A Dramatic Term for Secondary English Students

While there are countless ways that the Secondary English program allows our students to develop the so-called “4 C’s” of 21st century skills (communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity), one area that is consistently enriching is the study of dramatic texts and performance skills. In Stages 4 (Years 7 and 8) and 5 (Years 9 and 10) of the New South Wales Syllabus for the Australian Curriculum, students are expected to study at least two substantial works of drama per stage, including the plays of Shakespeare. Study of more sophisticated dramatic texts is also a feature of our Year 11 and 12 programs, in both the HSC and IB.

Legendary Irish writer Oscar Wilde once described drama as, “the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” The exploration of what it means to be human in the face of horrific tragedy is at the heart of Australian playwright Nick Enright’s powerful work, Blackrock, studied this term by our Year 10 students. Based on a community’s response to the real life murder of a teenager in a small, coastal town, Blackrock challenges notions of Australian masculinity and mateship. Central to our approach to exploring this text is bringing together the entire year level for a Theatre Forum activity, in which students are given the opportunity to improvise and act out alternative scenarios for the play. Typical of our students, there were some incredibly brave and gritty contributions and performances, leading to a much deeper understanding and appreciation of the text by the group.

Another ever popular text studied in our junior secondary years is Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, part of this term’s Year 7 program. Studying Shakespeare for the first time in secondary school can be daunting for students, with many initially finding the Elizabethan language archaic and inaccessible. However, our emphasis on active performance and student agency in the study of this play, where students are given creative licence to direct and act out key scenes of their choosing, ensures there is no reason anymore to “fear” Shakespeare. The teachers of Year 7 reported just how much growth and self-confidence they saw develop in the students as they collaborated with their peers in bringing to life this enduring comedy.

While the core skills of reading and writing are most often associated with the subject of English, AISHK students have this term experienced firsthand just how exciting and invigorating live performance can be in expressing their responses to studied texts and issues. Drama continues to be a vital part of our school’s English program, offering students the same opportunities for creative and personal expression that the Ancient Greeks and Romans first embraced thousands of years before them.

Peter Phillips | Head of English (Year 7-12)