Sunday, 17 April 2011

Chris Port Blog #205. KS3 Drama Action Research Project: Introduction, Research Site, Rationale, Aims & Research Question

© Chris Port, Central School of Speech and Drama, 2000

1.0   Introduction

In essence, the relationship between a research project and a research site can fall into one of two categories:

  1. the research site is selected to fit the project; or
  2. the research project is selected to fit the site.

The given circumstances for this research project mean that it falls into the latter category.

The purpose of this introduction is therefore to give the reader a clear overview of how the observed teaching practices on the research site suggested a rationale and research question.

1.1   The research site

The research site is a single site Catholic mixed comprehensive school with Technology College status. It has voluntary aided status. The school caters for a pupil age range of 11 to 18. It takes 65% of its pupils from within the London borough of Barking and Dagenham and 35% from a large number of schools to the east and north of the borough (OFSTED 1997). Over 80% of its pupils are from a Catholic background (Ibid). There are currently 1108 pupils on the school roll which can be categorized as follows:

Categorization of pupil roll (out of a total of 1108 pupils)

Category (out of a total of 1108)
No. of pupils
% of total roll
Eligible for free school meals
Special Educational Needs (SEN) 
English as a Second Language (ESL)
*        Gender ratio (Boy/Girl):  1.28/1
**      This is the current (June 2000) figure confirmed by the school office.

According to recent unpublished research, the most important factor in the rate of improvement in GCSE results was the proportion of pupils entitled to free school meals (cf. Budge 1999:4).

The most recent OFSTED report (1997) identified the following trends:

  1. The percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals rose constantly over the preceding 4 years from 14% in 1993 to 22.0% in 1996 (OFSTED 1997). The current number of 230 represents a small decrease to 20.76% of the total roll.
  2.  The percentage of pupils staying on to the sixth form rose steadily over the preceding 3 years from 73.7% in 1994 to 83.9% in 1996 (OFSTED 1997).
  3.  Reading and mathematics test-scores for pupils indicate that overall attainment on entry is below [national] average (OFSTED 1997).

The school lays great emphasis on its ability to cater for pupils of all attainments and aptitudes, on its Christian and Catholic character, and on its ability to promote technical and vocational education [my italics] through its Technology College status.

Drama at Key Stage 3 falls under the auspices of the English Department. It is currently only taught for one term in Year 8 under a carousel system.

Drama at Key Stage 4 is taught using the Edexel GCSE Drama Syllabus (2000). There is no currently no provision for Drama or Theatre Studies at post-16 level.

1.2   Rationale

From conversations with the Mentor it appears that the Senior Management Team does not attach great importance to Drama, viewing it instead as an optional extra to the English curriculum for Speaking and Listening. This relegation contrasts with the Mentor’s discernible personal philosophy of Drama at Key Stage 3 as a discrete art form with its own body of ‘presentational... technique-facts’ (Mentor cited from interview: 24 May 2000). The Drama curriculum at Key Stage 4 seems more secure and autonomous in that it follows an established GCSE syllabus with sufficient numbers of pupils choosing it as an option (27 pupils in the current Year 10 group) to justify its continuation for the moment.

I agreed with my Mentor at an early stage that it would not be appropriate to conduct an Action Research Project with Year 11 due to the advanced nature of their preparations for their Paper 3 Performance (Edexcel 2000). The available pupil subjects for research were, therefore, as follows:

Breakdown of Year 8 and Year 10 pupils for Drama

Year Group
Number of pupils
Year 8
Total pupils

During my first training placement I concluded that very little teaching and learning took place in Drama (in both Key Stages 3 and 4) due to pupil behavioural problems. During my current teaching placement I observed that pupil behaviour in lessons observed for other subjects was usually satisfactory and, in Drama, was comparatively good.

During my first training placement I observed that my Mentor favoured Drama at Key Stage 3 as (ideally) an opportunity to increase pupils’ skills in language, communication and empathy with an emphasis on teaching styles which encouraged independent learning. During my current teaching placement I observed that my Mentor exerted a strong personal control over the learning area and pace of lessons.

The behavioural problems observed during my first placement, combined with a difficulty in demonstrating any rigorous assessment as a Beginning Teacher, prompted concerns over Behaviourism. The Mentor’s strong personal control observed during my second placement prompted concerns over whether the pupils were actually engaged in learning or simply being exposed to anecdote, subject matter and drill.

My initial ideas therefore began to focus on the following broad areas:

  1. What should Drama be at Key Stage 3?
  2.  How should it be taught?

These areas were, obviously, far too broad for an Action Research Project and so, during my early reconnaissance, I began to narrow the scope to the following areas:

  1. What model(s) of Drama curriculum at Key Stage 3 best fit current practice in teaching and learning?
  2. What model(s) of learning characterize teaching in other subjects at Key Stage 3?
  3. Is Drama a subject like other subjects?

These areas were still too broad for an Action Research Project (although their relevance to its background is developed in Chapter 2.0 Literature Review). During my initial research I short-listed 3 characteristic models of teaching and learning:

  1. Behaviourism
  2. Constructivism
  3. Social Constructivism

I began to wonder about the relationship between different curriculum models and different models of teaching and learning. In such a modest Action Research Project, assumptions would have to be made about a Drama Curriculum at Key Stage 3. After interviewing the Mentor and reviewing the Drama Department Handbook, I short-listed the following considerations:

  1. General trend in current U.K. education towards neo-positivist assessment criteria.
  2. Standards of attainment.
  3. Comparability with other subjects.
  4. A discrete art form agenda outlined in the Drama Department Handbook.
  5. Learning areas of Status, Melodrama and Naturalism at Key Stage 3 negotiated with the Mentor.

In view of the above considerations I opted for an ‘ideal’ Key Stage 3 Drama curriculum model consisting of discrete theatre generic modules as proposed by David Hornbrook (1998).

My focus then narrowed to what teaching and learning models I tended to adopt reflexively, whether the pupils viewed their learning in the same way that I did, whether teaching and learning flitted ‘promiscuously’ between different models and whether any pro forma might be discerned.

1.3   Aims and research question

The following aims evolved from the rationale detailed earlier:

  1. To identify teaching and learning models used in Drama at Key Stage 3.
  2. To compare and contrast teaching and learning models used in Drama and other subjects at Key Stage 3.
  3. To identify, compare and contrast how pupils viewed teaching and learning at Key Stage 3 (and Key Stage 4) both in Drama and in other subjects.
  4. To begin to incorporate my findings and modify my teaching accordingly.

In summary, my Action Research Project was now focused on an agreed Key Stage 3 Drama Curriculum comparing characteristic models of teaching and learning. I decided to focus on Behaviourism as potentially the least ‘creative’ model of learning. My research question thus became:

In what ways might a Behaviourist model of learning be ‘fit for the purposes’ of teaching a drama curriculum at Key Stage 3?

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