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My Journey into Drama Education

潘燕芳Joyce Poon/香港教師戲劇會執委/資深中學英文教師


My teenage hobby was dancing : Chinese Dance, Ballet, Jazz and so on. I loved performing the dance steps and let the audience enjoy the performance. What about Drama? I had no idea. Was it another form of performing art, like dancing? Finally, I got a chance to know it. It was nine years ago in the year 2009.


The beginning

I did not know anything about Drama or Drama in Education until 2009. How did I start to know it? It was the new English Syllabus. Due to the introduction of the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) examinations, there were some new components of the English subject. There was the school-based assessment (SBA). There were the eight electives in the English subject. English teachers were requested to attend seminars or workshops so as to acquire the teaching strategies of these electives. One of the electives was “Learning English through Drama”. Therefore, I tried to attend a course to equip myself for the teaching of this elective


There were several such courses offered by some tertiary institutes in Hong Kong. However, I found this particular course more attractive and interesting. It was not the usual one-day workshop which took up 6 hours. It was a course of 30 contact hours and offered by the Hong Kong Teachers Drama Association. This very course was also the first and the key step of my journey into Drama.


The course of “Learning English through Drama”

The course director was Dr. Wong Lai Ping who was also the chairlady of the Hong Kong Teachers Drama Association. The instructor of the course was Dr. Tsin Tak Shun who was a veteran drama teacher. The course was held on October 9 to October 11, 2009 (15 contact hours) and on October 23 to October 25, 2009 (15 contact hours). During these six evenings, the participants not only acquired some important skills of drama teaching, but also tried out some drama techniques. The course content was fun and practical.


I learnt a lot in this course. It covered all necessary basic knowledge about Drama and made me realize that drama was really a good means of learning a language. Most importantly, my passion and my pursuit for Drama was ignited.


After the completion of the course, I was quite well prepared for the teaching of the elective “Learning English through Drama” in the senior form. However, English teachers have to strike a balance between the teaching of dramatic techniques and the teaching of the English language through doing drama. It is still quite a practical challenge.


Teacher Training on the Creative Teaching Strategies

As I believed that drama could enhance students’ confidence and improve their speaking, I proposed to introduce drama learning in the lower form at my school. I suggested to include a drama unit in our secondary two English syllabus, as well as the secondary three syllabus. However, a controversy was brought forth. How much drama technique, like the acting, the script-writing, the directing ….. should we teach our students? After all, English teachers are not teaching our students to become actors or actresses.


To answer this question, I thought I had to understand more about Drama, as a form of performing art and Drama, as a medium of learning a language. Once again it was the Hong Kong Teachers Drama Association which helped. In 2010, the association organized a five-stage teacher training on creative teaching strategies. I believed that it was quite a pioneer and big project about Drama Education in primary schools.


Unfortunately, I missed the first stage. I joined the second stage in which a number of xworkshops that focused on the physical movements of the body for the use of dramatic performance were held. From then on, I took on an initial interest in acting and drama performance. The third stage was basically a short course which was about using drama creatively in teaching different primary school subjects. It was a pity that I was not able to finish the third stage. Though I quitted the third stage of this project, it did not mean that I lost interest in drama. On the contrary, I wanted to know and do more drama.


The one-year teacher training course

Here came a good chance. In 2012, the Hong Kong Teachers Drama Association offered a one-year teacher training course for teachers who were interested in drama teaching. The course trained the teachers to be instructors of speech and drama. It consisted of twenty concrete lessons from September 2012 to May 2013. Each lesson lasted for 2 hours. A certificate was awarded by the association on the completion of the course. The course also equipped the teachers to apply for the ATCL examination by themselves. ATCL meant the Associate of Trinity College London. 


Without any delay, I immediately enrolled for the course. It was the first time for Dr. Tsin Tak Shun and Dr. Wong Lai Ping to deliver this course and they instilled in me much valuable knowledge about drama. I was also well prepared for the Trinity Guildhall’s diploma examinations in Drama & Speech subjects through their lectures. There were three examinations since the ATCL course covered three units, namely, Unit 1 – Principles of teaching drama, Unit 2 – Teaching experience and Unit 3 – Practical applications.


In my opinion, the examination for unit 1 is the simplest since it is a written test. The examination for unit 3 is the most exciting because the candidate has to prepare a practical lesson for observation. The examiner observes your teaching of drama and gives you constructive comments. Unit 2 examination actually involves two case studies. This unit is the most demanding. You have to design two 10-hour courses, one for a group and one for an individual. You should try out the courses before you submit the case studies which will take the form of a written project of approximately three thousand words in total.


Luckily I was able to pass the three examinations and was awarded the Certificate titled as “the Level 4 Diploma in Teaching, Associate of Trinity College London ATCL, Speech and Drama” by Trinity College London in 2015. It was hard work but it was worth trying.


My Drama Education Tours

As a novice of drama teaching like me, I longed to have an opportunity to go into a drama class in some overseas schools. It was undeniable that Drama Education in foreign countries was more mature and popular. I really wanted to see how drama could become part of their school curriculum and how a normal drama lesson was conducted. I was very grateful to the Hong Kong Teachers Drama Association for making my dream come true.


In the summer of 2013, I took part in the association’s New Zealand Drama Education Tour. It was a wonderful learning tour and an eye-opening experience for me. During those ten days, from 3rd August to 13th August, I visited three secondary schools and a university. I attended a drama workshop and watched a musical staged by one of the secondary schools. I had a lot of inspiring discussion with some local drama teachers and instructors. I could also have much meaningful chat with students who were learning drama. The tour was very fruitful and I could still remember some of the scenes of the musical.


I learnt that drama was one of the four art forms to make up the Arts which was identified as an essential learning area in the New Zealand Curriculum Framework. Schools tried to develop students’ artistic and creative skills. They believed that the Arts were important to the growth of self-knowledge and self-worth. They encouraged students to investigate their own values and those of the others. They hoped that students were able to recognize the aesthetic and spiritual dimensions of their lives through learning drama. I was totally conformed to all of these values of drama education.


The three secondary schools that I visited upheld these core values of drama education very well. It seemed that drama education played a very important part in their school curriculum. Students from Elim Christian College and Mount Albert Grammar School were very well-behaved and confident. When they were having their drama classes, they would become very active. They got involved in their roles quickly and were not shy to speak out their ideas.


Pakuranga College had a reputation for presenting performances of a very high standard. Her students were very talented. A drama centre had been set up, so cultural events and performances were basically an integral part of the school activities. I was lucky to be able to watch their musical, Barry Manilow’s Copacabana in one of the evenings. It was amazing. The acting, the singing, the dancing and the other elements of a professional performance were found in the musical. It was so impressive.


On the 7th August, I visited the Critical Research Unit in Applied Theatre of the Auckland University. Associate Professor Peter O’Connor was the unit director. After the meeting of the professor and his team, I was extremely happy to understand more about Applied Theatre which actually embraced a variety of theatre practices, like theatre in education, youth theatre, theatre for development and so on. This broadened my horizon of the field of drama.


On the 8th August, I observed a workshop conducted by Mr Stephen Dallow who was the National Programmes Manager of Applied Theatre Consultants Ltd. I was very surprised that theatre and drama could work so well in the community and help in the development of a society.


There was still much for me to explore in Drama and Drama Teaching and joining a drama education tour was very much beneficial to my pursuit of this art form, Drama. Another chance came in 2015.


In 2015, the Hong Kong Teachers Drama Association organized another drama education tour and I could not wait to join it. This time, the destinations were Melbourne and Brisbane in Australia. The tour started on the 27th August and it lasted for six days.


This second drama education tour was even more fruitful than the previous one. I observed a senior secondary drama class at Swinburne Senior Secondary College and paid a visit to Caulfield Grammar Wheeler’s Hill Campus. In the evening of the 31st July, I enjoyed a fantastic musical “Les Miserables” at Wheeler’s Hill. It was memorable. The production was of a super high standard and could be compared to a professional drama show.


During the stay in Melbourne, I attended two Dr. Richard Sallis’ drama classes at the University of Melbourne. Besides these very valuable learning experiences, there was a meeting with two veteran lecturers from the drama department of the Deakin University. They were Dr. Jo Raphael and Ms Helen Sandercoe. Two of them were prestigious drama educationists. I really learnt a lot from their sharing about drama teaching.


Before leaving Melbourne for Brisbane, meetings were arranged between my tour group and the Fusion Theatre and the Drama Victoria. Both groups were local drama organizations which aimed at promoting drama teaching.


I was totally overwhelmed by such an enthusiastic environment for drama and theatre practices in Melbourne. I got the same feeling when I visited the two other schools and met the Drama Queensland Executive in Brisbane. I was also deeply impressed by the effort made by Dr. Mcdonna from the Griffith University in nurturing drama instructors for drama education.


All in all, these two tours were my real journey into Drama. I was not only enriched with drama knowledge, but also encouraged to do more drama and drama teaching in the future. Therefore, I decided to try acting on the stage and implementing drama activities in my regular teaching at school.


Acting on the stage

My passion for drama was fostered bit by bit with more and more drama knowledge. I also realized that drama was truely an enchanting art form. Once you started to know it, your love for it would grow. It was very enjoyable to do drama.


The Hong Kong Teachers Drama Association holds an annual performance every year. I would like to grab this chance to polish my acting and performing skills. Moreover, through working out one production, you will understand more about drama.


Therefore, I took part in some of these annual performances like《波離城》,《畫皮》,《Ladies and Ladies》and《瘋子》. Participation in these productions not only enhanced my understanding of drama, but also nurtured my ability to appreciate this very art form.


I trust that if I have to teach drama at school, I had better get some more concrete experience of performance so that I can share it with my students. Through the sharing and discussion, students may be able to feel the interest and the appeal of the art form.


Drama teaching by trial and error

On the other hand, those educational essences and values of drama teaching were still lingering in my mind. Drama teaching should be worth being a part of the whole-person education. Learning about drama would be favourable to students. This was my belief. I would like to introduce drama and facilitate drama teaching wherever I could.


I was pleased that my secondary two and three students could undergo some drama learning since the drama units in the English syllabuses were well planned and effectively designed at my school. Moreover, secondary four students in my school had to do the elective "Learning English through Drama" and they had to stage a drama show at the end of the school year. I was fortunate that I could use drama as a good means of teaching English language.


Furthermore, a number of my students had become so fond of doing drama that we were able to set up an English Drama Club at school. Though we would not prepare for any kind of drama competitions, we tried practising drama skills in our meetings and staging drama shows whenever it was possible.


It was inevitable that there were obstacles for me to overcome when I pushed forward drama teaching at school; but I hoped that through these activities, I could instill a fondness towards drama in more of my students.


The destination of my journey

I think there is not an end to my journey into Drama since there is still so much to learn about it. You can never master an art form perfectly. It takes time to perfect one's dramatic techniques and there is always room for improvement. And if drama is used as a tool to teach and learn, there will be unlimited ways to manipulate it so as to achieve some definite educational objectives.


As a result, the destination of my journey becomes a goal for my pursuit of understanding the relationship between Drama and Drama in Education.

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