The story, ‘The Selfish Giant’ by Oscar Wilde, was introduced in the taught module, demonstrated the kind of art and drama activities that a powerful story can stimulate and engage the audience meaningfully. The scheme of work emphasised on the children’s creativity, imagination and involvement in dramatising. The plot of the story was introduced by imagining a big garden, free for all children to play and have fun in. Participants were then engaged in creating play space and activities in the garden. Ample time was given to explore the garden. The story continued with the giant coming back from a long vacation and did something drastic- the sign ‘No Children Allowed’ was placed outside the garden. This was followed by a series of brainstorming on the reason for the giant to reject the children. To appease the giant, ideas of gifts and presents were suggested. Instead of receiving these gifts with gladness, the giant reacted strongly. The following will indicate two art disciplines as well as the responses of children as they participate in this dramatisation and art.
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Principles and Approaches
Instead of the usual approach of storytelling, a key principle of drama is to allow children to perform (Winston and Tandy, 2009) and be part of it. Children can be engaged in different characters, in different scenarios, performing individually or collectively, in a less rigidly defined (Winston and Tandy, 2009, p. 5) space and character. Through the drama conducted in a class setting, children can explore the different parts of the garden alone or with their friends, staying in their play space or exploring others, accompanied with encouragement and positive comments from the teacher.
Dramas are platforms for children to adapt and perform real life scenarios and behaviours of characters. They assimilated the children in the story to be themselves in real life, doing the things they often do and behaving as they would. Transferring fiction to real life, it ‘reflects more securely upon issues which have significant effects upon our daily lives.’ (Winston and Tandy, 2009, p.3). The selfish giant depicted the adults in real life, and the children having the mindset that they are being controlled by them. The children’s good intention of bringing gifts to the giant was unappreciated. The issues raised up and behaviours observed are hardly mentioned or elaborated through storytelling. Dramatisation brings about a different dynamics for issues to surface and discussed upon.
The play space for children to dramatise is the classroom. Instead of the everyday function of the classroom, it transformed into a dramatic space, representing the garden, the house, the place to prepare gifts. As Winston and Tandy, 2009, p. 4 states, ‘through play, children learn to manipulate the core elements of drama’. The rules of time, space and identity was suspended (Winston and Tandy, 2009), and drama time became elastic. The ticking of a few minutes was equivalent to a span of a few years with the mention that the giant came back after a long vacation.
The other key principle is setting a common stage for all children to understand and abide by the rules. The rules can be informed explicitly or agreed upon implicitly. For the drama to succeed and driven towards achieving common purposes, both teachers and children must be clear and agree in following the rules, which are not binding nor restrictive (Winston and Tandy, 2009). The indication to end the time playing in the garden was clearly brought across when the teacher sits on the chair. This is a new approach apart from the usual clapping of hands, gathering or attention through calling out. As Winston, 2009, p. 5 clearly puts it,
‘its success will depend upon the children knowing what is expected of them and appreciating the rewards that come from doing it well, the rewards inherent to the experience of genuine engagement in a dramatic event’
(Winston and Tandy, 2009, p. 5)
Many children enjoy drama because it has a playful element in it. When people die, nobody actually dies; when someone feels hurt, nobody is actually hurt. Children are able to distinguish the difference between the scenes that happen in a daily routine and the conventions of play, understanding and accepting the boundaries (Winston and Tandy, 2009). For example, in a real life setting, it is rather unlikely for someone to throw or destroy gifts. However, in the dramatisation, when the giant received presents, instead of being thankful, he tore and smashed them. The children found it all amusing and know that it was not for real. Thus, drama and play comes hand in hand, ‘it is their innate capacity for play….., the understandings they gain from participating…., that dramatic activity can be constructed. (Winston and Tandy, 2009,p. 3). Also echoed by Swanwick, 1988,p 41, ‘play soon becomes imaginative and ‘subjects things to the child’s activity’.
Evaluation of results
In a usual classroom setting, children are kept seated on the floor for a period of time, with little movement emphasised and usually, driving towards an academic approach. Children were all getting ready and one child was wondering aloud why the teacher was without a story book.
The story began with a big garden that all children can play in. This garden belongs to the giant and it was empty. Children were encouraged to imagine one thing they would like to have in this garden and imitate the movement of it. If a child would like to have a swimming pool in the garden, he can reach forward with his arms and swim. With this, children are transferring the things they are experiencing in real life into play and drama. Many children were able to make correct guesses of their friends’ actions. With rules of noise level and space, children were clear of the boundaries and limitations in order to achieve a common goal. Exploration in the garden ended when the teacher sat on the chair. Every child was given the opportunity to share about their favourite activity.
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As the story proceeded, the children were puzzled to know that the garden was out of bounds. They were praised for their good behaviour and maintenance of the garden and equipment and none of them broke any rules. They were eager to find out what made the giant angry and the preparations of gifts were suggested. Many of them had suggestions and they were divided into groups to prepare it. They were given scrap materials to create the present they had in mind. Without any direction from the teacher, they put their ideas at work and each produced their gifts. With all enthusiasm that the giant would be pleased upon receiving, they were wrong. Such twist in the story thrilled the children as it differs from the structured and kept them in suspense about the end of the story.
During the interview with the giant, the children shifted from one dimension that the teacher is the narrator to the teacher as the giant. In the interview, the giant voiced his unhappiness that children are noisy, they always cry, they do not wash their hands after using the toilet, they are liars etc.. The children’s strong objection caused a child to come forward and hit the ‘giant’. Such behaviour is inappropriate in a classroom setting and children will get disciplined for it. For the child to do that, he was fully engrossed into the story and responded appropriately.
The story ended and it was toileting time. One child came out of the toilet showing the teacher that he washed his hands. This child actually remembered the reason the giant gave for not allowing any children in. He identified himself as the children in the story and the teacher as the giant. This response from the child shows that dramatisation is a form of education and should be included in the curriculum. Instead of having to remind them about the washing of their hands, a play through this story works it all well.
As much as acknowledging and understanding the benefits of having drama in the curriculum, there post a great constraint- time. For drama to take place and for it to deepen and develop further, time is usually the hindering factor. Thus, it takes pedagogist of each act. In conclusion, as Winston and Tandy, 2009, p.58 states, ‘ drama gives these stories a form and shape which can make them engaging, thought provoking and exciting for the children who are part of it…’.
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