At the end of the 9 sessions I had with my 7th grade students, there was no clear cut answer. Many times in life there are no clear cut answers either, no perfect solution, if there even is one. An open ended abstract idea that propels a good Process Drama can go that way. This one did as well. That can drive product driven educators and students crazy, as I’ve experienced in other PDs that I’ve run.
In this case, the students in both classes seemingly understood that and accepted it. Note the word “seemingly.” Not every student participated verbally. A few were dismissive in attitude (body language wise, if not the few who felt safe or outrageous enough to verbally say so). Were they active in listening? Yes. Were they active participants throughout? Mainly yes. Some of the students were more observers than participants. A few checked out. At times, rowdy behavior led led the students to learning points.
Some of the more exciting moments, in all the classes, was when the students lost themselves so completely in the storyline that they yelled, jumped out of their seats, and basically exploded in a melee of accusations and defensiveness. I had joked with the principal that if she had walked into any of those sessions she would have seen chaotic creative drama and total immersion into the content at it’s finest. It was exciting to see just about all the students get so hot into the subject. Yes, there were varying degrees of the depth they were involved, but they were involved.
During the feedback, I asked them how they felt it went. For my part, doing something like this in only nine 45 minute sessions really wasn’t enough to cover what needed to be covered. If you take the two sessions of setting this up with exercises to get them into a drama framework, and then the last session being a sharing, that really left 6 sessions to the process. Only four and a half hours of actual work within the environment and storyline. Not really a lot of time to go as deep into the problems of bullying as I would like.
The students agreed they wish they had more time, and more time each session. A double class, back to back, would have been stronger for them. They also brought up, and I totally agree, that they wish I had brought in some dramatic work first, as an example (scripted or not), that would have given the abstract idea more weight. I threw out a number of things I would have done if there had been more time. That was one of them, and it seems I should have gone with my original decision to do just what they asked.
I asked for two students to volunteer to create a tableau in the classic image from Augusto Boal, creator of Theater of the Oppressed. In the picture above, the students are posed specifically to represent a type of oppression. We had already discussed that many oppressors use extreme to subtle bullying (power) tactics in all areas of life. The other students were asked:
- What do you observe in the tableau?
- Who are they?
- Who has the power?
- Who is the oppressor/bully, and who is the oppressed/bullied?
- Can you justify your answer?
Taking the background of where Boal was coming from (small bit of info I gave them), they determined that the Man was bullying/oppressing the Woman. He did not help her, she carried everything (basket on head; child in arms) and looked straight ahead. She was silent in speech (mouth closed) but looked right at him (Imploring? Anger? etc).
Next, I asked the students that if they could physically change this tableau, what would they do? A few came up, made some adjustments: gave him everything to carry, her up front (which became a new bullying/oppressive gesture); had the Man carry the basket and be closer to her; to making them equal in walking level; to…
connecting with each other, walking side by side and looking at each other. Notice her smile. He had one as well, but I missed it in the picture taking. These solutions came from the students, not me or my cooperative teacher.
So..next time, some Boal, some improvised scene work, then the Process Drama. The journaling was successful to see their thought process at work. The discussions were wonderful, and…where does it go from here?
I do plan to touch base with the teacher through email, and I hope I’m allowed to come back in a few weeks, after any and all testing is over, to just sit informally and talk to them again. I’d like to see if after they’ve let some time sink in, has it given them some tools to work with bullies and tactics to create change. That is the one problem with being a Teaching Artist. When your assignment is up, it’s up. You may go back to that school in the next year, you may see some results from your work, but there is no direct follow-up.
That is something I will start to suggest. We have a planning session before the whole thing starts, usually weeks if not a month before starting. Possibly there should be that same post program discussion, let time pass and see what came of the work.I’d like that, for myself, and hope that the students took life long lessons out of this.
Bullying is on all levels of society, some outright, some subtle. How do you work to change it?