1st Edition

Drama at the Heart of English Transforming Practice in the Secondary Classroom

By Theo Bryer, Maggie Pitfield, Jane Coles Copyright 2024
    180 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    180 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Drama at the Heart of English is unique in its exploration of drama’s potential to revitalise English as a secondary school subject. It focuses specifically on the value and inclusive nature of educational drama practices in the reading of literary, dramatic and multimodal texts in the English classroom.

    Examples from the authors’ research show English teachers working in the drama-in-English mode with real learners as part of their everyday classroom activity. Challenging current curriculum and assessment constraints, the authors argue that drama-in-English pedagogy re-establishes English as a creative, imaginative and interactive subject. This book:

    • offers a blend of theory and practice to demonstrate the powerful potential of drama-in-English
    • proposes that drama is a uniquely sustainable form of learning in English when fully integrated into the daily work of classroom teachers
    • highlights the intrinsic connection that exists between drama and the playful qualities of literary texts
    • analyses landmark moments and key policy shifts that have shaped the development of the relationship between drama and English over time

    This resource is for all educators interested in and passionate about the field of English and Language Arts. It is a must-read for the international academic community of researchers, practitioners, teacher-educators and teachers of English, as well as student-teachers of English/Media/Drama.

    1. Introduction  2. Drama in English: A historical perspective  3. Drama-in-English frameworks  4. Reading and role  5. Drama and writing  6. ‘Active Shakespeare’: A special case?  7. Multimodal meaning-making through digital media  8. The formation of English teachers  9. Conclusions


    Theo Bryer leads the English with Drama PGCE at UCL’s Institute of Education and works on the MA English Education programme.

    Maggie Pitfield is an experienced English and Drama teacher and the former Head of Educational Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London.

    Jane Coles is a former Head of English and recently led the MA English Education programme at UCL’s Institute of Education.

    "This welcome and relevant book powerfully articulates and advocates for the place of drama ‘at the heart of English’ in secondary schools. The authors, all experts in the field, consider the political, historical and social dimensions of drama within English teaching drawing on a strong theoretical framework rooted in Vygotsky and grounded in everyday classroom pedagogies. The book traces the complex relationship between drama and English over time, analysing specific policy shifts which shaped perspectives about the role of drama teaching within English. Then we move to the authors’ theoretical framing for the development of their ‘drama-in English pedagogy’. Classrooms come to life as they share approaches and examples from their own experience as teachers, teacher educators and researchers before closing with a persuasive mandate for drama in English and its potential for creative, joyful and intellectually stimulating classroom encounters between children and the texts they read. This is a must-read book for all involved in English teaching."

    Jo McIntyre, Professor of Education, University of Nottingham

    "At a time when applications to study English at higher level are falling and students report their dissatisfaction with their experience of studying it, comes this book to help teachers to show their students that literature is ultimately about human experience and that drama as a pedagogy is about engaging effectively with that experience to make it memorable and meaningful. but that helps to contextualise the problems we’ve encountered as a profession as we’ve struggled to match the ideological demands of politicians with the very human needs of our students. This book will help you to navigate that path and find a mode of resistance."

    Debra Kidd, Teacher and Author

    "There is no other book quite like this, to my knowledge: its breadth, depth and intellectual rigour mark it out. Breadth: in its insistence on "an expanded view of English, one that integrates English, drama and media". Depth: in its profound understanding of the contribution drama can make to literacy and learning, historically situated and grounded in long experience of classrooms . Rigor: in its agile deployment of theory, and its bridge building between dramatic play and engagement with literary narrative. It rings with the voices of young people and teachers, and with the dramatic autobiographies of its authors. Properly critical of a contemporary context which threatens the arts in education, it also shows how the liberating outcomes of drama are not antithetical to exam success. It should be required reading for all who aspire to teach English, and to research it."

    Andrew Burn, Professor of English, Drama and Media, University College London Institute of Education

    "As a secondary school English teacher, I sometimes worry that drama activities are a fun but frivolous break from the more ‘serious business’ of classwork. However, the many examples that this book gives of a drama-based approach to reading convincingly illustrate that this playful, joyful engagement with the text is also powerfully rigorous in developing critical, confident and sensitive readers. This is underscored by the cogent exploration of the theoretical and pedagogical underpinnings of drama-in-English, which, while historically situated in a British context, has core concepts which are relevant to classrooms around the world. The authors’ keen understanding of both learners’ and teachers’ experiences resonated deeply with me and made their advocacy of drama-based pedagogy even more persuasive – plus, they gave me a lots of ideas that I can’t wait to try with my students."

    Erin Woodford, English Practitioner-Researcher, Singapore

    "Deftly combining theory and practice, Bryer, Pitfield and Coles show how an embedded form of drama can enhance all aspects of secondary English, particularly in respect of reading and writing – whilst, crucially, arguing that drama-in-English draws on professional skills that English teachers already possess. What’s more, the authors demonstrate that this approach promotes critical reflection, creativity and learner autonomy – facets of English that are somewhat neglected in the current curriculum. This refreshing take on English pedagogy really made me pause and reflect on my own teaching practice!"

    Meera Chudasama, English, Media and Film Studies Teacher, Milton Keynes

    "This is a timely call to action for English teachers. Numbers studying English are declining; to re-engage young people we must revitalise how we teach it and create more space for joy in learning. Drama at the Heart of English makes a compelling case for how to do this so that creativity, critical thought, empathy and resilience are developed alongside a love of English. in a post pandemic landscape this book provides ways to connect students with English. It is essential reading for English departments, ITE English courses and English subject associations."

    Maria Avellano, Assistant Headteacher, Furze Platt Senior School, Maidenhead

    “I very much enjoyed reading this important book.  It took me back to key thinkers who had such a profound influence on my own teaching practice – Barnes, Britton, Vygotsky, Iser – and many more – not as a summary, but as a re-interpretation of their work which is fresh and novel.  The links between Drama and English (subjects both rooted in the imagination, which, as the authors note, Vygotsky says is the foundation of the ‘entire world of human culture, as distinct from the world of nature’) are so intelligently and carefully explained, making the authors’ argument utterly convincing. Read and enjoy!”

    Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary, National Education Union (NEU)

    “Busy English teachers need relevant research about teaching and learning to be both synthesised clearly and linked effectively to what we could and should be doing in our classrooms. Drama at the Heart of English is one of those rare books that succeeds in these dual aims. Its authors draw on a wealth of historical and contemporary evidence to support their passionate belief that Drama is a vital tool in motivating our students and raising their attainment. Their argument is all the more convincing because it is supported by descriptions of its practical application in real classrooms with a range of learners. This book will enhance and improve your teaching!”

    Moira Nolan, English Teacher and Advanced Skills Teacher, Sydney