An Author’s Experience

Michelle Sloan weighs in on raising attainment with drama, reflecting on her experience as a young learner in Edinburgh. Michelle is the author of The Fourth Bonniest Baby in Dundee, which was shorlisted for the Bookbug Picture Book Prize 2018 and workshopped in primary schools across Scotland by The Drama Box in collaboration with Scottish Book Trust.

Students in Class with Teacher Reading
“students-in-class-with-teacher-reading” by Ilmicrofono Oggiono is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / modified from original

When I was at Primary School in Edinburgh many moons ago, (we’re talking the early 1980s here), I remember in P6 we did a class study of the novel, Children on the Oregon Trail. From memory, it was quite an abstract plot for a wee Scottish lassie! That is, the notion of travelling across the North West of America in covered wagons in the late 1800s seemed somehow alien to me. And if I’m being honest I might have disconnected from the story – but here’s the thing: it was tied into our drama lessons, not only with the class teacher but with our visiting Drama Specialist. These class lessons then culminated in a day at the city’s drama centre. That’s right! Edinburgh had a drama centre called Dr. Bells. It was a bus ride across town to the centre, at the foot of Leith Walk.

There we linked up with two or three other schools for a day of workshops: re-enacting, exploring, talking, problem solving, experimenting not to mention eating lunch and playing outside with our new friends, before hopping on the bus back to school. What a day! I remember it clearly – I remember loving the experience and how we all brought that book to life. The story became visceral, real and hugely exciting. It was undoubtedly one the best days of my primary school life.

Around twenty years later, I was working in Edinburgh as a Primary Teacher and I had the chance to return to my studies. I decided Drama was a natural choice, meaning I could combine both qualifications to become a specialist Drama teacher. But alas! No sooner had my studies begun when specialist teachers were phased out of Scottish Education. It was a blow – not just to my career plans but to the quality and dynamism of primary education in Scotland. The role of drama steadily slipped away, becoming a rarely utilised tool and for many teachers, feared. Its place in the curriculum as a partner for literacy became at best, undervalued at worst, forgotten – sidelined to gather dust on the shelf of education past.

But now, many, many years on, when the Scottish Government is invested in raising attainment, it is wonderful to see the resurgence of drama and literacy through the work of The Drama Box. I became aware of their work when, alongside Scottish Book Trust, they ran workshops across Scottish schools with the three books shortlisted for the Bookbug Picture Book Prize 2018. As the author of one of those books, The Fourth Bonniest Baby in Dundee, it was thrilling to track on Twitter their work with primary children across Scotland.

Drama and literacy are a perfect partnership, boosting comprehension; bringing fun and energy; keeping children connected to stories by lifting them off the page and into life. Having Drama firmly back in its rightful place in the curriculum is essential to raising attainment – it is the very definition of ‘active learning.’ But most importantly, it’s great fun! And learning should be a joy!
*This post was not originally written by The Drama Box and as such does not necessarily represent their views, opinions or policies. The Drama Box may have edited this post and its contents for clarity.