A CLU Graduate School of Education initiative to use drama techniques to teach any school subject won this year’s Ventura County Arts Council Art Stars Award for Arts Education. The award for Project ACT, launched in 2008 with a $1 million U.S. Department of Education grant, was presented on Oct. 3.
Under the program, based on 15 years of research by associate professor of education Michael McCambridge and professor emerita Julia Sieger, teachers incorporate drama into their lesson plans. Instead of sitting for quizzes, children demonstrate that they’ve understood a science unit or a short story with movements, pantomime or improvisation.
“It’s not about acting. It’s about using these techniques to teach the content,” explained McCambridge. He and Sieger found that “the more active [the students] are, the better they understand the concepts.”
Project ACT (Active, Collaborative, Transformative) has been expanding beyond elementary schools in Moorpark to other parts of Ventura County and, this year, to middle schools.
On the morning before the awards presentation, McCambridge was at Los Cerritos Middle School in Thousand Oaks observing two English classes. Seventh-graders posed in a series of dramatic tableaus that they invented to illustrate the opening chapter of Lois Lowry’s The Giver. Their teacher, Gina Mandell, M.Ed. ’06, has been learning McCambridge’s drama-centered
approach for three years.
“It’s kinesthetic, it’s visual, it’s auditory learning – so all modalities are being accessed,” she said.
McCambridge pointed out that Mandell’s students were given time to talk with one another about the chapter and then to plan their tableaus. “Studies show that students talk to each other about three minutes a day,” he said. “Here, they talk to each other constantly.”