An examination of the nature and purpose of drama in the special school curriculum : based on the analysis of a research project carried out in a sample of Scottish schools for severely and profoundly mentally handicapped children
The research was prompted by the anomaly which appeared to exist between the view of drama as it is presented in the literature, and its representation in special schools curricula. In the literature drama is presented as a desirable curricular element which can be a valuable means of benefiting pupils over a variety of learning areas. In practice, many special schools make no provision for drama, and in only a small proportion of schools is it taught on any regular or systematic basis. The project established that the extent of the neglect of drama in special education was considerable, and that the reasons for the neglect lay more in staff's ignorance of its educational potential than in their perception of its value or lack of value. Analysis suggested that it would be necessary for staff to experience, at first hand in their own classrooms, the teaching of drama and the outcomes of that teaching in order that they might arrive at a personal assessment of its value to them in their work. In order to achieve this, a curriculum research and development project was carried out. This involved: a) the analysis of the educational justification for drama in special educational curricula, its possible aims, the methods appropriate to teaching it, the activities it may comprise, and the role of the teacher in the drama lesson; b) an examination of the extent to which theory was bourne out in practice under a variety of classroom conditions within schools for severely and profoundly mentally handicapped pupils, and in collaboration with staff within the schools; c) the development of lesson plans and teaching materials which would embody the principles outlined and which could be disseminated for use and critical testing to a wider cross-section of schools. The following are the main conclusions: 1. Although it may be crucial to the development of profoundly mentally handicapped pupils to ensure that they have adequate stimulation through the provision of activities in movement and music, the provision of regular drama lessons by general staff may be less essential since a) many of the pupils may not be sufficiently developed to comprehend the symbolic aspects of drama as an imaginative, enactive means of representing and interpreting experience; b) the pupils who can respond to the process of drama wAy be those autistic or behaviourally disturbed children who may need specialist help if drama is to be made accessible to them on a regular and systematic basis. 2. Severely mentally handi"capped pupils can benefit from drama in a variety of important ways, depending on the nature of the drama provision offered. Staff within the present project were more willing to learn and use the simpler drama techniques. While the more complex techniques can be used as a means of stimulating problem-solving abilities and imaginative development, the simpler techniques are useful in stimulating language development, in improving social skills, in reducing passivity in the more lethargic pupils, and in encouraging the emergence and development of corporate imagir.ative play. 3. The pupils who appeared to benefit most from the provision of drama in the present project were those lively Down's Syndrome children who appear to have a natural aptitude for dra~A, and some of the more passive or withdrawn children. Host noticeable benefits were in the development of communication abilities, in the extension of dramatic play, and in the reduction of passivity. 4. In this project, behaviourally disturbed and hyperactive, severely mentally handicapped pupils appeared to benefit least from normal classroom drama provision. There may be a need to make specialist provision for such pupils. There is a need for further research to clarify their reactions and the reactions of profoundly handicapped pupils with similar problems. 5. As a result of their involvement in the project, staff from over forty schools were enabled to try out drama on a systematic and regular basis, and to arrive at a personal assessment of its value to them in their teaching. Over two thirds have gone on to include drama in their curricular schemes. 6. staff involved in the collaborative research have acquired a degree of expertise in the curriculum research and development process, and in the teaching of drama. The author recommends that this expertise be utilised and exploited by encouraging such staff to regard their schools as resource centres and to be willing to help staff from other schools in the development and planning of lessons. Skill-sharing of this kind might go same way towards compensating for the lack of specialist drama teachers in this field of education. The anomaly between the neglect of drama and its value as represented in the literature is largely explained by a lack of appropriate teaching materials, staff's lack of knowledge of drama and its practices, and staff's unwillingness to attempt the more complex drama techniques. Skill-sharing might also help reduce some of these barriers to the adoption of drama in schools. The author also re-examines, in the concluding sections of the thesis, the rationale underpinning the method of curriculum research and development adopted in the project. She attempts to illuminate some of the strengths and weaknesses of this methodology by reference to the practical difficulties experienced in the course of the project •. She argues that these reflect a more general disquiet in the research literature about the methods applicable to curricul~~ research, development and evaluation. She suggests that there maybe a .need for a reappraisal of curriculum theory to encompass the kind of practical difficulties which appear to be concomitants to collaborative research in education. And she argues that this reappraisal may be particularly important where, as was the case in this project, the research design incorporates the development of teaching materials and the dissemination of these for field testing within a sample of schools which have not been involved in the initial research and development.