Students nowadays are more connected, aware, and tech-savvy than ever before. Yet, with all that connection and knowledge, students are hyper-aware of their insecurities, their desires not only to fit in but also to succeed in every area of their lives, and the public nature of communication through social media and the Internet. Seemingly, everything is available for everyone to see, including students’ mistakes and failures. This can make students fearful of failure and reluctant to take risks – they know that others may be watching and ready to pounce on any perceived weaknesses. Students may feel that it’s easier not to try than to risk looking bad in front of their peers.
Teachers must work with their students to help them feel confident and encourage them to push themselves out of their comfort zones. The drama classroom is a great place to do that, as the art of theatre is a practice – there is no such thing as perfection, but there is progress. And as with many other things, confidence is something that can be grown and developed.
Try using the following five tips to help encourage confidence in your drama students.
1. Choose your words with care.
This doesn’t mean having to be extra-flowery or unnatural, nor does it mean being afraid of constructive criticism. However, I have found that using words of affirmation throughout the learning process (before, during, and after the lesson) works because it encourages students to focus on what they’re doing well and to keep doing it. During the introductory section of the lesson, focus on encouraging your students to give their best efforts, and follow that up with brief and clear instructions. This way they can have the maximum amount of time available for actually practicing. During their work time, check in with students and affirm visible progress: “You’re on the right track,” “Keep at it,” or “Great question – let’s figure that out.” At the end of class, try to end on a positive note. Even if the class didn’t go as well as you’d hoped, focusing on ideas such as “What did we learn during today’s class?” and “How can we improve for tomorrow?” will help students to stay positive and feel confident, despite setbacks.
Avoid using phrases like “This is easy” with your students. The concept you’re introducing may be easy for you, but, for some students, you could be presenting a very daunting task. (“What do you mean I have to say a monologue in front of the whole class? All by myself?!”) Which brings us to our second point…
2. Encourage risk-taking and trying new things in the drama classroom.
Students need to know that not everything they attempt is going to succeed on the first, second, or thirty-fifth try. Maybe the joke in their improv scene that they thought was hilarious didn’t land, or a crucial prop got left behind, which threw off the entire flow of the scene. Work with students to frame failure not as an indicator of their abilities (or lack thereof), but as an opportunity to try again. “Maybe I just didn’t get this lesson as I should have. Let’s try again.” “What did I learn from this experience?” Failure is not the end of the world. Rather, it’s a chance to give it another shot or to go in a new direction. Maybe a different approach would work next time.
3. Embrace “beginner” mentality and focus on the process.
Some students want to be good at everything right away – and will give up if they don’t succeed immediately. They don’t want to analyze their scene – they want to jump right up onstage and perform it. But learning takes time and effort. The theatre is a place of constant learning and practice. Think of a baby learning to walk: You need to learn to sit up, crawl, and stand first, all before you can walk. As well, remind students that not everyone is good at everything immediately, but everyone can and will be good at something. Maybe one of your students is not great at mime but they’re awesome at spoken-word poetry. Encourage your students to embrace their strengths but keep chipping away at their weaknesses. Practice makes progress!
4. Guide, but don’t overpower.
As teachers, we must find the balance between being available to explain, clarify, and answer questions. But we also need to step back and allow students to think for themselves and come to their own conclusions. School is supposed to be a place where students grow and learn, not just regurgitate what the teacher says. Being able to think for themselves, analyze problems, deal with challenges, and come up with creative ideas and solutions are all important life skills that students need to develop.
5. Ask students directly what they need.
“What do you need from me to help you feel confident in the drama classroom?” What works for some students doesn’t work for others. So ask them what helps them. Some students need discipline and strict deadlines, while others need affection and praise. Some students work better independently, while others prefer group work. Some students work better when they have a clear outline of what the plan is each day. Some students need time at home to review and process what they’ve learned. By asking students directly, you can better align yourself and your lesson plans to accommodate their different learning styles. This also shows that you are willing to work with your students to help them succeed. This could be a great Exit Slip or Reflection exercise to share with your students.Click here for a free tip sheet!
Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. She blogs at www.kerryhishon.com.
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