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Process Drama: A Special Space and Place for Writing

Author(s): Jenifer Jasinski Schneider and Sylvia A. W. Jackson

Source: The Reading Teacher, Vol. 54, No. 1 (Sep., 2000), pp. 38-51
Published by: International Reading Association
Stable URL: .
Accessed: 26/01/2011 12:18

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International Reading Association is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The
Reading Teacher.
Jenifer Jasinski Schneider
Sylvia A.W. Jackson

Process di rama: A
Dramaisa toolforinstruction ace and
&P place
and learningthatsupports literacy
developmentwhile also fostering AU. r writing
children'sinclinationto imagine.

rocess drama is a method of teaching the writer's changing purposes; subsequently,

and learning that involves students in children's varying reasons for writing necessi
and spontaneous tate the use of multiple forms (Chapman, 1994;
imaginary, unscripted,
scenes. Process drama exists through the inter Daiute, 1993; Newkirk, 1987). Through process
actions of students and teachers, and it is framed drama, students may "write in role" (O'Neill,

by curricular topics, teacher objectives, and stu 1995; Tarlington, 1985), enabling them to think
dents' personal differently about the forms as well as the content
experiences (O'Neill, 1995;
of their writing. Students may also write across
Rogers & O'Neill, 1993).
The mental of process drama the curriculum for different purposes during
are very similar to those involved in reading process drama events.
& King, This article examines the creation of process
(Benton, 1992; Edmiston, Enciso,
drama and writing experiences in one elementary
1987; Iser, 1978; Rosenblatt, 1978). During the
act of reading, "the structure of the text sets off a classroom in the United States. We describe how

sequence of mental images" (Iser, 1978, p. 38). Sylvia, the classroom teacher, used process dra
the structure of process drama inter ma as a context for learning, and we examine
actions results in the participants' "ideation" of which genres and functions of writing were evi
mental Just as in where mean dent within the process drama frame. This arti
images. reading,
in a transaction between the reader cle was written as a collaborative effort between
ing is made
and the text (Rosenblatt, 1978), during process Jenifer, a university researcher, and Sylvia, a
drama meaning is made from the engagement classroom teacher. Our perspectives on the
and transactions the students and teacher events were often different because we had dis
tinct roles in the classroom and unique relation
(O'Neill & Lambert, 1982).
Yet, process drama is also a visual experience ships with the students. As the teacher, Sylvia
because students often externalize the mental im was an initiator and participant in the dramas.
As the researcher, Jenifer functioned mostly as
ages they create (Bolton, 1979). Drama provides
a context for demonstrations of the students' ac an observer, even though the children frequently
tual "lived recruited her as a participant. Therefore, through
through" experiences (Rosenblatt,
out this article, the classroom events are shared
1978), allowing them to use language, movement
and visualization to express their learning through Jenifer's observations and the data she
collected, yet the events also include Sylvia's re
(Rogers,O'Neill, & Jasinski, 1995).
Drama is a powerful be flections, recollections, and perspectives.
learning medium
cause it also provides a context within which
students may write for imaginative as well as Study background
functional purposes (Wagner, 1994). Dyson and Participants. Jenifer is a Caucasian re
Freedman (1991) described writing as a "kalei searcher and former elementary teacher who
doscopic process" because writing is shaped by was interested in studying writing within the

38 The Reading Teacher Vol. 54, NO. 1 September 2000 ?2OOO International Association
Reading (pp.38-51)
process drama frame. Sylvia, an African classroom events.
Sylvia and the students either
American teacher who has been teaching for accepted, rejected, or provided additional insight
over 20 years in an urban, public elementary into the general patterns that Jenifer found.
school, was recommended by one of Jenifer's Then, on the basis of these discussions, Jenifer
colleagues. At the time of this study, the school revisited and reexamined the data. These "mem
enrolled approximately 350 students in the ber checks" build trustworthiness of the
Kindergarten through the fifth grades. The findings (Patton, 1990).
school was an alternative or magnet school that Dramaas a learning medium. From Septem
had an "informal education" focus. Across all ber until January of one school year, Sylvia led
grades, students were grouped in student the students through two complete dramas, each
centered, multiage classrooms, and instruction
lasting over 2 months. The first drama, "Journey
focused on meeting the needs of individual
to Peace Valley," sent the children on an imagi
learners. Classroom activities were structured to
nary journey to a peaceful land, and the second
accommodate integrated, hands-on learning and
drama, "The Immigration Drama," positioned the
to encourage students' active involvement. In ad
students as reporters investigating immigration
dition, there was a schoolwide focus on creativ
for the government. In order to examine process
ity and self-expression. The arts were integrated
drama as a classroom context for learning, we
into the curriculum through the collaborative ef
forts of the classroom teachers and the dance, present a chronological description of the major
events that developed each drama. Then, within
art, and music teachers.
the drama, we describe the genres and functions
The 25 children (all names are pseudonyms)
in Sylvia's second- and third-grade classroom of writing as they occurred.
were diverse students with various backgrounds
and needs. Throughout this article, we include The firstdrama
the work of many of these children as examples Sylvia's idea for the first drama unit was
of the writing that occurred during process dra based on the school's theme, "Peace Begins With
ma frames. Me." the children to embark on a
Sylvia wanted
Data and data sources. During
collection to establish a peaceful new
dangerous journey
the first 20 weeks of one school year, Jenifer The purpose of this drama was to
conducted daily observations of Sylvia and the build community in the classroom through the in
students. She entered the classroom as an ob in the process. In the
terdependence developed
server and eventually became a participant ob role of the group leader, Sylvia pretended to place
server by immersing herself in daily classroom an advertisement in a newspaper that called for
life and directly observing Sylvia and the stu recruits for a peace mission. In the following ex
dents. Jenifer wrote field notes during all obser
cerpt, Sylvia initiated the first drama episode.
vations, collected writing samples from the
children, and interviewed and the stu Close your eyes and imaginethatyou are answeringan ad
dents both formally and informally. She also vertisement in the newspaper.The ad says thatyouwant to
and transcribed classroom events, joinus as we go to a new peacefulplace....Now beforewe go
conversations, and interviews & any further,Iwant to tell you about the journey.(Transcript
Rossman, 9-11)
Data analysis. In the spring of the same
school the collected data As Sylvia began the drama scene, she did
year, Jenifer examined
for emerging themes that related to the ways in not tell the children how "to do" drama. She
which Sylvia created process drama units and merely asked them to pretend, and the drama be
the writing that occurred within gan. The children quickly took on the roles of
process drama
activities (Patton, 1990). After and adults and asked questions, such as "How long
reading "
field notes, and writing will we be gone?" or Do people usually die on
rereading transcripts,
samples, she identified patterns in the data re this trip?" The direction of the drama was not
lated to teaching and writing in the process completely predetermined; it emerged from
drama frame. Then Jenifer conferred with Sylvia Sylvia's ideas coupled with the children's reac
and the students to seek their interpretations of tions and ideas.

Process drama: A special space and place for writing 39

By the end of the first "meeting," Sylvia and When her position
changed, she provided the stu
the students discussed the details of the trip, and dents with verbal
and visual clues of her status.
she divided the class into five traveling groups. Third, this excerpt reveals one of Sylvia's goals
Later that day, Sylvia used "relaxation time" to for the drama?to focus the children on their
remind the students about their upcoming jour strengths and multiple intelligences. Prior to the
ney to the peaceful place. Relaxation was a 15 drama, Sylvia the students about their
minute period that occurred immediately after multiple intelligences (Gardner, 1983). She en
recess. Once the children were situated, Sylvia
couraged the children to think of the different
led them through a routine of breathing exercises. ways they were smart (e.g., body smart, word
When the deep breathing was completed, Sylvia smart, math smart). Then, during the creation of
began exercises in visual imagery. On the first the traveling groups, Sylvia referred the children
day of the drama during relaxation time, Sylvia to a chart that listed the multiple intelligences.
asked the children to imagine the obstacles they She asked the children to think of the ways that
would overcome on their journey. The children their personal would them over
strengths help
responded with a range of obstructions that in come the challenges of the trip.
cluded biting fish, volcanoes, and giant cookies. Once the meeting was over, Sylvia directed
Relaxation served as one of Sylvia's instruction the students to work in small groups to identify
al tools for building the students' background their roles and strengths. The children attempted
knowledge as well as a context for increasing the to apply their personal to the trip
students' use of visual imagery. Sylvia also used while Sylvia circulated and supported their ef
relaxation to assess the students' understanding forts. Following the group work, Sylvia recon
of the drama and to determine how she should vened the meeting in order to debrief. Each group
approach future instruction. summarized their strengths, and Sylvia helped
Building belief. On day 2, the creation of the them make connections to the trip. For example,
drama frame continued as Sylvia used role play
Joey stated that he was good at music, so Sylvia
to welcome the students back to the peace-group
replied, "Music can be used along the journey to
meeting. help calm everyone" (Transcript 9-12).
Welcome to the journey-to-peacemeeting. Yesterday,when Peace diaries. Following this exercise, Sylvia
we met, we made our groups thatwould be travelingtogeth introduced a new writing assignment to the trav
er. The reasonwe don't all travel inone largegroup is that elers?peace diaries.
therearemany, many obstacles along theway thatcan cause
All right, I'mgoing to handyou your diary....Then Iwant you
us dangers.We don'twant everybodytoencounterthose same
towrite aboutwhat you'refeelingabout this journeyrightnow.
obstacles so thatwe'll have a betterchance of havinga large
Now, I'mSylvia again, and Iwant you tomake sure youwrite
communityoncewe get there.Thereare thingsthatcould hap in role.Thatmeans youwrite as the characteryou are. Don't
pen, andwe're hoping thateveryonewill be safe, butyou'veall
write as a kid in this roomwho's tellingme aboutwhatwe're
agreed thatpeace isworth it....Your firstassignment is to in
troduceyourselves to each other becausewe didn'tactually doing. No. You area doctor,you'rea lawyer, whateveryou are,
you arewriting in roleabout the trip.(Transcript
get startedyesterday. I'mgoing to go out of roleto say to use
your realname because we don'twant to have to try to re
member new names.... OK, I'mback indrama.Afteryou in Sylvia used her role as the peace-group or
troduce each other, have someone write down what your ganizer to require the "members" to keep diaries.
strengthsare. (Transcript9-12) Then, as their teacher, she explained how to
write within the genre. Even though the drama
This transcript revealed three major aspects was imaginary, within the drama frame, the diary
of Sylvia's techniques for using process drama. served as a real form of writing. The diaries, in
First, this excerpt demonstrates the way in which combination with relaxation time and active dra
Sylvia built belief in the drama by emphasizing ma work, helped the students build their belief in
and repeating the importance of the mission, the their roles. Through the diaries, students devel
students' roles, and their responsibilities. Second, oped the story lines for the imaginary people
this exchange represents Sylvia's technique for they were portraying and becoming. For exam

going in and out of role. For many reasons, such ple, during the first meeting, Sabrina stated that
as behavior problems, drama clarification, or in she was a pregnant woman. Sylvia asked the oth
terruptions, Sylvia needed to leave her role. er children if a pregnant woman would be able to

40 The Reading Teacher Vol.54,No.1 September

make the trip. The other children eagerly agreed. Figure 1
Sylvia then said, peace diary entry

There isa pregnant ladytravelingwith thegroup,so you need

to keep that inmind on the journey.Now thatdoesn't have to
be a handicap, itcould be an asset because [herpregnancy]
will cause the group to be more careful and cautious.

Given Sylvia's acceptance, Sabrina continued

to develop her role through her peace diary writ
ing (see Figure 1). In addition, Sarah developed
her role in the drama in relation to Sabrina's (see
Figure 2). Through their diaries, Sabrina took
on a husband, "sort of," and Sarah became
Sabrina's sister. Neither of these details were dis
cussed in the group meetings; however, both of
the students elaborated on their roles through
The drama continues. On the third day of the
peace unit, Sylvia asked the students to think "row ow w!~?*s\ r_f^g^gjL^?
about the physical obstacles they might en
counter on their journey.

Rightnow, outside thedrama, Iwant you to create theobsta

cles on the journey....For example, ifyou say that there is
quicksand, you will draw the quicksand,write underneath,
and thenturn it in.All thoseobstacleswill be put
"quicksand," Figure2
together ina map form. I'llshape it likea map, and thenwe Sarah's peace diary entry
will choose which routeto go on. (Transcript 9-13)

The children created and described their ob

stacles in one work period. The next morning,
? L , i \, a fL 5?CenJ
Sylvia and Jenifer assembled all of the pictures
into a large collage. The children took this "map" i^\eeV^3 U roe?.
(see Figure 3) to dance class to show the dance
and movement teacher. She wanted the students |Vr<?/e.
to portray the journey using various types of
body movements so she taught the students how
to write motifs (see Figure 4). She explained that
motifs are written symbols for anything that
moves, similar to the way that notes are written
symbols for music. This teacher's collaboration
and involvement gave Sylvia the new idea that 5'ikr?s
the students could depict their journey through
motifs and then actually perform it through sym
bolic body movements.
Once the idea for the peaceful journey was
in place, Sylvia worked with the groups to help
them chart their traveling course. As the class
worked on other assignments, Sylvia called each
group to the map and described the obstacles to
the children. Each group selected a starting point
for the journey and determined which path to

Process drama: A special space and place for writing 41

Figure3 complete sequence of steps to follow to reach the
Map of obstacles peaceful land (see Figure 3).
Once the paths were charted, and the chil
dren were familiar with the dangers of their spe
cific routes, Sylvia asked the students to record
the plan for their journey. Sylvia created a form
that required the students to list the group mem
bers' names, routes, dangers, actions, and motifs.
For example, in Figure 5, the group determined
that they would travel through Obstacle 2 (the
volcano that
erupts every 2 minutes), past
Obstacles 20, 19, and 23, to Obstacle 15 (the
snake that spits eggs at you, then baby snakes
crawl all over you), and concluding at Obstacle
22 (quicksand). For each obstacle, the children
wrote what they would do (Obstacle 20?climb
the cliff and jump across the volcano) then they
represented the climbing and jumping motions
through Squiggle and Action motifs.

Jackson Sylvia created the forms to help the students

Photo by Sylvia record and remember their journey routes and
to help them create
the symbolic dance through
symbolic writing. However, the sheets also en
Figure4 abled the students to think critically and negoti
Symbols used formotifs ate with one another. For example, when one
group encountered the obstacle of biting dogfish,
Motif writing the members had to determine how to avoid the
fish as well as portray their movements through
Action?jump, skip, wiggle motifs.

kind of bend Jessica: OK.What shouldwe do about thedogfish?

X Curt: Iknowwhatwe could do.We could catch a catfish
Stretch and feed itto him.We could justget the dogfish to
chase thecatfish.
& Forward action?move forward or walk Mitch: Butwe have to do one of themovements [motifs].
We can'tcatch a catfish.
Side right Curt: We could puta bunchof vines togethertomake a net
to catch him.
Side left
Mitch: We have to do themovements. (Transcript 9-20)
The planning sheets required the students to
X Straight path solve problems, think creatively, record infor
mation, work collaboratively, and use their imag
Curved path
I ination. Sylvia also used the planning sheets as an
opportunity to assess the students' ability to write
X Squiggle?any path
information clearly and concisely.
The performance. Eventually, the planning
and preparation for the journey was complete.
take. Sylvia reminded the children to focus on The actual performance of the peace journey oc
their "multiple intelligences" (Gardner, 1983), so curred in the gymnasium, and Sylvia invited two
their path would be based on the "strengths" of Kindergarten and first-grade classes to observe.
individuals within the group. Sylvia marked When the guests arrived, Sylvia told the young
their selections with colored yarn, indicating the visitors about the peaceful land that the students

42 The Reading Teacher Vol.54,No.1 September


Our Roufe The dangers

_L_Z_ Tiie Action Il^eMo-fci-F
From', -Mar
ihe VoJcwio
2. aMx unPowo? /y/
-th?,Volcano 1\
?< ?fteYkftKe has iics
f cxP?bc*?&frcAs and. X_k>
VJoftcf -
4 fiSfc t/^eYiook
Frinljt btA+ rr~>biA -^

U'll bit Vou -

r?; W(xcV> cut ^?r

23 \i???liczs7)?n
/5 Ott you AMfi??y?/wJs5
<?$and /W) \ ^
eral &//oVcry^f t
tv. fh^&ncxxupip
^ >bu,COOc\ df,efron H\

were hoping to find. She explained the obsta Peace Valley. Sylvia elicited ideas from the chil
cles that the students were about to encounter, dren as to how they could spread peace from this
and she emphasized the danger of the journey. far-away land. The children determined that they
The audience watched as each group em wanted to create a business that manufactured
barked on their journey. The groups silently peace toys (PTC?The Peaceful
Toy Company).
moved from imaginary obstacle to imaginary They wanted to give
the toys to people who
obstacle as the dance and movement teacher needed them, and they decided not to accept
tapped softly on a drum. Each group moved money because it was not "peaceful."
across the floor following their own plan and us To help the children develop ideas for toys,
ing their own versions of climbing, swimming, Sylvia integrated science lessons into the peace
and jumping actions. The students dramatically unit. She taught the children about simple ma
portrayed their encounters with volcanoes, croc chines so they could use wheels, pulleys, levers,
odiles, and swift waters. To everyone's surprise, inclined planes, and gears to design and create
Sylvia concluded the entire session with a jour their toys. Prior to building the toys, Sylvia
ney of her own. She twisted, crawled, and asked the children to make preliminary sketches
climbed her way across the imagined obstacles. and describe the materials they needed (see
When Sylvia reached the end safely, the children Figure 6). She also asked them towrite descrip
applauded. tions and details of how the toys worked. Once
The class finally arrived in the new land again, the children were writing for real and use
(i.e., their classroom), and they decided to call it ful purposes, albeit in an imaginary setting.

Process drama: A special space and place for writing 43

Figure6 The design and manufacture of the toys last
Monikas peace toy sketch ed many weeks, and the classroom resembled a
toy workshop. Once the peace toys were com

pleted, Sylvia and the students discussed the var

ious ways they could share their toys with the
rest of the "world." The children made many
Jeace loy suggestions; however, they decided to create a
Company newspaper to advertise the toys. Together, Sylvia

of my W ' and the children determined which peace groups

Tine. skeVeta would write particular sections.
The children worked on their articles for
several weeks. They worked independently, and
they also conferred with Sylvia. Once their arti
cles were approved, they edited them for publi
cation. Eventually, a parent volunteer typed and
published the newspaper for the class. The Peace
Valley News was also distributed throughout the
school in late November (see Figure 7).

The second drama

Upon completion of "The Journey to Peace
Valley Drama," in which the students focused
on peace beginning within themselves, Sylvia
shifted to family
the focus peace for "The
Immigration Drama." She felt that an important
way to explore this topic was through a study
How cipes \ f Work? Whq,~i of immigration, ancestry, and diversity. Sylvia
maoKmes began this unit by asking the students to discuss
clrd syou use?
fUlty their definitions and perceptions of immigrants
and to develop a list of questions they would ask
'? (X VAt/H an immigrant.

Sylvia: Iwant themto do a documentaryon [an immigrant],

so that they have to answer these certain ques
write tions.... It'salmost likehistoricalfiction.
H-loe directions -for- hovU fo Jenifer: And theywill make itup?
Sylvia: They'llbemaking itup, but ithas to be realitybased.
w'iH So if [the immigrant] came from Ireland....they
pl^-y your -f-oy.
to knowthatmost of the Irishcame [forcertain rea
sons]. So theyare still learningrealthingsbased in
fiction.And that'skindof how Isee it.So it isdrama
because theywill be doing documentaries,but I've
w\ an The got to thinkofwhat theirrole is. (Interview11-7)

goals for the immigration unit were

complex. She wanted to develop a way to pre
sent a large number of facts about immigration,
as well as incorporate fiction, imagination, and
drama. Because the immigrant drama needed to
be accurate and authentic, Sylvia built the stu
dents' background knowledge prior to the dra
ma work. She also worked many hours studying

44 The Reading Teacher Vol. 54, No. 1 September2000

Peace Valley newspaper?front page

News Weather Sports and more

The Peace News


NEW PEACETOY COMPANY-PTC In the new place that 25

Americans have come towith
great strengths to get here, they
are developing a new toy
company, PTC. All of these
great toys that they have made
for your children to play with
all have a simple machine in
them. We say it is free and
there is no such thing as money
in this place. We call it Peace
Valley. These toys are all
peace toys, no Power Rangers,
no Batman and Robin or any
action figures. Some of the
toys we have made are different
from themost popular toys
around and others.

This place has alot of toys.

This place also has all the
supplies we need so we will ask
for nothing. This place has no
buildings. It looks ci rently.
not normal. When it is winter
or fall, the bushes will uet
colorful and the thinv .vill fall
off. In Peace Valley people
live in trees because the trunks
are so big it seems like all the
NEW PEACE TOY COMPANY - Look At Advertisements For animals in the world could fit
in. And some live
More Information About Ordering Them
underground. Well, that's just
what we have discovered.


Itwas a long journey. As a matter of fact Iwas the one that
got heie late and itwas alot harder without my group, but I
managed. I already knew how hard itwas for my group. Let me name a
couple of trails and how hard they are.

Group I trail was through a jungle with crocodiles, rivers, and volcanoes. Then they all go into a river with two
alligators, one
poison water snake, some quicksand in themiddle, and just an old bridge to get across. Around the
bridge there is a pit and it's
to out of it if fall in. After that
impossible get you they go into a snake pit with only an old, old bridge across it. Then there is
a rainbow you climb up and slide down and you
get a piece of gold at the bottom.

After thatGroup 1went to a volcano that asked you to

spell a word but most of the time it asks you how to spell Mississippi.
After thatGroup 1goes into a place where it is all
quicksand (I know thatwas very hard for my group). And after that Group I
goes into a place where a volcano asks you a math question. Then they are finished.

Now Group 2 is ready. They start with a volcano that

erupts every two minutes. Very dangerous. The second obstacle is a
lake with crocodiles, fish,
frogs, tadpoles and water snakes and ticks. The third obstacle is a lake with biting fish. The fourth
obstacle is a snake that spits eggs at you. The fifth obstacle is the same
thing that itwas for group 1, the all sand thing. After
that they went to the volcano that asks you a math
question. The last one is a tar pit that is slippery. Then Group 2 is there and
that's all I'm going to tell you (but itwas worth it).

Process drama: A special space and place for writing 45

immigration herself in order to present accurate the immigrant letters were completed,
information to the students. Sylvia asked each child to select one sentence
Once Sylvia completed her own research, from his or her letter. Then Sylvia split the class
her plan for the unit fell into place. From a list into two groups, those who wrote truthful let
of countries, each child selected one to study and ters and those who exaggerated. She turned off
created a name for his or her prospective immi the lights and told the children to imagine they
were As to
grant. The children were encouraged to select immigrants. Sylvia quietly pointed
nations based on their own ancestry, but they different individuals, each child read his or her
were free to select countries of their choice. sentence out loud. During a repeat performance,
then created packets that contained infor one child
accompanied the reading by softly
mation relevant to the immigrants from the se playing bells.
lected countries. The immigrants' letters allowed the students
The drama the students to create a collaborative text. Each
child wrote
begins. Although
had not to from a separate perspective, and when combined
yet read their packets, Sylvia decided
the words formed an image of the immigrants'
begin the drama. In the following excerpt, she
experiences. This activity also helped the stu
placed the students in the roles of reporters.
dents develop their abilities to view the world
You are the reportersand Iam thehead reporterwho iswork from other people's because
perspectives they
ingwith you tomake this [research]possible.... Locate an were to think about the world from
immigrantfrom the followingcountries and interviewthem. other a
places and times. The unit also provided
Obtain artifacts such as visas, clothing, diaries, objects
forum for Sylvia to talk about parts of U.S. his
brought fromthe homeland,and please photographthe im that are usually ignored or inaccurately
will supply our governmentwith tory rep
migrants. This information
resented in textbooks.
necessary researchforhelpingand understandingfuture im
Becoming immigrants. In order to heighten
migrants. (Transcript11-27)
the students' understanding of the immigrants'
struggle, Sylvia asked the children to create a
Within one day, Sylvia gave the students
photo essay on immigration. Sylvia shared an
their packets, framed their drama role, and dis
actual photo essay to develop a sense about the
cussed their assignments as reporters. Following
this introduction, Sylvia continued to build the genre. Then she discussed ideas to incorporate

students' related knowledge of immigration

into the essay. Although Sylvia planned to focus
by on many of the encounters of the immigrants
focusing on the Statue of Liberty. Sylvia select the at Ellis
(i.e., leaving homeland, arriving
ed a team of students tomake a paper scale mod
Island, finding a job), the students wanted to fo
el of the Statue of Liberty's hand. The Statue of
cus solely on Ellis Island. Because the dramas
Liberty's hand project allowed Sylvia to inte
developed through the transactions of all of the
grate math into the unit, and the hand marked the
participants, Sylvia could not direct the students'
beginning of the transformation of the classroom
essays; therefore, she acquiesced when they
decor. These activities, while serving curricular chose Ellis Island.
goals, helped the students begin to view the most on
Although of the children focused
world from their immigrants' perspective. Ellis a small group wanted to represent
Developing multiple perspectives. In addi the struggle of Africans in the United States.
tion to visually the spaces and
manipulating Africans, along with immigrants from countries
places of the classroom, Sylvia involved the stu such as Vietnam, were not represented in the ma
dents in activities that encouraged them to think waves of the 20th
jor immigrant early century.
as immigrants. Sylvia told the students that some
Therefore, Sylvia incorporated special discus
immigrants wrote to their families in the home sions about people from these countries as well.
land, telling them the truth about the hardships of Once the photo-essay topics were in place,
coming to the United States, while others exag Sylvia directed the students to form their own
gerated about the wonderful lives they were groups. She asked the children to collaborate
leading. Sylvia then asked the children to pre with their group members in order to make
tend they were immigrants. Each student chose a tableaux, or frozen pictures, of their selected im
role and wrote a truthful or an exaggerated letter. migrant scenes. In each group, the children de

46 The Reading Teacher Vol.54,No.1 September

termined a scene to present, discussed how to Figure8
represent the immigrants, and created costumes Immigrantphoto essay
using shawls, jackets, and small props to accent
their parts.
The following day, prior to the re-creation of
their tableaux, Sylvia talked to the students about
the ways they should think about writing cap
tions for a photo essay.

Sylvia: Giveme an example of who you're portrayingso I

can talkabout how towrite it.
Rich: Iwork in Ellis Island,and I'mpulling somebody
Sylvia: So you'reone of theagents, an officer,an agent of
some sort.... Nowwhen hewrites for the photo es
say, he's going to describe his feelings as an offi
cer. He's not going to say, "Thisis Ellis Islandand
someone isbeing pulledaway."He's going to speak
about it theway he feels. Now depending on what
kindof officerhe is,hiswritingwill takeon different

In this brief example, Sylvia accomplished

two goals: She helped the children think about
the ways to write in role by focusing on their feel
ings, and she helped the children understand how
to write in the genre. Following this discussion,
the children worked with their groups to re-create
their scenes. Sylvia took a black-and-white Photo by Sylvia Jackson
tograph of each tableau, then the children imme
diately wrote captions for the photos (see Figures
8,9, and 10). waves as well as other events that occurred when
The photos of the children were very dra "arrived." The students used a map of the
matic, but the writing was even more powerful world to mark the location of their immigrants'
because it was based on the children's experi homelands. In addition, some of the students
ences as immigrants. When the children wrote worked with the art teacher to create an 8' papier
captions for the photo essay, they had not yet seen m?ch? replica of the Statue of Liberty.
the photographs; based their writing on their time as an op
they Sylvia also used relaxation
own experience as immigrants, officers, or for the students to focus on the immi
slaves. Interestingly, most of the children focused and the conditions in which
grants they lived.
on the pain of immigration, such as deportation one relaxation
During period, Sylvia said,
or separation from loved ones. The students who
"Imagine that you have left Ellis Island, and you
wrote as slaves also captured the intense experi have gone into the city. What do you remember
ence of being captive (see Figure 11). One about your first day in the city?" After a few mo
African American child wrote from the perspec ments of silence, Sylvia asked for the students'
tive of a slave master because he represented the responses. One child said that he was surprised
slave driver in the tableau. Therefore, he was able that the streets were not paved in gold. Another
to write in that role, and his writing demonstrat child said that her family did not get to sleep at
ed that he could assume other viewpoints. all. A third child said that there were "mean peo
Following the photo essay, Sylvia involved ple" in stores and other places. Through relax
the students in other activities that taught them ation, Sylvia increased the students' visual image
facts about immigration. The students created a of the immigrant experience while also assessing
time line that reflected the dates of immigrant their acquired knowledge.

Process drama: A special space and place for writing 47

Figure9 "U.S. Department of Naturalization and
Immigrationofficer photo essay Immigration," and their parents functioned as the
"government officials." In addition to the packets
and the many other artifacts in the classroom,
Sylvia wanted the students to perform for the par
ents. Sylvia worked with the dance teacher to de
velop another movement activity to symbolize
the immigrants' journey to the United States. In
of^ j^
^are_:pnegr pairs, the students traveled halfway across the
gym to represent their voyage across water. Then
the dance teacher told them to imagine that they
saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time.
Finally, the children were directed to complete
the length of the floor, portraying their first walk
through the streets of New York. When they were
on the streets, they froze in position.
The entire demonstration was very power
ful. Through their movements, the students em
bodied the immigrants'journey. Their actions
and facial expressions revealed their understand
ing and empathy with the immigrants' struggle.
During the parents' sharing night, the students
enacted their voyage as immigrants, shared their
packets of information, and presented their re
ports to the government officials.

Lessons learned
During "The Journey to Peace Valley," the
Photo by Sylvia Jackson
students learned concepts in geography, geolo
gy, economy, and the environment. They also
learned lessons about human nature, peace,
health, and survival. In addition, Sylvia used
A return to the role of reporter. As the stu these lessons to teach the students how to write
dents continued to work on various drama ac letters, diaries, newspapers, travel routes, and
tivities, Sylvia returned to the "reporters" and other forms of nonfiction. Further, Sylvia
asked them to create immigrant booklets. The to develop a sense of community in
packets required each student to complete tasks which individual strengths were recognized and
such as creating a passport for the immigrant, appreciated.
describing the immigrant's family, and outlin "The Immigration Drama" was intricate and
ing the immigrant's travel route to the United often difficult. The students were involved in a
States. In the role of a reporter, each child com great deal of writing that required them to shift
piled information about an immigrant. As an im perspectives frequently. They wrote diary en
migrant, each child created his or her own tries, summaries, stories, and letters under the
information and life history. Therefore, each guise of their immigrant and reporter roles. The
child switched between the reporter and immi immigrant booklets were particularly beneficial
grant roles frequently. To ease this transition, the because they required the students to write about
students created a time machine for the "re fictional events in a nonfiction genre. The book
porters" to use. The reporters operated in the pre lets also required the students tomanipulate their
sent, but they used the time machine to become perspectives as well as being a challenge to their

immigrants and the objects of their own study. imaginations.

Concluding the immigrant study. In January, Writing within a drama frame. In the context
the students presented the immigrant study to the of process drama, Sylvia taught the children how

48 The Reading Teacher Vol.54,No.1 September

to write for various purposes and across different Figure 10
genres. Immigrantphoto essay
Because Iuse a lotof drama, Ithink Igetmore formsofwrit
ing....For example,...when[thestudents]write a letterto the
government, they'redoing itas reporterswho aremaking a
documentaryon an [immigrant]....[Drama]gives thema ra
tionaleand a reasonfor theirwriting. (Jenifer'sinterview

Sylvia, 11-15)

Ironically, the real purposes for writing were cre

ated within an imaginary context. Therefore,
some might argue that the purposes for writing
were not authentic because the students' writing
was not used in real life or for real audiences.
To explain this contradiction, we revisited
the conditions under which the peace diaries
were created. If the peace diaries were actual di _4)?kk__?UMe S Would ^?>
aries, the children should have selected their own ?Oi?e.??-ik,zzti:::;z:. :;:_.:
topics. But the students were given a topic on
which to write; therefore, this writing event ap
pears to be another example of teacher-prescribed
writing. However, before we accept this conclu
sion, a preliminary question is necessary. Was
the peace diary a real diary? The answer to this
question is a qualified no. The peace diary was
a simulation of a real diary. Real diaries are ini
tiated by the writer; however, Sylvia asked the
students to create the peace diaries. Even though
real diaries are not shared with other people,
Sylvia read the children's entries. Finally, in real
life, diary entries are written at the writer's dis
cretion; however, Sylvia assigned all of the
peace-diary entries. Therefore, the peace diaries
were "pretend" diaries. The students wrote in
role, of a drama, in the context of
in the context
school, where you learn how to write diary en Photo Jackson
by Sylvia
tries, not where you actually write diary entries.
Sylvia used the drama frame to actively teach the
genre and teach writing. She did not give the stu
dents complete freedom because she needed to
use the peace diaries as contexts for instruction.
Within the drama frame, many of the stu
dents' authentic writing situations were actually Figure 11
simulations. However, because the children were Slavery essay
imagining and playing in role, the writing was
real to them. They had a real need for the writing;
only the context was imaginary. Therefore, with + knrr:it> ike /v)r^^ u/'fA t*ug 0?^
in this classroom, process drama was a tool for ^P us.
instruction and learning that supported literacy
development in authentic writing contexts. The ,fcgg?L ti W^'l?, ,L
process-drama writing was authentic because the LJfrtk, r 5/(9l>A /io.
children were writing for real purposes?they

Process drama: A special space and place for writing 49

had a need. The children had real purposes for us helped the students become attuned to them
as selves and their written
ing the genres, but they also needed Sylvia's compositions. Sylvia
sistance to expose them to the techniques of also recognized that process drama created op
within various genre structures. portunities for the children to form opinions, to
Writing from multiple perspectives. Within form ideas, to form relationships?to learn. The
the drama frame, Sylvia exposed the students to students' self-discovery and power excited them,
various forms of writing. In addition, and from their active minds writing usually
used drama to enable the students to flowed.
write and examine their writing from multiple
perspectives. She evoked the students' imagi Final thoughts
nations and placed them in the "mantle of the Process drama led the students into other
expert" (Heathcote & Bolton, 1995). Sylvia places, spaces, and times. Sylvia and the stu
shifted the expertise to the children, and they dents transformed the classroom into imaginary
took over with their questions, opinions, and contexts that required the students to write for
experiences. As the dramas were negotiated, both authentic and invented purposes. For ex
Sylvia guided and supplied the children with ample, in the Peace Valley unit, the students
the information they needed to develop their wrote descriptions about their peace toys so
roles as peace missionaries, reporters, and im Sylvia could actually supply the needed materi
migrants. als. Then they wrote newspaper articles to in

Sylvia's efforts helped build the students' form the "world" about their toys?a simulation

background knowledge and increased their of real-life writing.

the topics from roles with Process drama also provided a context in
ability to understand
in the dramas. Armed with information, the stu which Sylvia presented content area instruction
dents identified with their imagined characters, along with writing instruction. Process drama
which allowed them to view the world from was the prominent feature of Sylvia's writing
multiple perspectives?a necessary ability for curriculum because through one activity she ac
effective writers (Dyson, 1995; Frank, 1992; complished many of her goals: fostering the stu
Hilgers, 1986; Kroll, 1985;Vygotsky, 1978).
dents' imaginations, teaching children about the
Imagination. The ability to suspend disbelief world, teaching tolerance through other people's
and use one's imagination is necessary in process perspectives, and teaching the functions and
drama work. However, is often rele forms of various written genres.
to the of the curriculum and Throughout the remainder of the year,
gated periphery
viewed as a nonessential as Berthoff Sylvia also initiated other drama units that fo
goal. Yet,
is not merely child's cused on different aspects of the curriculum. For
(1981) stated, imagination
it is central to thinking and writing. example, the students explored Africa to learn
about geography, history, and animals. They also
Ifwe...conceive of literacyas a facility inmakingmeaning in
returned to Peace Valley to establish businesses
readingandwriting,we will need to understandthe heuristic to learn and apply math and economic concepts.
powers of language itself. The chief speculative
Although Sylvia spent a portion of the spring, Ibelieve, the imagination. Ithas to be re
preparing students for the state standardized
claimed. ..rescuedfrom the creativitycornerand returnedto
tests, the students' learning continued to focus on
the centerof all thatwe do.... Reclaimingthe imaginationbe
the major and writing events that
ginswith recognizingitas a name fortheactivemind...a name concepts
forthe form-findingand form-creating power.Such a theoryof Sylvia created through process drama.
imagination help us teach writing...because itcan guide As a result of bringing process drama into
us inseeing howwriting isanalogous to all other forming, her classroom, Sylvia created the opportunity to
(p.28) instruct the students using various techniques.
Both in and out of role, she used whole-group in
Sylvia used imagination and discovery at the struction, modeling, and individual conferences
center of all that she did. She stimulated the stu to instruct the students' writing. Sylvia interact
dents' imaginations and allowed them to direct ed with the students as their teacher, but also as
their learning through drama. With every deci different imagined characters. The drama work
sion and through every experience, Sylvia took the students outside themselves and their

50 The Reading Teacher 2000

Vol.54,No.1 September
classroom and into unique spaces and places for Frank,L. (1992).Writing to be read:Young writers' ability to
demonstrate awareness
audience when evaluated by their
writing; spaces and places that were imaginary, readers. Research in the Teaching of English, 26,277-298.
playful, engaging, and also authentic. Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind. New York: HarperCollins.
Heathcote, D., & Bolton, G. (1995). Drama for learning.
Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Hilgers, T.L. (1986). How children change as critical evaluators
Schneider teaches at theUniversity
anddoes research of of writing: Four three-year case studies. Research in the

SouthFlorida Tampa. Shemaybe contacted at
there 4202 Teaching of English, 20,36-55.
Iser,W. (1978). The act of reading. Baltimore: JohnsHopkins
? FowierAvenue, FDU162,Tampa, FL33620,USA.Jackson University Press.
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The development of audience-adapted writing skills. Research
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Marshall, C, & Rossman, G.B. (1995). Designing qualitative
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Process drama: A special space and place for writing