Literacy is one of the biggest primary concerns that educators and school systems everywhere have. We live in a modern media rich environment but teachers are hard pressed to get students to read full books and do essays or reports on them. Popular applications like Vine only require 6 seconds of a person's attention and commercials are only 30 seconds long. How do we get young people to invest the time necessary to experience classic literature and boost their reading comprehension?
My argument is for theater/drama and acting.
As an individual with an education degree most of my time in study and student teaching had to do reading comprehension. It is at the center of all subject matters. From learning vocabulary words in science to doing well on understanding the history lesson, reading comprehension sits in every subject. Educators are specifically concerned with students citing text evidence when they make a statement using phrases like "Where's your evidence?". We want students to be able to say "I know because..." and to find it in the text.
In theater, children are not only required to get to know a full length story and understand the broad picture but also intimately know their part. I ask them questions about their character, ask them to fill out Venn diagrams to compare and contrast their person in real life versus the person they are playing on stage. They are required to memorize and recite their lines but also express the emotion behind the actions and interact emotionally with others on stage.
Children have to experience art in a very deep and personal way when they act out the stories. They are asked to talk about the historical time period in which their character is living, where geographically they are living, and the social and political events of the time. They are asked to sing songs from that era and dress like they did. We have to explore antiquated vocabulary and phrases that are less common now. We have to linguistically study accents whether they be canadian or british or mid western etc.
Being able to apply what you read according to Bloom's taxonomy is an essential element of literacy. In theater, students are required to synthesize meaning from the text through exploring the story in a physical space with others and discussing, memorizing, reciting, and emoting it.
I can't name another art form that does all those things. I challenge you to think about theater from an educational standpoint; from a literacy standpoint when thinking about the benefits of participating. If we can grasp the exponential applications of children's time in theater class we can better justify the time and effort spent in there and better appreciate our fine arts educators in the role they play in supporting the other fields of study the students engage in.
Kristi Kargic is executive director for Footlights Community Theater based in Athens, AL. She is an elementary teacher with a lifelong love of performing arts. She strives to provide art in her home community at little to no cost to participants. Kristi is a published poet, playwright, and performing musician. Her motto is "if you build it, they will come."