Managing Students in the Drama Classroom

Published May 8, 2011 by karlao

Drama teachers, I believe, need to consider their behaviour management strategies far more carefully than those in a “conventional” classroom.

For many students, a room with no desks is totally foreign to them and doesn’t compute with what they have been taught is the “traditional” way of learning in a classroom. Believe me, I know this because I’ve seen it. The amount of times kids are bouncing off the walls with hyperactivity and cannot settle down in any way because they just can’t deal with the fact that there isn’t a desk for them to put their book on, is astounding. It also feels like the air when a storm is coming – electric. The kids can sense it and their brains go haywire :)

Just like any classroom there are no hard and fast rules to behaviour management and nothing is ever perfect nor works with every single group. That’s the uniquely brilliant (and extremely difficult) thing about teaching. Part of our job is building up a bank of strategies that we can pull out of our magic top hats whenever we need them. For many beginning teacher’s behaviour management is their worst nightmare. Believe me, I know this veeeeeeery well.

However, in my five years of teaching I’ve done a lot of trial and error with my classes when it comes to behaviour management. Some of it has failed dismally, other strategies have been slightly more successful. Many of these will continue to fail depending on the group and the one’s you least expect to work with one particular group are actually the one’s to work.

Safe learning environments are crucial in the Drama classroom. Without them, students do not feel comfortable enough to take risks and perform in front of others. By setting boundaries for student’s this allows them to feel a little bit more at ease about this.

Here are a selection of strategies that may help guide you to managing behaviour issues in your classroom:

  • Establish Routine OUTSIDE the Classroom – This is important to ensure student’s are not going into the room unfocused. Ensure student’s line up outside your room. I personally request that all my student’s put their hats, phones, i-pods, mp3 players, food and drinks into their bag before they enter the classroom. I even stand at the door and check them one by one. I stop them if they haven’t done what they’ve been asked and make sure it is put away before they try to enter again. It’s also a really nice way to greet everyone individually before you start the lesson. You may like to allocate a particular part of the room for student’s to leave their bags so as to keep them out of the performance space.
  • ¬†Establish Routine INSIDE the Classroom – This goes without saying in any classroom. Structure your lessons very carefully so that student’s become familiar with what happens in your lessons. Your watch/clock is your best friend. In Drama it is a good idea to spend approx. 10-15 minutes on a warm up, 20-40 minutes on your main activitie(s) and 10-15 minutes on discussion or logbook activities.
  • Establish POSITIVE BEHAVIOUR EXPECTATIONS in the Classroom – Here you can combine your school’s discipline policy with your own expectations. You may even like to get the student’s to help you decide what the classroom expectations will be (this could take an entire lesson). Our school is following the PBL (Positive Behaviour for Learning) Framework so I’ve tried to talk to student’s about their behaviour in terms of positive choices and that incorrect choices should expect a consequence. I also frame my expectations around how student’s should behave when watching a performance. So, I teach them about theatre etiquette. In the end, after it all my motto is: just give it a go.

My four rules are:

In the drama classroom we always:

  • Begin and end every lesson in a circle;
  • Follow theatre etiquette when others are performing (no talking, clapping at the end);
  • Listen to all instructions to make sure everyone is safe and working;
  • Leave all our food, drink, i-pods, MP3′s, mobile phones in our bags.

Finally, follow-through, follow-up, follow-through, follow-up. Decide what the consequence will be for not following through on the appropriate behaviour e.g. lunch detention, after school detention, a phone call home, Head Teacher referral etc. Develop a system that you can use first before referring the behaviour on e.g. three lunch detentions = phone call home. One detention after the phone call = afternoon detention.¬† The more you are in control of the situation the better. In order to gain respect from your student’s you have to show them that you’re serious. Phrase your expectation clearly as well as the consequence. E.g “Johnny, I’ve asked you once to stop speaking. If you speak again during the performance I will be seeing you at lunchtime.” If Johnny does this then do as you said.

Now, I know writing it down makes it sound so easy and believe me, I know, better than anyone that this is just not the case. For many of us it is not natural to be disciplining students this way. Especially when we often have rather grandiose ideas of all students absolutely loving what they are learning and that there shouldn’t be any need for behaviour management. The reality is not all student’s love learning and these can be for a range of reasons. It doesn’t mean you should not be allowed to teach however nor show them how great Drama can be. Be realistic about how long it will take your class to learn your routines. For every class it will be different. Be persistent and don’t let the difficult student’s get you down because for every horrible student there will be 3-4 great kids who try the work and do what you say.

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4 comments on “Managing Students in the Drama Classroom

  • Routines are good, but we have to be aware of imposing authoritarian rule and also limiting the student direction by forces 15 minutes warm up. It is all down to the individual teacher but the best words I suggest are be honest, be fair and be willing as a teacher to say sorry if you get it wrong if expecting students to. Indeed let the students see the rules apply to all the learners in the teaching space (teacher and student). Of course as an aside it is easier to go softer after starting tougher, rather than the other way around.

    If the lesson has significance, there is high intellectual quality and the teacher has created a quality learning environment then disruption/management issues stat to disappear.

  • This is great help. I guess my biggest challenge is finding a way to communicate that I am not happy with a student’s behaviour without disrupting the class. I tried writing names on the board, but it just gets overwhelming sometimes. I have a very challenging class where each warm-up is ruined by a handful of students trying to be silly.
    I need some more tips on possible consequences to poor behaviour, any recommended resources?

    • Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this post. The drama classroom is hard because you often get a lot of students who are not keen to participate and want to make it difficult for other student’s. I had a particularly difficult class two years ago. The absolute worst. I nearly wanted to quite teaching they were so terrible! I tried a “time-out” corner at one stage. This was a space in the room where I placed some chairs and I would ask students to sit there until they were prepared to focus and participate appropriately. I repeated this and then spoke to them at the end of the lesson about my expectations, queried them on why they felt they couldn’t participate appropriately, placed them on detention and also made a phone call home. If it continued I had parent meetings and withdrew them from practical lessons for a week or two. I’ve also spent a lesson generating classroom rules that the class have come up with themselves giving them ownership of their classroom and their learning. I try to stick to just five.

      I completely understand where you are coming from in finding it difficult to manage the class. Just remember consistency and follow through. If you say it, mean it and do it. Drama can seem very threatening for students so see their inability to focus as them having to become more aware of themselves and not really knowing how to deal with it, lol. You are offering them amazing opportunities to explore themselves and their world. They will take something away from it even if it is not quite what you would expect or evident yet.

      Let me know how you go and if I can help in any way contact me here at the blog or through Twitter at @karlao_dtn

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