Theater training should engage students with the experience of theater from the perspectives of both the practitioner and the audience member, and to be critically responsive to the work. Use these best practices to incorporate standards and techniques that will enrich students at any grade level.
Be Prepared Use unit and daily lesson plans to prepare for the days and weeks ahead. (See pages 212-215 for sample lesson and unit plans.) Think about the important aspects of theater setup, materials, and learning standards. In a typical theater class, you will have only 45 minutes to carry out each day’s lesson. Being well prepared will help you make the best possible use of the time.
Set Rules for Classroom Behavior A successful theater class fosters respect for each student’s creativity and ideas, and provides a safe haven to work, play, share, and learn. To ensure a comfortable, creative environment, create a list of expectations and rules for student behavior that mandate mutual respect from the outset. After you have established the rules with your students, post them in the classroom for easy reference.
Plan and Incorporate Warm-up Activities In some ways, a theater class mirrors a rehearsal process. Ideally, classes will begin with a warm-up activity. Whether you use physical stretches, tongue-twisters, or movement with music, warm-ups can help students become more comfortable with themselves and their classmates, which in turn can lead to higher levels of trust within the group. Try to introduce new warm-up activities periodically to keep students engaged. Eventually, you might encourage students to design some of the warm-ups themselves.
Commit to End-of-Class Reflection Time Theater requires a great deal of emotional investment on the part of both the practitioner and the audience. To nurture this level of investment in your students, it’s important to establish that the theater classroom is a place where they are free to express themselves truthfully and creatively. That said, make sure that any instructor or peer critiques focus on the individual’s work, not on the individual himself or herself. Leave time at the end of each class period for students to reflect on and discuss the objectives and outcomes of that day’s session.
Promote Student Collaboration Though theater students often work on individual projects, the discipline offers natural opportunities for collaboration and team building. Working with others on a project or performance helps students build important communication and social skills needed in real-world situations. When you assign collaborative projects, consider each person’s strengths and abilities.
Design Appropriate Instruction Theater depends on personal relationships. So it’s important that you get to know each of your students by name, personality, and learning style. Make sure that the standards, basic techniques, and values of theater practice are taught, used consistently, and reflected in assessment methods. Use a curriculum that includes opportunities for all learners to succeed.
Evaluate Students in Different Ways Assess students’ progress by using a variety of methods, including verbal feedback, written comments, and peer evaluation. Have students take part in ongoing self-assessment.
Explore All Aspects of Theater Making Some students may be particularly suited to performing; othersmay have an aptitude for design, playwriting, or stage management. Striveto create a curriculum that engages studentsin all aspects of theater making, not just in the rehearsal and performance of a single work of live theater.
Create an Inspiring Classroom To engage and motivate students, maintain a display of eye-catching examples of theater practices and practitioners, including photos, masks, and posters. You can also encourage your students to bring in theater-related images they encounter outside of school.
Encourage Family Involvement Communicate with parents and involve them in aspects of their children’s theater training. For example, invite them to attend student presentations or to chaperone theater-related field trips. Create family partnerships that reinforce for students the value of the arts in general and theater in particular.
Require a Journal Have students keep a journal in which they can reflect on new ideas and discoveries, jot down character sketches or bits of dialogue, or develop their self- and peer-assessment skills. Though you may wish to look at their journals occasionally, allow students to use the space without concern about grades and formal assignments.
Celebrate Cultural Diversity Look for opportunities to assign projects and activities that acknowledge and embrace students’ cultural backgrounds.Work with culturally diverse plays and adaptations and discuss the cultural setting. Assign character studies based on students’ families and members of their community or neighborhood to give them the opportunity to bring their own stories to life. Connecting to students’ cultural backgrounds allows them to take an active part in their learning.
Provide Real-World Experiences Outside the Classroom To engage your students with the world of professional theater making, arrange for periodic off-site trips during which they might attend a play, take a backstage tour, visit a costume or scene shop, or take a workshop with professional theater practitioners.
Teach Students How to View Theater Today’s students are skilled at viewing and interpreting mass media and technology. But viewing live theater requires different skills. Build these skills by exposing your students to specific vocabulary they can use to interpret and describe their theater experiences. Create a list of questions students can ask themselves each time they watch a theatrical presentation. For example:
What particular characters (people) did you connect to?
What aspects of the plot (story) particularly struck you?
How would you describe the theme (main idea) of the work?
What is your reaction to the style of the piece performed?
What was your impression of the dialogue (spoken language) in the performance?
What mood did the various aspects of the performance create for you?
If you had been performing this work, how do you think you would feel about it?
How did the lights, scenery, costumes, and sound add to the overall effect of the work?
In all your teaching, stress the steps that go into making, understanding, and appreciating a successful theater experience.