Deirdre Moore | October 2015

Behavioral Literacy Through Drama

Behavior Literacy Management

The big bugaboo for many teachers.  It can make or break you, because without good management, you cannot create a positive learning environment. And with that, you cannot get to the business of teaching.  Many years ago I discovered something called Responsive Classroom. I fell in love with the approach, because it centers on empowering the child. It stresses the importance, and power of language used by the teacher. It reminds the teacher that students need to learn behavior just like any other subject.  Behavioral literacy through drama is an approach valuing each child, and can transform your teaching and your classroom.  Although, it can also take many years to master.

‘Acting Right’

This past summer I discovered something called Acting Right and this fall  attended my first training in the approach.  Since then, I have tried it out in my classes, and supported my colleagues in implementing it in their classrooms.  What’s beautiful to me about this approach is that it uses the common elements of the actor’s toolbox (voice, body and imagination). Yet, it adds concentration and cooperation, and stresses that behavior needs to be learned.  In fact, it refers to behavior as a literacy, stressing concentration and cooperation are skills like muscles that must be exercied and strengthened.

Acting Right stresses the power of language, equipping the teacher with language, when used consistently, puts the power into the hands of the children asking them to be reflective about their own behavior.  By asking “What tool do you need to control?” and having the child answer. It’s not an admonishment, but a reminder of the goal and challenges  the individual to realize that goal.  There is this underlying assumption that every child can and will control all of the tools available to him/her. This dovetails nicely with the idea of growth mindset and grit.  By asking the child to reflect on what tool she/he is not controlling, the understanding is the child is not yet demonstrating control, but can and eventually will.

Assessing Yourself, As Well As Your Students

I don’t know about you, but for a long time I considered student misbehavior a personal deficit in myself as a teacher.  It felt personal, and I felt like a failure.  What both Responsive Classroom and Acting Right helped me do is shift my mindset.  There is not something fundamentally defective in me that causes students to “misbehave.”  My only failure is not remembering that students need to be taught.  You don’t put children in time out because they come through your door unable to read.  You assess each child’s level, and their strengths and weaknesses. Then,  you determine how to help that child, giving him/her strategies to help him/herself.

In the same way, Acting Right has a procedure allowing you to quickly check in on each child everyday to determine where each child is in respect to behavior.  The games, activities and challenges are designed specifically to help each child build her/his behavioral literacy. As well as, helping the students learn to work together as a team and support one another’s learning.  Both of these programs reminded me every child isn’t perfect every day (nor am I!). My job is to help them learn how to control themselves, and become stronger learners as a result.  The programs give me permission to take the time to teach students how to behave. How to check in with themselves, and realize where they need to focus their behavioral literacy energy.

Not Arts Integration, BUT…

While Acting Right is not arts integration, it does utilize elements of theater to help students develop behavioral literacy and facilitate student reflection on behavior individually and as a member of a learning team.  After just one day of training it may help you, the educator, stay in that reflective space and be a partner in helping the students build capacity to control their behavior and become productive members of their learning community.  With these skills, your students will be ready to learn and work successfully in cooperative groups whether the work is in art, in a core subject or in an integration of the two.

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.