Playwriting Teaching Drama

The Right Balance

This is a question shout out to all the teachers out there.

What is the right balance between instruction/discussion/practical?

By Kevin T.

I’m teaching a brand new long form workshop (the finding, creating and developing of theatrical and sustainable play ideas. Phew!) and I’m worried that I’m talking too much, and not finding the right amount of participant input AND practical exercise time too. I’m obsessed about students DOING instead of listening to someone talk. But that’s my own learning process poking through. Maybe I’m just trying to do too much – that’s highly possible because I’m always afraid of reaching the end of my time…. and there’s ten minutes to go. I’m dead rotten at winging it, and my soft shoe is far from entertaining. Charades anyone?

The thing is, there are things that need to be said. There are things I think I need to verbalize about how to use the process and hammer home the fact that everyone CAN find play ideas. Yes you can! You! I’m not kidding! The more I talk, the more convinced I am by the thesis of the project and the more I get excited about passing it on. But that’s me, are the students buying it too? Do they listen to teachers talk all day and aren’t as bothered as I am by the sound of my voice?

Weigh in teachers. What’s your balance? Where do you draw the dividing line between doing, talking, and processing? I’m all ears….

About the author

Lindsay Price

2 Comments

  • Hello from Canada!

    I love your blog and your website. Nice to find a place where dramatic arts educators can share ideas.

    Before I get on to answering your question, do you have a post (maybe you do, I have just not navigated far enough) about the roles and responsibilities of a theatre (specifically, the roles that need to be filled to put on a high school musical). I am just trying to put that together for my school, any help would be much appreciated.

    Now, on to “balance”.

    Again, I am so pleased to find a place where people are going through the same struggles I am. Yes, “are they listening?” “Is this boring?” Is a question I ask myself all the time.

    Because, aren’t we all entertainers as well? While I’m teaching, there is a part of me, as much as I try to shut it down, that worries about “am I losing them?” “Is this crowd still entertained?”

    One colleague once told me, “well, you’re educating, not entertaining”. I thought that was good advice, to a point. I do need to say and do things that not everyone is going to enjoy. But, I still refuse not to keep it lively in there. So I found a balance there.

    The only other way I’ve found balance for myself is following the “push-play” model I was taught during my student teaching.

    Push-play means I can spend any amount of time I like “pushing” (metaphorically, of course). So, if I need to “push” for a whole class-(push forward, push back,push on track, push into place) then that’s what it takes.

    As long as it’s followed by “play”. The need to use the whole class to talk is rare. I have never used a whole class to talk (except in English, but those were in the early days).

    *Push: to inform, explain theory, recite facts, critique, give advice, have class discussions, express your observations aka: coaching. Any period of time where the class is not playing, and/or learning by doing.

    *Play: To allow students to explore the topics, lessons, style, project, assignment. To play.

    I use this model on a small scale (as in, say, one whole class) or smaller (one half a class) and then even for a whole year. For a class, maybe one day I will speak for the first 15 mins, then let them play for the rest of the time. Or, maybe I will talk for 5 mins, and play for 20, then talk for 5 and play for 20. Or maybe, I will talk for 30 minutes and then let them play for a week. Only speaking to answer broad questions.

    Or, the long term: The first month, I usually do quite a bit of talking: establishing the positive environment, laying down expectations, allowing them to learn the way the class will work (you know, beginning of the year stuff). Then I will allow the play to take over for the rest of the semester.

    This is all stuff every does naturally, I suppose, but it’s a vocabulary I use for a little clarity in what I am doing.

    “push-play”, a good simple little metaphor in which I frame my lessons, units, and courses.

    Hope it makes sense. I have never written it down before.

    Thanks for reading.