The Living Classroom

by Mike Jacobson

She awakens in a forest.  Rising from the earth, she palms her dampened eyes, and then –she feels chilled – a stranger draws near.  Eye locks into eye – she softens and the worries of the world crumbling away as he stands before her, a fetching figure she estimates as surely the most heroically handsome, perfectly princely, roundly rotund, dim-witted man-donkey.  Peering from the brush, a mischievous little sprite lets loose a chuckle upon seeing that the spells he cast over them both ended up creating such an awkward scene.

All of this unfolds just a few kilometers outside Central Pattaya.  Year 5 students at Mooltripakdee International School (MIS) are performing one of the comical moments from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  They adapted their own scripts based on a prose version of the Shakespeare play.  The teacher watches their work to see that there is a demonstrated understanding of plot, setting, character, and conflict.

MIS aims to infuse the arts into students’ lives as an important component of their education. The school holds progressive educational values and strives to provide an environment that promotes spirited, inquiring minds.  Forming and sustaining a performing arts programme where there has been none will be in line with MIS values.

This past January, MIS started its effort by launching an after-lunch Drama Club for Year 4 to 6 students.  Each Monday, group members have a 30-minute class with the Year 5 teachers to learn acting skills and rehearse for an eventual performance in front of the school at morning assembly.  The club has close to a dozen students and parents are already asking for an additional after-school drama club to be created.The-Living-Classroom

Miss Maddy, one of the teachers working with the Drama Club, said she wants to “Make it fun and have a lot of laughs while we learn something about ourselves.”

With enough interest, an expanded programme can be developed.  This might lead to an after-school drama club that stages full-length productions, takes field-trips to see professional performances, attend theater workshops, or lead to inter-school cooperation for competitions in drama, singing, and storytelling.  The school initiative will flourish if students are enthusiastic and if it is supported by teachers and parents.

Performance art does not pertain only to English class or after-school programmes.  Those same Year 5 students who acted as Shakespeare’s Titania, Bottom, and Puck used drama to enrich their study of the Spanish invasion of the Maya and the Norman invasion of the Anglo-Saxons. 

Instead of a limited investigating of the history by reading just a summary of distant dates and unheard of names about conquests and coronations, students lived those events.  The data students often must memorize is now lifted from the page and life is breathed into it.  It becomes meaningful.  Information is retained because it is not simply an exercise in the rote memorization of facts, dates, and names.  Students engage and explore the material, which results in meaningful learning.

Drama is an exploration of humanity and self, a reflection of life that is written, performed, seen, and thought about.  Students apply their own prior experience to learning that immerses them in the material.  In writing and performing a script for something like a historical invasion, students are asked to make sense of a different set of people and ethics; accepted notions of truth and justice are challenged and expanded upon.  They hone their ability to empathize with another perspective and connections to their own experiences can be made.

The inclusion of the arts at school is significant as a generator of creativity and ideas.  As enthusiasm continues to grow, the realization of a full arts programme can be fulfilled.

Mike Jacobson is a Year 5 teacher at Mooltripakdee International School Pattaya.

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