, I think probably the other biggest challenge that I find students face is that they struggle to get a draft written in completion. What they might do is write the first section of a play, and go back to that, and fix it. And then they might write the next scene, and then they go back to it and fix it.

And what that ends up meaning is that by the time the process finishes, they probably run out to really fine-tune the last part of the script, which often results in a script which feels great for the first half, and then it falls away a little bit in the second half. So the way I combat that is I make students, from the beginning, write a full draft. It doesn’t matter if it’s good. It doesn’t matter if it works. But what it does is it gets the students to think about how they’re going to sequence the events and know how to get there. Then once they’ve got that draft, then they’ve got a whole work that they can be focusing on to fine-tune and make it stronger in subsequent drafts from there.

Finally, the last challenge that I face, particularly with scriptwriting, is having students understand that they are writing a script for the stage. Students have to be really careful that they’re choosing a style of theater to work in. It doesn’t matter what that style is, and they can be blending styles. But they have to know exactly what they’re doing. They need to understand the form they’re working in.

Sometimes I struggle to get students to understand that they’re not writing for a film, for example. And they have to think really carefully about how that play will work practically on the stage. So we’ll look at a lot of script samples. Sometimes if I find a student particularly struggling with that, I’ll ask them to explain to me, once they’ve written their draft, where things are happening on the stage, get them to really physically embody where those things are happening on a stage, remembering that there is that live audience that they are structuring this story for.

So in terms of assessing the individual project internally, I think formative assessment is absolutely the key. Because it’s a project that is developed over a long period of time, I try and give as many opportunities for students to be showing me their work and for me to be giving feedback on where they’re at at that particular moment. Like I’ve talked about, I will have a regular meeting time with those students to see where they’re up to, and we’ll go over what they’ve produced. And I will give some feedback as they’re developing their work as to how they might improve it in certain areas.

It is also a part of our assessment sequence for the HSC in drama at our school, so I will give them a formal assessment task where I will look at the work at a particular point in time. And I’ll apply the NESA HSC marking criteria to that to make sure students are remembering that they are the criteria that they’re creating this work for.

So my advice to colleagues leading the individual project process with their students would be to really help get the students to make the right decision. Don’t be afraid of the non-performance projects. There’s some really great options. And in particular, scriptwriting is a wonderful option for students to produce something that’s highly creative, but not necessarily– it’s not necessarily going to have the same kind of pressure that, say, a performance of two markers is going to have, as well as it’s a great option for those students who are really strong writers.

So I’d spend some time early on in the process really thinking carefully about the choices that the students are making. And I guess that then carries through for the rest of the process. Make sure the students know the choices that they’re making as opposed to just accidentally finding their way through the writing of a script. They need to make a choice about what they’re doing with that project and how they’re influencing an audience and thinking really carefully about that the whole way through the process.

Teaching HSC drama is a wonderful, wonderful experience, having the opportunity to work with such bright, creative, excellent students and giving them the opportunity to produce their works that are really important to them and really represent who they are. It’s a moment for those students to have an opportunity to express themselves, often in a year which is very stressful and difficult for those students. So I love teaching drama, particularly to HSC students. And I hope you enjoy the process.


End of transcript

Content updated 22/9/2020

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