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School performances: not just a nice crowd-pleaser

Ben Evans says there's more to school plays than learning lines and wearing costumes

Posted by Stephanie Broad | December 19, 2015 | School life

School performances are an important part of learning and development in school and not simply nice crowd-pleasers for parents wanting to justify the school fees and grab a good photo opportunity. Live performances instil confidence, resilience, essential learning and listening skills, assessment of drama skills, important opportunities to perform in front of an audience and, most of all, they add enjoyment and vitality to a school’s culture.

Organising a school performance can inspire self-confidence in individual pupils. It helps to support collaborative working and learning not to mention promoting the ability to listen carefully, engage and follow instructions. Children will watch and learn from others via stage presence and through talking to an audience (voice projection), their general awareness, memory, reading and comprehension skills will be increased as they begin to understand the script they have been given. 

Being a small part of something bigger

Socially, children will learn to work in groups, reacting to others, being a small part of something bigger (and not necessarily being the centre of attention). They will be encouraged to put themselves forward if they are usually shy and reticent too, so it pushes some children out of their comfort zone but there is also the reward and enjoyment of success when a performance goes well. Performing in front of an audience can improve self-esteem and self-worth, particularly if the child has confidence issues or often struggles academically in the classroom. 

Physical co-ordination is also a great benefit of performing at school.  Children will be moving about the stage, acting, creating movements and given the ability to speak and be heard. Of course, they will also need to learn to control their excitement and emotions too; listening skills and acting on instructions are vitally important and involves a good level of concentration if the production is to be successful. Children will need to learn when not to talk – which can be quite difficult for some children these days when they are used to so much stimulation and noise but is essential when backstage and moving between scenes.

Some believe that performance is a soft skill because there are no pages of writing to assess but this is a misconception

A new learning setting

Performance allows children to learn in a different setting and teaching is therefore catering to different learning styles too. Rather than formal written exercises, you are still looking for comprehensions skills, higher-level inference and interpretation as well as listening and following instructions. All of these are essential skills but during a performance children will learn these without even realising. Communication is so important too and is often forgotten in lesson planning or there is simply lack of time. Performance demands good communication skills and this thread runs through every session - communication goes hand in hand with confidence and articulacy which are essential life skills that all schools should be teaching and measuring children’s progress by. 

Quieter children who beaver away in the classroom may appear reticent when being asked to perform but handled sensitively, this is an excellent opportunity because they are being taken out of their comfort zone and are encouraged to be risk takers, developing their resilience and ‘grit’. Some believe that performance is a soft skill because there are no pages of writing to assess but this is a misconception.

Translating newfound skills to the classroom

Schools should also be looking at ways to translate these skills into lesson time assessing and monitoring pupils’ character traits and attitudes such as creativity, resilience, teamwork, self-control, adaptability, respect and motivation. All too often, this doesn’t happen in schools but performance is one area where evidence of them, or lack of, will become apparent.  This can then be addressed in lessons by teachers who can encourage and support pupils to develop in areas where hitherto, they haven’t. 

Performing in front of an external audience makes all the hard work worthwhile. It is normal for the dress rehearsal to be seen by their peers in school, which is usually their first experience of people watching in large numbers and is a hugely valuable exercise. Stopping for applause in scenes, reacting to the laughter (or lack of it!) and general distraction of movement, coughing etc. are important to consider.  When children see their families file into the hall, capture them in their seats and enjoy their standing ovations it really brings the whole event to a fantastic conclusion. You cannot underestimate the affect this has on the pupil’s self-confidence and self-esteem. 

Not just for Christmas

Performance is not just for Christmas. It should be a regular event throughout the year, whether it’s a class-based assembly or full-blown production. This year our Year seven pupils also took part in the Shakespeare Schools Festival and were fortunate enough to perform their version of Hamlet on a real live local stage. The skills are the same and accumulative. 

Ben Evans, is Headmaster at Edge Grove School

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