Imagine the Possibilities: Drama in Inclusive Settings

Imagine the Possibilities: Drama in Inclusive Settings

Gretta Berghammer (University of Northern Iowa, USA), Ashley Kramer (East Moline School District #37, USA) and Amy J. Petersen (University of Northern Iowa, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2520-2.ch015
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Abstract

This chapter illustrates the importance of and best practices for creating, implementing and sustaining inclusive communities for students through process based drama. Using narratives, stories from the field, and examples of student growth and learning, the chapter defines ways to artistically serve emerging learners through the use of drama within a variety of inclusive settings. A key focus of the chapter is the exploration of ways to adapt the creative process of drama to meet the specific needs of youth with autism in an inclusive learning environment. Characteristics and descriptions of program elements include: a) the use of key drama elements to support creative sensory awareness, movement, pantomime, characterization and story to support creative expression in inclusive settings and b) best practices for enhancing and expanding the emerging learners' abilities to engage in pretend play, communicate non-verbally, share an idea dramatically, assume a role beyond self, and promote positive social interactions. Guidelines for reflecting on student engagement and exploration are also presented.
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Introduction

I Am at Sea

I am at sea. Well, not physically, but definitely emotionally and most certainly dramatically. Eight boys, all labeled with autism, most with limited or no verbal skills, surround me. In an effort to teach them to pretend play, we are playing pirates for what feels to me like the 118th time. We are pretending to be on the open sea. To transport our merry band, we have built a “boat” from tables and cardboard boxes and tubes and old bed sheets. Bandanas on our heads serve as minimal costumes. There are lots of hearty arggh’s being randomly shared, but sadly, not much else, not as much as I had hoped.

To be honest, I am beyond discouraged. I have been working with these boys for over 8 weeks, 4 days a week at an after school respite facility. My expectation was that each lesson would last an hour. I am grateful when I am able to capture their attention for 30 minutes and overjoyed when they will engage with me for any minute beyond that. For the past 32 days we have explored our senses, moving our bodies in response to visual and oral cues. I have shared ideas non-verbally through pantomime and modeled how to share that same idea back to me. I have told stories using action, gesture and dialogue. I have shared a variety of characters. On really good days, the students imitate those actions and characters and turn to each other to share those replicated actions with each other.

This drama program seemed like such a great idea six months ago when I pitched it to the facility director. My goal for the group was to engage them in pretend play, help them handle transitions and change by dramatically playing with change, and provide a positive small group experience that would give them an opportunity to practice social skills, such as turn taking. I imagined using exchanges between characters as a way to introduce responsive and reflective language. I envisioned using fun drama games that would necessitate eye contact with another.

And I would learn, too. As a professor of youth theatre and drama education, as well as a teaching artist I wanted to “up” my game, to expand my knowledge and skill base, and to work to get comfortable with discomfort. I wanted to expand my work with young people to more often include children with disabilities, particularly those students with autism and other developmental and cognitive disabilities. I wanted to discover best practices for providing drama and theatre experiences for not only these students, but other students with disabilities. I wanted to explore ways that drama could support students who were non-verbal or verbally reticent. I also wanted to establish a curriculum for sharing drama and theatre for use in inclusive learning environments, and to bring these best practices and curriculum designs into my university drama education courses. But alas, none of this seems to be happening, at least not how I envisioned it would.

And, then it happens.

One of the boys wanders “off” the ship. And then one of the other boys shouts, “Man Overboard. Man Overboard.” And in that instant, without any modeling by me, without a single bit of prompting or practice or suggestion, seven ship bound pirates are working together to “sail” the boat to save their fellow pirate at sea. As they find their voices, their dramatic action, their delight in playing pretend and socializing with another, as they handle this “change” in activity and support one another, I think my heart will explode. In one small moment the long weeks of hard work and failed activities transforms into a moment of magic as “my boys” move from “imitation” to imaginative dramatic pretend play.

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