Monday, 18 April 2011

Chris Port Blog #207. KS3 Drama Action Research Project: Methodology

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

The research methodologies employed were a mixture of quantitative (e.g. statistics, questionnaires) and qualitative (e.g. observation, interview and interpretation). I positioned myself as a researcher in the context of a ‘reflective practitioner’ (cf. Schön 1983: Taylor 1996), reflecting both in-action and on-action.

3.1   General observation during induction

My induction period lasted 2 weeks during which time I was cast as a relatively passive observer with little interaction with the pupils. I observed a series of English lessons for the two Year 8 groups who would form my research group and also tracked one female Year 8 pupil from a different group (whom I would not be teaching) over the course of a normal time-tabled school day. During this observation period I recorded the learning activities for subjects other than Drama and attempted to characterize them in terms of Behaviourist, Constructivist and (to a lesser extent) Social Constructivist models of teaching and learning. The proforma I used to consider whether such teaching and learning models were ‘fit for their purpose’ was an amalgamation of several models proposed by Pollard and Triggs (1997) and is shown below:

Adaptation of methodology for study of teaching-learning models (cf. Pollard and Triggs 1997).

Aim: To consider the influence and strengths of Behaviourist, Constructivist and (to a lesser extent) Social Constructivist models of teaching and learning when applied to pupils’ learning and secondary school practice.

Model: Track a Year 8 (female) pupil through a normal time-tabled school day.  Review the learning situations and teaching methods used in different subject lessons. Note each teaching method and then consider the reasons for its choice.

Pro forma Observation Model

Learning situation
Teaching methods used

Presumed reason for choice of teaching methods?
Introduction to/recap on topic.
Teacher-Whole group
Modular curriculum.
Question and answer session.
Teacher –Individuals
Checking/reinforcing learning.
Individual written task.
Individual – Teacher
Reinforcing learning with opportunity for assessment.
Individual practical task.
Individual – Teacher
Opportunity for some semi-autonomous learning.
Small group practical task.
Small group – Teacher
(Social Constructivist?)
Co-operative learning.
Whole group practical task.
Whole group – Teacher
(Behaviourist? Constructivist? Social Constructivist?)
Co-operative learning.
Pupil self-evaluation.
Assessment. Individual - Teacher. (Constructivist?). 
Opportunity for pupil motivation and engagement. Also, check learning.
Teacher assessment.
Corrective. Assessment. Teacher - Individual - Small group - Whole group
Obligatory teacher assessment.
Summary of learning area.
Teacher - Whole group
Check learning. Modular curriculum.

Follow-up: Compare teaching and learning models for different subject lessons. Consider influence, strengths and weaknesses of Behaviourist, Constructivist and Social Constructivist theories of teaching and learning in placement school. Are the teaching methods used ‘fit for their purpose’?

On 4th May 2000 I tracked a Year 8 girl pupil through the following timetable:

Period 1
Period 2
Period 3
08.50-09.00 a.m.
09.00-09.50 a.m.
09.50 -10.40 a.m.
10.40-11.30 a.m.
11.30-11.50 a.m.
Morning registration
Year 8 Assembly
(Normally P.H.S.E.)
Religious Education (R.E.)
Morning Break

Period 4
Period 5
Period 6
11.50-12.40 p.m.
12.40-13.30 p.m.
13.30-14.25 p.m.
14.25-15.15 p.m.
15.15-15.25 p.m.
Lunch Break
Afternoon Registration

(Normal Timetabled Teaching Time: 6 periods of 50 minutes each = 5 hours).

During my observations, I identified the following predominant teaching and learning activities or focus for the subject lesson:

Religious Education (R.E.)
Didactic question and answer session followed by prescribed individual writing activity of pupil’s own ‘special time’.
Didactic explanation followed by question and answer session followed by individual text book exercise.
Didactic explanation followed by individual/paired problem-solving task using context of shop sales and discounts (All girl banded group).
Individual/small group resumption of finishing papier-mache animals with instruction and correction by teacher.
Written test.

Please refer to 4.1a Quantitative Analysis of General Observations and
4.1b Qualitative Analysis of General Observations.

3.2   Action Research Cycle

The Action Research Cycle as developed from my aims and research questions was proposed as follows:

Model of Action Research Project

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

Initial idea

  • What should Drama be at Key Stage 3?
  • How should it be taught?


  • What model(s) of a Drama Curriculum at Key Stage 3 best fit current practice in teaching and learning?
  • What model(s) of learning characterise teaching in most subjects at Key Stage 3?
  • Is Drama a subject like other subjects?


  • Drama as a body of knowledge and skills (Making, Performing, Responding)
  • Actual Drama Curriculum at Placement School (Drama within English)
  • Agreement with Mentor on learning areas for pupils
  • Shortlist 3 models of learning: Behaviourism, Constructivism, Social Constructivism
  • Observation of model(s) of learning used in Drama and other subjects

General Plan

Step 1
Decide on purposes of own Drama Curriculum at Key Stage 3

Step 2
Identify model(s) of learning used in own teaching

Step 3
Assess effectiveness of learning models used

Step 4
Interview Mentor on choice and effectiveness of learning models

Step 5
Start to become proactive in choice of learning model

Step 6
Reassess effectiveness of learning models

Step 7
Interview representative sample of pupils on their responses

Step 8
Reassess effectiveness of learning models and identify subsequent areas for research

3.3   Forms of data collection

The following forms of data collection were used:

Data form
Statistics from school office or Drama Department
General observations
Qualitative (estimated approximate quantitative equivalent)

3.4   Ethical considerations

The Mentor was kept fully informed during the research period of the nature and area of the research and the means of data collection. The Mentor was consulted and interviewed extensively. All other participants (e.g. pupils and other teachers) were briefly informed of the nature of the research project when their active co-operation or consent was required (e.g. questionnaires or observations of teaching). A guarantee of anonymity was made to all participants with the exception of an audio-taped interview between the Mentor and I when it was agreed beforehand that location and identity would be disclosed for the record. Access to this audio-tape is restricted to authorized course tutors at the Central School of Speech and Drama for verification purposes. In this Action Research document, anonymity has been preserved for all participants at all times. No participation has been obtained under false pretenses and no confidences have been breached.

3.5   Interview

I conducted an interview with the Mentor (who is Head of the Drama Department at the research site) on 24th May 2000. The original notified interview questions and areas for discussion are detailed below:

Action Research Planned Interview Questions

Date: Wednesday 24th May 2000

Location: Research Site (Drama Department)

Interviewer: Christopher Port (PGCE Student: Central School of Speech & Drama)

Interviewee: (Head of Drama: Research Site)

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

For the record, state for the tape recording: date; time; location; interviewer; interviewee and subject of interview.

1. Before discussing appropriate models of learning, what sort of Drama curriculum do you think is appropriate for Key Stage 3?

Areas for discussion:

  • process versus product
  • issue-based drama
  • cross-curricular enquiry or discrete theatre-based artform
  • Drama’s place under English in the National Curriculum
  • Heathcote’s ‘Mantle of the Expert’ versus Hornbrook’s proposals for exploring dramatic genres with standards of attainment

(At the research site, the Drama Curriculum at Key Stage 3 is far closer to the Hornbrook model than the Heathcote model).

In discussions during my observation and induction period, we agreed that learning areas at Key Stage 4 were prescribed by the Edexcel Drama Syllabus requirements. Learning areas at Key Stage 3 would be geared towards the philosophy outlined in the Drama Department Handbook which is very much in the Hornbrook model.

At Key Stage 4 the learning areas negotiated between us were:

  • Status (Proxemics and Semiotics)
  • Naturalism (using aspects of Stanislavksi’s System)
  • Theatre of the Absurd (exploring a dramatic genre using naturalistic acting techniques)

At Key Stage 3 the learning areas negotiated between us were:

  • Status (Basic Proxemics and Semiotics)
  • Melodrama (exploring a dramatic genre using exaggerated acting techniques)
  • possible development into Naturalism (using simplified aspects from Stanislavksi’s System)
  • Theatre of the Absurd leading into improvisation around text

2. What learning models seem ‘fit for the purposes’ of teaching the above Drama Curriculum at Key Stage 3?

Areas for discussion:

Three simplified learning models:

  1. Behaviourism
  2. Constructivism
  3. Social Constructivism

(i) Behaviourism: B.F. Skinner (1953)

  • Science of teaching
  • Whole-class, didactic approaches
  • Knowledge and skills taught
  • Learner cast in passive role
  • Selection, pacing and evaluation of learning activity left to teacher
  • Knowledge transmitted in coherent, logical ordered way
  • Control of class tends to be tight
  • Children often required to listen
  • Does such teaching actually connect with learner’s existing understanding?
  • How do we know?
  • Importance of reinforcing children’s work and use of negative sanctions
  • Widespread use of practice tasks (e.g. spelling and writing)
  • Question and answer routines
  • Lends itself to teaching large groups or whole classes
  • Can learners connect knowledge to their daily experiences to create meaningful understandings?
  • Might learning be superficial and fragmented?
  • How is lesson pitched appropriately for all learners?
  • When and where does differentiation take place?
  • Are pupils learning or just being exposed to subject matter and drill?

(ii) Constructivism: Piaget (1950)

  • People learn through interaction between thought and experience
  • Sequential development of more complex cognitive structures
  • Learners restructure their thoughts to accommodate new knowledge constructed on previous understanding
  • 4 characteristic stages in cognitive development

  1. sensori-motor (up to age 2)
  2. pre-operational (2-7)
  3. concrete operations (7-12)
  4. formal operations (12 onwards)

  • In first 3 stages, child’s direct experience thought to be crucial
  • Children tend to be individualistic and unable to work with others for long
  • Only in formal operations stage (12 onwards) are children able to behave like ‘active scientists’
  • Influential at primary school level
  • But child-centred approach never dominant influence at secondary school level (except, perhaps, in creative arts subjects like Drama?)
  • Learner cast in active and independent role
  • Much of selection, pacing and evaluation of activity left to learner to negotiate
  • Emphasis on pupil interests
  • Compromise on specifics of curriculum coverage
  • Learning concepts and skills through work on topics chosen by pupils
  • Coverage of a particular curriculum hard to monitor
  • Diversity of pupil interests requires complex classroom organization
  • Teacher may then be drawn into managing complex environment rather than teaching

(iii) Social Constructivism: Vygotsky (1962)

  • Constructivist theory which emphasizes importance of social context and interaction with others in learning
  • Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) - each learner’s ability to ‘make sense’ - given their present understanding, what developments can occur and what adult assistance is required? (e.g. explanation, discussion, debate, TV)
  • Analogy with building a house
  • Scaffolding (teaching) is needed to support the learner’s understanding as it is built
  • Once understanding has been built, the scaffolding can then be removed and the learner’s understanding will stand independently
  • Role of culture in influencing learner’s understanding
  • Thought depends upon the learner’s social history as much as on the teaching
  • Learning is social as well as individual
  • Emphasis in UK on focusing on language
  • Problems in classroom occur when there is a breakdown of communication
  • Learners asked to indulge in ‘what if’ speculations but want activities with obvious practical relevance to their everyday lives
  • Middle-class learners = deferred gratification?
  • Working class pupils = immediate gratification?
  • Choose learning areas closer to their everyday experiences?
  • Teacher, as reflective agent, is constantly having to make judgements about the curriculum and learning areas in terms of pupils ZPD?

3. Although there may be overlaps and no ‘neat fits’, which model of learning do you think best characterizes your teaching style? What problems have you found and how have you dealt with them?

4. What comparisons can (or should) we make between teaching Drama at Key Stage 3 and teaching other subjects at Key Stage 3?

Areas for discussion:

  • My observations during induction: almost all teaching was strictly Behaviourist

5. What assumptions are we making about learner’s intelligence?

Areas for discussion:

  • Simple notion of IQ?
  • Pupil who plays similar ‘language games’ to teacher?
  • Howard Gardner’s (1985) theory of Multiple Intelligences (e.g. linguistic, mathematical, musical, sensory, kinesthetic).
  • How does differentiation and assessment accommodate theories of multiple intelligences?

6. How do you assess Drama at Key Stage 3?

Areas for discussion:

  • Subjective assessment of practical work by teacher?
  • Use of question and answer sessions?
  • Amount, nature and degree of written work
  • Academic essays or self-evaluations?
  • Transparency of assessment criteria for pupils? (e.g. covert or overt assessment)
  • Evidence requirements for external monitoring?
  • Formal standards of attainment?
  • Base on English Curriculum requirements or transpose EDXECEL Drama Syllabus requirements backwards (i.e. where do I want these pupils to be in Year 11 and where do I need to start with them now?)

My assessment criteria for Key Stage 3



Some issues

  • Problems with differentiation?
  • How can you start to assess until you ‘know the kids’?
  • How are we ‘reading’ effort, achievement, co-operation?

3.6   Questionnaires

The following questionnaire was issued to all available pupils in both Year 8 Drama groups and the Year 10 Drama group.

Year Group:



Date set:

Date due:

Instructions: This questionnaire is designed to find out what you think. There are no right or wrong answers. Read the following statements carefully. Circle the one response which best describes the way you think. Your answers will be treated as confidential (your name will be kept secret).

1. Drama is usually taught to you in the same way as other subjects.

a) Agree strongly

b) Agree

c) Not sure

d) Disagree

e) Disagree strongly
2. Drama is easier than other subjects.

a) Agree strongly

b) Agree

c) Not sure

d) Disagree

e) Disagree strongly
3. You learn more in Drama when:

a) The teacher explains things

b) You work things out for yourself

c) You work with others

d) You get up and act things out

e) You talk about what you’ve done
4. In other subjects, you find it easier to understand things by:

a) Listening to the teacher

b) Reading books or looking at pictures

c) Doing something practical

d) Discussion

e) Writing
5. In Drama, you mostly learn about:

a) The theatre and acting

b) How other people think and feel

c) How to work with other people

d) How to become more confident

e) The way you think and feel
6. The Drama teacher should:

a) Explain to pupils what to do

b) Ask pupils what they want to do
7. Briefly describe the things you like and dislike about Drama in school.

3.7   Self-evaluation

The first step in my self-evaluation was to evaluate the typical structure of my lesson plans and analyze what models of teaching and learning were taking place. The focus of my Action Research Project was on Key Stage 3 (with two Year 8 Drama groups for comparative analysis). However, in order to see whether there were any significant similarities or differences between Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4, I also began to compare the attitudes and responses of my two Year 8 Drama groups with my one Year 10 Drama group. To my surprise I found that there was no significant difference in the structure of my lesson plans for Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4. Similar learning situations and teaching methods recurred for all my research participants with (at least on first assumption) a strongly behaviourist focus in the reason for choice of teaching methods as detailed below:

Learning situation
Teaching methods used
Reasons for choice
Teacher determines learning area
Question and answer session
Assessing pupil response
Setting of differentiated objectives for lesson
Setting teacher’s assessment criteria
Pupil preparation in practical activities
Teacher circulates, assessing, instructing and correcting where appropriate
Pupil enactment in front of teacher and peers
Teacher regulates activity, assesses, instructs and corrects where necessary
Constructive criticism from teacher and peers
Teacher regulates criticism and can overrule where necessary
Question and answer session
Teacher regulates pace and activity, assesses and corrects responses
Summary of learning areas
Teacher summarizes what learning should have taken place.

On reflection, the recurrence of typical lesson plan structure in Key Stages 3 and 4 should not have been surprising given the assumption of a generic modular curriculum at Key Stage 3 with planned continuity and progression into Key Stage 4. The apparent predominance of the Behaviourist model of teaching and learning in the reasons for choice of teaching methods was also, on reflection, unsurprising given the prerequisite of my having to demonstrate teacher competencies in order to achieve Qualified Teacher Status (cf. DfEE 1998). It was also compatible with the Mentor’s preferred teaching style in order to maintain and promote discipline (initially teacher-control followed by pupil self-discipline and Drama itself as a discipline).

However, I began to wonder whether my prescribed teaching competencies were distorting my perception of teaching and learning dynamics through an overly Behaviourist lens. This prompted me to consult all the research participants in both Year 8 groups and the Year 10 group to ascertain how they viewed teaching and learning in Drama in comparison to other, move conventionally Behaviourist subjects, and what their learning priorities were. This led me to both a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the results of the questionnaire survey detailed next.

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