Educators facing virtual roadblocks – Mixed feelings about teaching speech and drama online

Written by on January 3, 2021

The rush to move performance courses online is over but there are still educators in the field who are facing challenges with the new norm of distance learning, most of which has to do with fostering self-expression in students virtually, says speech and drama teacher Kemesha Bolton.

Throughout the first term, Bolton explains to The Gleaner, “There were several hurdles we had to jump over, but the main two would be the distractions within home environments and for the students, who were unable to plan and act scenes out together.

“I found that the students were facing many emotional challenges being isolated and the need for them to express these emotions was recognised. So, one way to overcome that was to allow them to use drama class to share their frustrations which had to include writing and general reasoning in the groups,” she added.

The speech and drama teacher accepts the challenge of online school and says children who were in their comfort zones participated more, while face-to-face, this would have proven difficult.

“I saw more self-expression from my students who would do otherwise in the classroom. I would prefer to continue virtual school for another year and hopefully strike a balance,” she said, pointing out that the school she is employed to will continue distance learning for the second and third terms.

USING PROPS

Another private school educator, Akeem Mignott, who recently received a Prime Minister’s Youth Award for Excellence for his contribution to arts and culture, says distance learning for drama requires a lot more resources. “We have now seen where we can move from face-to-face into the virtual space by using more props — from hats to toys, costumes and other things within their space. Some children may feel ridiculous acting by themselves, but the key is not to force them. I teach kindergarten to Grade 6, so, especially with younger ones I try to be [overly-animated]. Normally I am an eight, but now I am a 15 on the animated scale.”

The Hillel Academy-based Mignott, who was in London working with a youth theatre group as part of a master’s degree programme when the world became aware of an imminent pandemic, says that, like every other institution, “with speech and drama, the aesthetics were very different; it’s not structured ramping as some may think, the virtual classroom pushes specialist educators to be even more flexible and innovative with their approach to the teaching and learning process.”

“I started working with the group hands on then realised London was going to lockdown. It prepared me for what was to come when I returned home. I was familiar with a combination of face-to-face and virtual with the use of instructional media and technology prior to the pandemic, but this is unlike what we were used to,” he continued.

TRIAL AND ERROR

Tertiary institutions like the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVPA), which specialises in performance courses, encountered several physical roadblocks online, says Dorraine Reid, the head of Drama in Education at the School of Drama.

First, the pandemic hit in the middle of the school year, which meant any work being done on the final-year show would have been put on pause — and eventually cancelled.

“Normally, School of Drama would have four productions for the year; two are done in the first semester and these are not only for entertainment but for assessment purposes which proved challenging, in fact, the entire term has ended without a proper production,” Reid told The Gleaner.

She added, “It required a lot of exploration into teaching methodologies and students, likewise the lecturers got overwhelmed. Some of the challenges laid in connectivity, some of our students are in remote areas. We had one student share a video of her on the roof trying to get stable connection, and where persons are sharing their space with others who are [also] doing virtual classes. For performance-based courses, which require the students to get physically active, using their bodies and space, it was difficult.”

Another area of impact is teaching practice she says, as schools restructured classes for distance learning the model of having students integrated into the institutions became unfeasible.

“Arts is so integrated. We’ve had to make allowances and accommodate students based on their challenges adopting to the new space. So, as we continue virtually for now, there is continuous dialogue as the intention is to try teaching practice in an online space. Those details will be finalised with the ministry this week,” she said. “It is a whole gymnastics for performance-based courses, not only arts like dance and drama, but all courses that usually require the physical and practical element of study. We have to look into how students at schools like GC Foster College are coping as well. Teamwork played an important role, sharing information with colleagues and getting ourselves retooled; as artists we are resilient and creative so we find ways to make it work without compromising the quality and team.

stephanie.lyew@gleanerjm.com

Story appeared first at Jamaica-Gleaner.com


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