My time in Ekinözü ended in a performance by the workshop participants for the remainder of the school. Many of the students were curious of the drama classes that their peers had been taking part in so it was a wonderful opportunity to share the experience. All of the performances were created by the students themselves over the two-week residency. The special needs class did a performance ‘MEVSİMLER’ (Seasons) which was about what they did every season. One student audience member commented on their performance (translated from Turkish):
‘My favourite part of the show was ‘Mevsimler’ because we saw that our friends with special needs could do a performance and they were a good example to us all.’
The head teacher of the school, Ümit Türkan, when asked if he though drama was a beneficial subject to this class said (translated from Turkish):
‘When explaining the seasons to a child with special needs they may struggle with the concept, but by living the seasons through the use of drama and sensory stimuli we can immediately see how they are able to retain more information. This shows the importance of learning through drama. Drama teaches children to learn through living.’
The mixed mainstream group told the story of Snow White and also a story they wrote about two children who ran away from school (The story of Ayşe and Emre). Even their version of Snow White was originally created through improvisation. As I mentioned in my last post improvisation was something that the students struggled with as they are used to being told facts in class and this new freedom of thought was daunting to them. As the second week of the residency went on however they became more confident in giving their own ideas. One student talks about why she enjoyed creating an original story (translated from Turkish):
‘I liked it that we wrote the story ourselves… we wrote about children running away from school. We are warning children of what may happen if they run away. We are teaching a lesson to students who run away, I think this is a good thing’.
The girls group told the story of Cinderella through frozen images and the story of ‘The August Beetle and the Ants’ through frozen images and English narration. Image theatre uses the human body as a tool of representing feelings, ideas, and relationships. The performance of Cinderella was a great demonstration of this as the students were able to embody emotions and display these emotions through their facial expressions and physicality alone. Snow White and ‘The story of Ayşe and Emre’ were also originally created by the students through frozen images but as soon as dialogue was added to these images the players would get nervous and forget their images as they would focus purely on the words. As a facilitator this taught me to not be afraid of working with frozen images for an even longer period of time. This can be tricky though as students are often desperate to begin using dialogue as that is what they see as ‘real’ theatre. (post continued below)
Image: The ugly sisters in Cinderella (you can watch the whole performance of Cinderella in images here)
What has been great about the residency at Ekinözü YİBO is how much the staff believe that drama has a place in the current Turkish curriculum. In my last post I discussed how the old Turkish curriculum system used to be based on memorising facts and how schools are struggling to move away from this. The school computer teacher, Özgür Önün, spoke about how he felt drama was beneficial to the students (translated from Turkish):
‘There is this thing with us- we learn everything through writing and we answer everything in writing. The one thing that is missing in this system you brought to life. This is that when children learn something new they should live the situation first- this way they will remember it forever. The place they were at on your first day of work and where they are at now are completely different. They have started to believe in themselves and they are aware of this change and in such short period of time they have started to learn through living.’
What Özgür describes as being positive in the project, learning through living, is exactly what the Turkish education system is currently trying to achieve. The head teacher of the school states (translated from Turkish):
‘Drama classes work well with our education system. When I look at our curriculum for 7-14 year olds I can see that drama fits in- to learn through life experiences. Drama is a class that all our teachers should be able to give, or it should be a subject that the students can choose.’
The irony is that even though the school staff can clearly see the benefits of drama in education that there are still not the time and resources for it to be included into the school day. What this has shown me is that understanding the benefits of the project and learning about the techniques used does not equal project sustainability. One of my objectives of the project was ‘to train teachers on how they can use drama in their curriculum.’ The hurdle in this aim is that there are simply not enough hours in a teachers day to include drama within the curriculum that they need to teach for students to pass their exams. For a school to continue teaching drama classes would mean a teacher having to take it on an extra after school activity which is a big commitment for them or for the curriculum to change so that there is room for drama education within it. When a school as open-minded as Ekinözü YİBO has been unable to maintain sustainability from this project it has made me question if there is a way that I can adapt this project so that there is a bigger chance of sustainability.
All that said my time in Ekinözü was an extremely positive experience and once again I would like to thank the English teacher, Ozan Özdemir, for inviting me to his school. His thoughts on the experience were (translated from Turkish):
‘Students have felt themselves progress throughout this project… I hope that the children will remember this feeling and that they will stay happy and continue to be successful. Right now their pockets are full and this will be an experience that they will not forget.’
The feeling is mutual.