Frozen Light

Since 2012 Tell me a Tale has focused its resources on setting up Frozen Light, a theatre initiative that creates multi-sensory theatre productions for audiences with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities.  Frozen Light has been fortunate to receive grants from The Arts Council England and Tell me a Tale has also received grants from trusts and foundations to support Frozen Light. These foundations include: The RTR Foundation; D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust; The Odin Foundation; Truemark Trust; John Thaw Foundation; Mercers Charitable Trust; Bruce Wake Foundation; Stanley Thomas Johnson Foundation.

In 2014 Frozen Light toured its first show, Tunnels, to 18 theatre venues across the UK and in Autumn 2015 it will be touring a new show The Forest.

Frozen Light -@ The Arts Centre -84

Psychosocial mental health training and applied performance

Last week I attended a course in ‘Training Skills for Trainers of Psychosocial and Mental Health Workers in Countries Affected by Emergencies’ at the American University in Cairo.  The course was run by Dr Nancy Baron.  Nancy has provided consultation, assessment, training, program design and development, research and evaluation for UN organizations and international and local NGOs in community and family focused psychosocial, mental health and peace building initiatives for conflict and post-conflict countries.

In the six days we did everything from lectures to simulations to role-play to participatory presentations.  As a theatre practitioner it was interesting to see how role-play can be used in a purely educational rather than in a performance setting in a non cringe worthy style.

One of the most powerful messages that I learnt from the course was to always use a country’s or community’s own resources first.  Even though this sounds simple it is often forgotten when individuals and organisations rush to a country where there has been a disaster and impose their own country’s ‘systems’. These are often inappropriate and undermine existing community structures or traditional support systems.

We looked at the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings.  The IASC is the primary mechanism for inter-agency coordination of humanitarian assistance involving key UN and non-UN humanitarian partners.  These guidelines were created to ‘enable humanitarian actors and communities to plan, establish and coordinate a set of minimum multi-sectoral responses to protect and improve people’s mental health and psychosocial well-being in the midst of an emergency’.  The guidelines show a 4 stage intervention pyramid for mental health support- the 2nd stage being most relevant to the work that I do: Community and Family supports.  This layer focuses on aiding communities with social networks, communication and coping methods, educational and livelihood activities which is where an arts program could fit into.

During the course I was coincidentally reading the second chapter of James Thompson’s ‘Performance Affects- applied theatre and the end of effect’ which focuses on the politics of performance in war, disaster and crisis sites.  Although I find that this book has a tendency to show an extremely negative view on many aspects of applied performance there are many examples given of how many practitioners go into ‘disaster zones’ and do not respect cultural boundaries. When it comes to creating community programs it argues that we need to focus on cultural strengths.  Thompson suggests that:

‘We should approach a crisis from a position of respecting the paradoxical responses within communities rather than importing simple and singular means for their resolution’.

This particular chapter is dramatically entitled ‘The End of Story?’ in reference to the countless theatre projects that have forced people to tell their stories as a part of their ‘healing’ process and not respecting cultural beliefs of how that may affect a specific person or a whole community.

Instead Thompson talks about the importance of embracing local arts practices such as traditional dance etc and supporting them:

…’the focus for performance and cultural activists should be to enhance and support them.  We should accept their pragmatics rather than arrive with manuals of our own.’

This fits in nicely with IASC guidelines of supporting communities.

Interestingly the issue of forcing people to tell their stories is something that also came up in Dr Baron’s course and how many therapists used to do this although it is now strongly discouraged.  It reminded me of my own experiences, specifically of those working in prison and detention where participants are quite often either desperate to ‘tell their story’ or want ignore it completely.  Whilst teaching art in detention many participants who came to Australia by boat would quite often paint pictures of boats (even if the focus of the class had been on still life) and other participants would be furious at all the people drawing boats because they wanted to forget the boats.  It was a great example of how people who have been through similar situations will want to deal with them in very different ways- which is one of the challenges that a facilitator needs to always be aware of.

Although Thompson also states that he does not think that ‘theatre practitioners should only be interested in the performance of non-stories’ he does err on the side of caution of Boal techniques and Playback Theatre, which focus a lot of participants ‘issues’.  My argument here would be that anytime that I have witnessed either of these methods used have been in situations where participants were invited to tell stories and never forced.  Saying that I’m sure there have been time that this has not always been true.  I am also looking forward to reading more of Thompson’s book and I am possibly naively holding out for some stories of positivity.  I’m looking forward to the ‘Do’s’ rather than the ‘Don’ts’.

I have only touched upon the course in Cairo which taught me much much more, but in terms of applied performance and the work that Tell me a Tale does, being aware of the cultures we are working with are crucial.  I found this particularly whilst I was in Turkey.  Even through I’m half Turkish I found myself and my work being misunderstood so much and I think had I been working in collaboration with a Turkish theatre company the work would have been more accessible and thus more sustainable.  The practicality and financial questions that that throws up is something completely different- but is certainly something to think about.

With classmates on the Nile

Village school in Gümüshane

The final residency of Tell me a Tale in Turkey took place in a village school in Gümüşhane, a small province in North Eastern Turkey in the Black Sea region.  I was keen to take the project to a village school as I had heard so much about them since my arrival in Turkey.

When teachers graduate from university they are required to sit an identical government exam (whether their subject is music or maths) which determines if they will be able to work for the state school system. All government employees are expected to carry out ‘doğu görev’ (eastern duty).  This is where they are placed in a more ‘disadvantaged’ area for 3-5 years (the more disadvantaged the area the shorter your duty).  Although the name suggests that these areas are all in the east they can in fact be all over Turkey and are in general small towns and villages rather than cities.  The only way to finish your ‘doğu görev’ early is if you have a spouse who works elsewhere and then you can apply to move near them- this results in many teachers marrying young and even organising marriages of convenience.  Most ‘class teachers’ (general education teachers for children between 7-11) start their career in village schools.  Some of the village schools are for as little as 30 pupils where all students aged 7-11 are in the same classroom and their one teacher is also the school principal.   Most of the time these class teachers have just graduated and are therefore inexperienced teachers.  At the boarding school I went to in Ekinözü many of the students had previously attended village schools and they themselves said that the education they got at Ekinözü YİBO, a larger school, was much better.

Altınpinar İlköğretim Okul is a village school in the town Torul.  It has 100 pupils (including a reception class) and has around 10 teachers many whom also work part-time at another village school in the area.  I was working with the reception class and also with two 10-13 year old groups.  Something that has surprised me during this project in Turkey is the difficulty that young people have in expressing themselves and giving their own ideas and opinions.  It was interesting to see that when working with the reception class (6 year olds) the children quite confidently created a story about a school of fish scared of other sea creatures.  They suggested that the fish could disguise themselves with masks to combat their fear. In general the children were keen to give ideas to create the story. We then made papier-mache masks which could be used within the story.  This also highlights the importance of exploring other arts practices even when the focus is on drama.  In the work I do with children with special needs I often combine music, dance and art with drama but sometimes forget the possibilities this creates when working with mainstream groups.







Working with the older group of 10-13 year olds I came across many of the similar issues with students in the other schools from this project.  I would even say that students in this school struggled more when it came to improvisation and creating characters.  This could possibly be due to the fact that they live in a remote location and are not as socially active as children from larger towns.  Around 25 of the schools students were ‘taşımılar’ meaning ‘daily travelling’.  Their much smaller village school had closed the previous year and they now travel daily to Altınpinar to go to school there (many of the smaller village schools in Turkey have started to combine to create better education opportunities).  These students found the drama workshops even more challenging and once again this made me wonder if coming from a smaller village they socialised even less thus affecting their ability to express themselves.  However it was also interesting to compare them to the reception class and wonder what exactly it was that between the ages of 6-10 that made the children become much more fearful of their own imaginations and how are we able help them use their ideas with confidence once again?

What was wonderful to see however from the children at this school was the sheer excitement of attending school.  All of the teachers live in a town called Torul, 8km from the village and travel in everyday by a bus service.  Every day as the bus pulled into the school playground the students would run up to it with excitement and say to each teacher with delight ‘good morning teacher!’  I saw this every day for 2 weeks and each morning we were greeted as enthusiastically as the last.  How wonderful it was to have children so eager to learn and so happy to be at school.  Even though they struggled with the new experiences that the drama classes brought them they never lost interest or enthusiasm.  There were times that I felt frustrated with their challenges to give ideas and opinions but every day they would try harder and harder.  I would say out of all of the mainstream schools I went to, these students struggled the most but their ambition to learn was greater.  I think the frustration that I felt could have been seeing how much effort the students were making but I felt that their ‘progression’ was much slower.  They still however created 6 dynamic plays within the two weeks to perform to the rest of the school and the local community.  If anything this school highlighted the importance needing more creativity in the education system in Turkey.  Drama can be such an important tool in developing social skills and self-confidence which are always essential but more so if the children decide to move to larger towns or cities.  The aspiration to learn is so strong and it is a great shame that the resources are not.

My time in Turkey has now come to an end.  In the next few months I will be writing a research paper on the project.  At the start of the project I had hoped that I would get a strong understanding of the Turkish education system but instead I feel that I have just skimmed the surface.  What I can say with confidence though is that although the new curriculum has a focus on ‘learning through living’ this is not yet widely practiced in schools and to improve this drama certainly could and should have a place within the education system.


Secondary education in Turkey comes in the form of a lise, this is a school that lasts for four years after ilköğretim (primary school) which finishes at age 14. The Turkish education system is very exam heavy and the last couple years of ilköğretim are spent preparing for the exams which will determine which lise you go to. The different kinds of lise’s are: meslek lise (profession schools); anadolu lise (which you need to score good exam marks to get into); or a genel lise (which you can get into with any exam marks).  Anadolu lise’s have an hour longer school day than genel lise’s and in the first year there is a strong emphasis on English.  The government are currently making all of the lise’s meslek or anadolu within the next few years.

The school I worked at in Sivas, in the central eastern region of Turkey, was one of the few genel lise’s left in the area.  It is a lise funded by the Turkish lottery and the department of education in Sivas thought that the project would suit is as it is one of the more ‘disadvantaged’ schools in the area.  The school is a bit outside of the city centre and for many families who want to move away from villages and closer to the city it is a half way point before house prices rise too much.

The school counsellor chose 13 students who she felt would benefit from the project and they attended a drama workshop I held everyday during the school lunch break for two weeks.  I appreciated the dedication of the students guzzling down their lunch within 10 minutes so that they could make the workshop on time.  In lise students have constant exams at school, as well as attending extra school sessions (dershane) after school and on the weekends. For a group of students, most with very little interest or experience in drama, it was great to see that they were willing to give up their precious time to take part in the project.

I had an absolute ball working with this group of 15-18 year olds.  They were the oldest group of mainstream participants to be involved in the project so far and they came to the workshops with the maturity of drama university students.  The first week of the residency revolved around getting to know you games, frozen images and the beginnings of improvisation. Where we hit a block was at the start of the second week when the group realised that the day of their final performance was creeping closer and they decided that everything they created the first week was ‘saçma’ (silly).  What they wanted was for me to provide them with script (preferably a Turkish comedy) which they could memorise for the final performance.  As I have mentioned in previous blog posts the ‘old’ education system in Turkey focuses on memorising facts.  Even though the system is supposed to be changing to one where children take the lead in researching topics (rather than memorising) this new system is far from settled.  With the strong focus on exams I personally think it is impossible for teachers to teach in the ‘new way’ because they simply do not have the time and resources as well as prepare the students for the exams they have to take.

The issue with learning through memorisation is that students have no opportunity to exercise their imagination.  From what I have seen from participants in this project so far, there is a fear to give ideas, and the fear that any idea you may have would be ‘silly’ or ‘wrong’.  Improvisation is crucial for building self confidence and imagination.  In our lives we are not given a script that we can memorise how to live day to day and we in fact spend a huge proportion of our lives improvising.  This is why it is important in particular for those students with confidence issues to work on their improvisation skills so that when it comes to moments such as meeting new people, going to a job interview, doing a presentation, that they have a skill that can help them through it.  How I overcame the resistance towards improvisation was through giving praise.  Many of the students had confidence issues because everybody knew they were in one of the least academic schools in the area.  Teachers would speak openly in front of them about how they weren’t as ‘good’ as the students in anadolu lise’s.  By repeatedly telling the students that the work they had created wasn’t ‘saçma’ I felt that they began believing in themselves and trusting their own in a very short period of time.

I was able to attend several other subjects whilst at the lise and I enjoyed learning more about the secondary education curriculum.  In terms of the arts students are able to study art and music.  Philosophy is also a compulsory subject which fascinated me. I began asking teachers how long these subjects had been in the curriculum for and everyone’s response was ‘forever’. When I asked teachers why they thought drama wasn’t in the curriculum I had several responses but the one answer that kept creeping up was; ‘Theatre has never been a part of our culture’.  I find this an extremely interesting yet infuriating response. Storytelling and shadow puppetry have been a part of both asian and islamic culture for centuries.  The music of the folk-poets of Anatolia, who are usually referred to as ashiks, have wandered the plains of Anatolia since around the tenth century and shadow puppets in Turkey were in use from at least the 14th century.  Not to mention the many amphitheatres scattered around Turkey which have been there for a couple of thousand years.  Theatre is clearly a strong part of Turkish history and coupled with the fact that drama fits in with the new curriculum ideology of learning through living it seems like it should have a place within the education system.

Comments from students in Sivas (translated from Turkish):

‘Before I went on stage I was extremely nervous, I even considered not going on.  But once I got on stage and I started doing the actions and I knew that nothing bad was going to happen, so I just continued.  I feel like my confidence has really grown.’

‘Improvisation is something that can really help us because we might need it at any time…. it is something that everyone needs.’

‘Previously I have avoided taking part in performances because I felt ashamed… I knew that I had to beat this so I worked hard and I feel that I succeeded…. I think I was able to beat this fear because we worked together really well as a group and as friends… I am a social person but I have always suffered from stage fright… there are times when I know in class I will have to go up to the board and say something in front of the whole class and I always try and memorise what I will need to say. When when I stand up I forget what I was going to say because I get nervous…. now I am able to get up in front of the class and I know what I am doing, I have beaten my fear.  I don’t get nervous anymore’.

‘In rehearsals I kept telling myself that I would not be able to do this, I thought we looked stupid.  But after we did our performance today, the audience were laughing because they were enjoying it… I didn’t think I would have the courage to stand up in front of other people, I didn’t think that I could do it…  I know that my confidence has grown because I was able to go out in front of a crowded audience and express myself. ‘



The project dates for Diyarbakır coincided with ‘Kurban Byram’ or the ‘Festival of Sacrifice’ which is a religious holiday in Turkey.   As I knew that schools would be closed for a few days I thought that it would be a good time to take Tell me a Tale in Turkey to one of Turkey’s many orphanages as the children would not be in school.  In 2008 Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, went undercover and visited orphanages around Turkey where they filmed shocking conditions and showed the footage on ITV1 film Duchess and Daughters: Their Secret Mission.  This resulted in a huge diplomatic row between Turkey and the UK as Turkey saw it as a ‘smear campaign’ against Turkey joining the EU.  It was therefore no big surprise that running this drama project in an orphanage involved a complex permission process from the social services in both Diyarbakır and Ankara.

The social services in Turkey run most of the countries orphanages, homes for people with special needs and old people’s homes.  I decided to take the project to the 13-18 year olds girls orphanage mainly because the last two schools in the project were for children up to the age of 14 so I thought it would be interesting to work with a different age group. The orphanage for 13+ girls in Diyarbakır was also the same building as for the mixed 0-6 year olds.  We therefore decided to also run workshops for the 2 year olds and a separate class for the 3-6 year olds.

The byram holidays were for the first 3 days of the two weeks and some of the children had gone to stay with relatives so it was a good opportunity to work with the students didn’t have anywhere to go for the holidays.  It was a welcome change to work with an older group and the workshops reminded me of many drama workshops that I attended myself at uni.  I was lucky to have a great assistant with me in Diyarbakır, Nazlı Bulum, a first year drama student at  Kadir Has University.  She led the voice warm ups to the sessions and it was wonderful to have a facilitator with me that I could learn from.  The girls also responded really well to having somebody so close to their age run the workshops too and I found that it was important to have Nazlı there not only as a facilitator but as a positive role model for the girls.

When byram was over we had quite a big shift in dynamics.  Some of the girls had ‘morning school’, others had ‘afternoon school’ and others did ‘open education’. Open Education (acık öğretim) is distance learning for students who are unable to attend school.  What this meant was that the girls were coming and going all day long so finding a class time to suit everyone was a challenge.  In the end we decided to run 2 classes for the girls everyday, a morning class for students who were in Open Education (so didn’t attend regular school) and an evening class which everyone could come to.  Unlike the other schools that have taken part in the project it was not compulsory for participants to attend the workshop (whereas previously if the school told students they were taking part in the project, that meant they were taking part in the project).  Due to this we had quite a high turnover of students.  The biggest change was after the holidays as when many of the older girls went back to school they became too busy with school work to come to the classes.  Also whenever there were any issues in the orphanage between the girls themselves our participants fluctuated.  As a facilitator this was a challenge as we were putting on a production for the end of the second week and an ever changing cast reminded me a lot of previous projects that I have run in prison or detention with no guarantee who might show.  We therefore tried to keep the class structure flexible so that participants could join or come back at any stage.

Our morning classes specifically for the students studying Open Education started off pretty quiet with just one or two students.  However soon they began to pick up and by the end of the residency nearly all of the girls who didn’t attend school were coming to the workshop (about 6 students).  This was a great outcome as it was clear to see that these were the girls who had the biggest social issues.  They seemed isolated and didn’t interact much with the other girls at the orphanage.  Their reasons for not going to school differed from being young mums (with their babies living in the 0-6 year old section of the orphanage) or trying to run away when the bus used to take them to regular school.  It was good to see them slowly but sure come through the door one by one and join our group.  All of our morning students would then also come to the evening classes and mix with the other girls.  We saw the girls developing firm friendships throughout the two-week residency.  One girl who was quite new to the orphanage and was struggling to adjust (as she had moved from a more ‘liberal’ orphanage in Istanbul) seemed to grate on everyone at the start of the residency as she kept talking about ‘when she was in Istanbul’.  However by the end of the project she had bonded with her peers and had made what seemed like the starts of some solid friendships.

The group wrote a story together for the final performance.  It was about a girl who was very lonely and who escaped into another world where she had to solve many problems (based on the structure of Alice in Wonderland, Narnia etc).  This story structure gave the girls the opportunity to create imaginative scenes that echoed many issues from their own lives.  The story they created was full loneliness, boredom, conflict and resolution.  Diyarbakır as a city itself is seen as an area of conflict as it a large city with a predominant Kurdish population and is often the centre of news stories for when events happen in eastern Turkey.  It was clear to see cultural conflict between the girls who had lived in Diyarbakır all their lives and others who had been moved there at a later age.  Creating a play about conflict was a good opportunity to explore what many of the girls were experiences in real life one- step removed.  Writing a story as a group was a challenge but it brought a sense of unity and ownership to the participants.  On student said (translated from Turkish) ‘I liked writing a story that was from my thoughts and ideas’.

Overall the orphanage was an extremely homely place to be.  It was clean and colourful, filled with comfy sofas to chill out on.  I would say the biggest issue was the lack of things to do.  Every weekend the girls had permission to go to town in the afternoon but outside of this there were no planned activities.  For a home where there are a group of 40 girls living together there was not much feeling of ‘togetherness’ which I had felt at Ekinözü YİBO (a boarding school in Maraş).  At Ekinözü YİBO pupils organised film nights, dance nights, volleyball and football matches and were always working together to keep themselves entertained. There was none of this here and boredom was a real problem.  There was little motivation for the girls to get up in the morning when they didn’t have school and it was clear in our workshops that they were all craving the need for attention.   This drama project gave the girls some structure in their day and made them feel like they had a purpose outside of school.  It gave the girls the opportunity to spend time with other girls in the orphanage that they didn’t usually socialise with. Saying this, it only touched on the surface of dealing with many of the social issues that occupy the orphanage.  I think a crucial time to work with the orphanage would be during the long 3 month summer holiday where even though there are some short 1-2 week trips on offer there is still 2 and a half months of nothing to do. It could be an opportunity to look into developing a strong activity structure within the orphanage to create motivation between staff and students.  It could then be stripped back once schools start after the summer but for their still to be activities left in place that could fit around different school timetables.

One student said after the final performance (translated from Turkish) ‘I believe that I have learnt to believe in myself and that I can be successful in life’.  This comes through motivation, team work, self-confidence and imagination it can not be achieved simply through clean floors and a comfy sofa.



The fourth residency of Tell me a Tale in Turkey was in Midyat, a town in the province of Mardin, in south eastern Turkey.  Midyat is just over 40km from the Syrian border and also only a few hundred km from Iraq and Iran.  Due to this it is a very multi cultural area where some families speak Turkish, others Kurdish and others Arabic.  There are also three dominant religions- Islam, Christianity and Zoroastrianism.  There is the ‘Arabic’ side of Midyat and also the ‘Kurdish’ side.  Some people say the two sides don’t get along, some say there are no problems, others say everyone used to get along but now don’t. My own experience was in Kocatepe Ilkoğretim school (a primary school for children aged 7-14) and I thought that the children from different backgrounds seemed to work well together and I didn’t witness any cultural tensions.  This does not mean to say there are none- I heard teachers saying in other areas of Midyat there were schools which only Arabic students attended- or Kurdish students, and that there would be issues between schools, but this is certainly not something that I witnessed first hand.

Midyat was the first area in this project where I had absolutely no connections with anyone.  However what I did know about Mardin (the province where Midyat is in) is that it is seen as an ‘at risk’ area.  Unemployment and poverty are serious problems and there used to be a lot of political violence in the area. In the last five years however this has reduced and many people are moving back to the area after having moved away due to fear of terrorism.  Because I had no connections with the area I had thought it best to ask the Midyat department of education which school they thought would benefit most from the project.  Many weeks and phone calls later (after I had got permission to do the project from the head of the dept of education in Midyat, the head in Mardin, and from the Mayors office in Mardin) Kocatepe Ilkoğretim was recommended to me.  Once the project started however it didn’t take long to realise that it was in fact the best government school in the area.  The school had a huge performance space and many after school activities that the teachers ran (including a drama club).  Being sent to this school for the project was extremely frustrating as there are many more schools in the area that were much more ‘disadvantaged’ and therefore would have been more appropriate for the project criteria.  It showed me that knowing local people in the areas I’m going to is really important as I am unable to trust just one source.  Better yet to plan future projects whilst I am in the area.

Saying that, I see our time in Midyat as a big success.  We worked with two age groups (9-11 year olds and 12-14 year olds) and had asked the teachers to recommend students with low self confidence.  The students we worked with would certainly have never previously been involved in any school drama production and we witnessed a huge difference in confidence in the participants by the end of the residency.  With the younger group we worked on the folk tale of Şahmaran- an old Ottoman folk tale.  We created a multi-lingual production by telling the story in English, Turkish, Kurdish and Arabic.  I have always been interested in multi-lingual performances as theatre is indeed a ‘universal language’ and working in a group where people speak so many different languages seemed like a perfect opportunity to use this.  Some people in Turkey may think by doing this we were making a political statement, other people might think it is ‘dangerous’ to encourage people to speak native languages other then Turkish.  What we were doing however was celebrating the diversity of the group we were working in and sharing many different people’s mother tongue.  With the older group we worked on creating new stories after ‘The End’ of well known folk tales.  This older group in particular were very shy and watching them develop over the two week period was beautiful.  They took their roles very seriously and I remember feeling shocked one day when a participant who seemed so quiet in class came to rehearsal dressed in a full blown king’s costume that he had rummaged up at home.  It showed me how I’m not always aware of the effects that the workshops have on some individuals and how much they think about them in their own time.  One teacher said after the final performance (translated from Turkish);

‘It was amazing to see some children who we had never seen speak before get up on stage and act out a role’.

A participant commented (translated from Turkish);

‘This was the first time I have ever been on stage and I feel so happy.  I got on stage in front of so many of my friends and I feel very proud… I was really nervous when I first went on but with your support I managed to pull myself together and now i feel very good.’

Another important thing that I learnt in Midyat is that teachers are able to get paid for running after school activities in government schools.  This was incredibly encouraging to see.  The amount of activities obviously depends on the staff in the particular school as they are not obliged to run these clubs. However it did show me that it is possible for schools to run an after school drama club as long as they have a staff member willing to do so in areas in Turkey outside of the major cities.  To get paid to do this the teacher has to have a specific university certificate to say that they can teach the subject as an activity (even if they are teaching table tennis they have to go to university and do a course which will give them an official certificate for a ‘table tennis teacher’).  This has got me thinking a lot about the sustainability of the project. If I was able to offer training to teachers that would result in a certificate that the government would recognise then teachers would be more inspired to become drama workshop practitioners at their schools.  I’m sure this is no easy thing to achieve but it would certainly be one option to trying to achieve sustainability in this work.

While I was in Midyat I also ran a one off drama workshop at Acırlı Ana Okul which is a village pre school near Midyat.  Pre-schools in Turkey are for children between 4-7.  The government are currently trying to make it cumpulsory for children from the age of 5 to go to school (currently the age is 7).  It is now compulsory in 32 of the 81 provinces and Midyat will be joining the list within the next few months.  Because of this there were many talks for parents in Midyat whilst I was there about the importance of early years education which was interesting to see.  Running a workshop at the pre-school was also great fun.  It was in an arab district so many of the children who were 4 and 5 didn’t speak any Turkish, and none of the teachers spoke any Arabic so watching them communicate was fascinating.  Once agin though through a workshop based around movement many children slowly came out of their shells.

Now that I have met many people local to Midyat I would like to go back and do another project there.  Even though I didn’t see any issues between the Kurdish and Arabic cultures first hand I did hear that some schools were for people from specific cultures only.  Midyat would be the perfect place to do a joint project with two or three schools where the children don’t usually mix to try and work towards integration.  It’s a place so mixed with culture and diversity over thousands of years and it feels perfect to embrace it.

Comments and thoughts from Ekİnözü

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.


Improvisation in Ekİnözü

I have spent the last week at Ekinözü YİBO in the province of Kahramanmaraş (Maraş) in southeastern Turkey. Ekinözü is a small town 180km from the city of Maraş. YİBO stands for Yatılı (boarding) İlköğretim (primary: age 7-14) Bölge (region) Okullu (school). Boarding schools in Turkey are free government schools and most of the students come from disadvantaged backgrounds from villages surrounding the region. The villages are widely dispersed and it is therefore more affordable for the government to provide a boarding school for students rather than a transport service to and from the numerous villages each day. The school has 510 students, half of which board and half of which live in Ekinözü itself.

In this school I have been working with a special needs class, a girls mainstream group and a mixed mainstream group (the mixed group are children aged 9-14 who are usually shy and the school counsellor recommended them for the residency). The special needs class has 8 students and are taught by a teacher and two teaching assistants. Having just come from two residencies at rehabilitation centres for children with special needs where students only attend school 8-12 hours a month it has been uplifting to see that the students here have access to full time education. They have several classes a day in their own class and they are also integrated in some of the mainstream classes. They all have Mild Learning Difficulties (MLD) and are lucky to live near a school with a special needs class. Other children with more severe special needs who live in the area have to travel further (to Elbistan- a bigger town) for their education and once again only have a limited amount of hours provided by the government. This has confirmed what I had predicted after the last two residencies. Children with MLD in Turkey have access to free full-time education if they live close enough to a government school that has suitable facilities. Children with SLD or PMLD have access to free education in private rehabilitation centres for 8-12 hours per month if they live close enough to centres that provide this education.

This school has given me a great insight into the government Turkish education system and I have been very grateful for support from the school and teachers who have welcomed me into many of their classes. I have also been staying in the girls’ dormitory so have been fully embraced into boarding school life. For the children, having someone from outside of Turkey come to their school has been a huge excitement. Ekinözü is not an area that international tourists go to, so for many of them it was the first time they had met someone who lives outside of Turkey. I was followed everywhere I went for the first couple of days and even had students come to watch me brush my teeth and put in my contact lenses. The curiosity of someone who the children saw as ‘different’ from them was quite overwhelming. Now I have been here for over a week they have begun to realise that in most ways I am just like them.

The education system itself is currently going through a time of change. Previously it was based on memorising facts and then being tested on them. There is even a saying here that says ‘they come to school as children and leave as robots’. In the last ten years the focus has changed to children being given the topics that they are expected to learn and exploring it themselves (through books, encyclopedias and the internet). Change is never easy and this has certainly been the case for the education system. New teacher graduates have been taught the ‘new way’ of teaching whilst more experienced teachers have struggled with the shift. Children have struggled with the different teaching methods and the curriculum is still going through the process of change. In theory I think it is a very positive change but in practice it is clear that it has not yet settled. National exams are still very focused on having memorised factswhich makes it difficult for the teachers to prepare students for tests based on the new method of teaching. In the classes that I have run the students struggle to use their imaginations and they are always looking at me for the ‘right’ answer. In drama however you create your own questions and answers which is why the focus of this project at Ekinözü YİBO has been on choice.

All three groups have created their own theatre companies and come up with their own rules and regulations. This might sound like the average start to a drama project but here rather than the usual ‘respect each other’ rule that I’m used to hearing I heard ‘respect your teacher’. The idea that the group had to work together as a team and not simply do as I say involved a huge shift in thought. When I first asked students to walk around the room and explore the space they marched up and down the room in a formal line. Moving away from this sense of ‘leader’ and ‘follower’ has been a struggle for myself as well as the students. I’m not used to being looked towards for so much guidance and it was hard to see students struggle with what I would usually consider very simple exercises. With the mainstream groups I slowly introduced improvisation through Augusto Boal’s Frozen Images, gradually introducing feelings, thoughts, and then words and sentences. The groups created their own original stories as well as exploring fairy tales. All of a sudden the two-week residency seems impossibly short to explore basic drama techniques and students have only just begun to unleash their creativity. I have found it harder than usual to give gentle direction whilst trying not to impose my own ideas on the students. This has been particularly tough as I am constantly looked towards for ideas by the students as they continue to struggle to open their imagination. It has been interesting using Boal Theatre of the Oppressed techniques with the group as the students seem so oppressed within the education system that they struggle in exercises where they are expected to be the ‘oppressor’. In the special needs class we have explored the seasons through words and movement and the students have created a piece on what they do in each season- once again the focus being on choice and improvisation.

What has been extremely positive about this residency is how the school has opened its doors so warmly to Tell me a Tale with fairly limited knowledge of what the residency would entail. ‘Projects’ (anything outside of the curriculum) in Turkey have started to grow in schools over the last five years but outside of bigger cities such as Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir they are still quite rare. Drama is offered as a subject only in private schools or in very limited cases in government schools in the big cities. It has therefore been great to see the positivity in which the project has been received and to see how open-minded the staff  have been to a form of education which is very different from what they are used to. I have got three days left at this school and I look forward to seeing what stories the children continue to create and to see how they are received by the remainder of the school at the performance on Friday.

Process versus Performance in Konaklı

I have always been extremely adamant that the process of a project is much more important than a performance at the end of a residency.  Participants who have grown over the course of a project may get stage fright in the last minute and this should never be taken away from all that they have gained throughout the process.  This is why I surprised myself when the school in Konaklı was resistant about the idea of a performance I found myself fighting very hard for one.  This made me ask myself why a performance was so essential to the end of the residencies of Tell me a Tale in Turkey.

When I was a part of a similar project three years ago in Ortaca we had a big performance at the end of the residency and I remember how successful it was.  It was the moment that the school got a sense of what we had been working on, it gave parents the opportunity to see their children do things they didn’t think they were capable of and it gave the children an enormous sense of pride.  When I was originally mapping out the aims and objectives of Tell me a Tale in Turkey I decided that every two-week residency should end in a performance for the local community to:

-Demonstrate the importance of the arts in a school environment to parents and teachers

-Reduce stigma in the community towards people with special needs

– Give the children the chance to feel pride in the work that they have been working on

-Give the children a chance to feel a part of their local community

Drama is not in the government curriculum so only some private schools in the big cities in Turkey teach it.  Due to this it is difficult to get government funding or payment from schools for projects like this as drama is not recognised as a valid form of education.  Having a performance at the end of a residency gives the school the opportunity to see what skills drama can give to students.  We also like to invite the head of education (of the town) to the performance so that they too can see the value.  Even though as a facilitator you are more likely to have seen more growth with participants during the process it is a good opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of the project to others.

The main reason that the school was cautious of having a performance was a fear that the parents would not like the fact that the children had been doing something outside of a ‘real education’.  As I mentioned in a previous blog post children with special needs in these rehabilitation schools/centres only have 8-12 hours a month of education provided by the government.  Parents want to ensure that their child receives the best education possible.  There is also a great deal of competition between rehabilitation centres as they are all privately owned and the more students they have the more the school will gain financially as they are paid per head by the government.  This has resulted in centres trying to steal students from each other and even bribing families to try and convince them to send a child to their centre. Due to this schools are in the constant fear that they may lose students.  They therefore want to please parents as much as possible so that the child stays at their specific school (I also like to think that each school thinks they can provide the best education for the student- and I hope I’m not being overly optimistic).

As mentioned the Turkish education system focuses on more ‘academic’ subjects rather than the arts. This includes special needs schools.  Discovering this has opened my eyes to a lot of what I have been experiencing since running this project in Turkey.  When a teacher tells me that the child I will be working with ‘can’t do much’ they are referring to the fact that they ‘can’t do much’ when it comes to the traditional educational system.  In the UK special schools have the usual Math and English classes designed specifically for different abilities (PMLD, SLD and MLD) but there is also a strong focus on interacting socially with other students.  Even if a child has a one to one teaching assistant they are still in a class with other students where as in Turkey there is a lot of focus on one to one tuition in separate rooms.  This sounds great in theory but some children with special needs only have one to one classes and no group classes and this is a great disadvantage.  Bearing in mind that they only go to school on average 2-3 hours a week and spend the rest of their time at home they don’t have any chance of socialising except for with their immediate family.  I began to empathise more with the school when I met a father of a 22 year old with severe learning difficulties (who attended a different centre) and he told me that he had specifically organised with the school to only put her in one to one classes for 10 hours a week to learn how to read as he thought that would be the most important thing she could learn (and he paid for 8 out of the 10 hours a week).  His daughter is still unable to read.  This does not mean to say that she will never make any progress with reading but if this energy were put into her socialising she would probably be able to express herself more clearly and therefore have a higher quality of life.  Many children with special needs feel a great deal of frustration as they can struggle to express themselves and socialising with new people gives them the opportunity to learn more about self expression.  Meeting this father also brought to light a conversation I had had with a businessman earlier in the week when discussing the project at a rotary club.  After I gave a talk about how sensory theatre can be used as an educational tool one of the members asked me ‘can you educate hyperactive children using this method’ to which I replied that you can adapt sensory theatre to work with different ages and abilities to which he put his hand up again and asked ‘can you educate autistic children using this method?’

After speaking to the father of the 22 year old I felt that everything became clearer to me.  The school was resistant to show parents that their children had taken part in a project that didn’t involve reading or writing, as it wasn’t seen as ‘education’.  When I was questioned on if you can ‘educate’ a special needs child the man may have been referring to a more traditional form of education.

This brings me back to the importance of a performance at the end of a residency in Turkey.  So far the only reactions I have had of parents watching performances has been extremely positive.  Parents have been shocked at what their child has been able to do (both individually and in a group) and how well they have coped with being in front of an audience.  I believe that this opens their eyes to what their child is capable of and widens their views on what an education can consist of both in the arts and social development.  A school’s fear of showing parents different methods of education will only end in a more closed opinion because they haven’t been given the opportunity to experience anything different.  This is why performance has become incredibly important to me during this project and why I felt the need to fight as hard as I did for one.

We did end up having a performance with 17 of the children in Konaklı but no one was invited.  The teachers watched the performance and 3 parents who bring their children to school also came.  It was clear to see that the students and teachers felt a great sense of completion at the end of the show and once again we had mothers in tears because they saw their child reaching beyond their expectations.

I feel that my time in Konaklı gave me a much greater understanding of the education that is aimed towards children with special needs in Turkey.  I hope that with this I will be able to gear projects more thoughtfully when it comes to working with parents and teachers and that the work will continue to challenge perceptions and break down barriers now that I have a better idea what I am attempting to demonstrate.

*During the blogs on this project I have generalised the term ‘special needs’ a great deal.  This is due to the fact that I have been working with children and adults with special needs across a large spectrum.  In Konaklı I ran 32 workshops for over 80 students between the ages of 3-45 from PMLD students to those who could be considered mainstream.

Second week in Ortaca

Our second week of ‘Tell me a Tale in Turkey’ continued at Ortaca Coşku Özel Eğitim Okul.  One of the things I had wanted to do this week was to visit the government special needs school in Muğla.  Unfortunately it was still closed for the summer (even though it was supposed to open last week) and therefore I was unable to go. What I was able to learn however was that it is a school for children with mild/severe learning difficulties but it does not cater for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD).  This means that a child with profound and multiple learning difficulties does not have access to a free education for more than 12 hours a month in the Muğla region of Turkey.  I am unable to comment on what facilities there are in other regions in Turkey but as my travels continue I would like to find out.  When I moved to Australia and started working in the special schools there I was told that they were at least ’10 years’ behind the UK special education system.  What I know now is that Turkey is trailing far far further behind.  One of the PMLD students we worked with at the school (his parents pay so that he can attend school 3 full days a week) developed so fast and all the teachers were surprised at how well he was able to engage in our work. There is still a strong mentality of ‘but what’s the point of them coming to school if they are TOO disabled, what can they learn?’ in Turkey. As individuals we are all unique and every child should have the right to an education no matter how ‘able’ they are.  In Turkey there is currently a high number of graduate teachers unable to find work. It is therefore prime time for the government to utilise these trained professionals.  Families who have children with special needs are given good financial support by the government and if people’s attitude towards special needs education change then more of this money can be put towards schooling children.

In our drama workshops this week we focused on the performance of ‘MEVSIMLER’ (Seasons) which we had developed with the students the previous week.  Once again we worked with many students who we hadn’t met before but some faces were becoming more familiar.  Most of all we focused on using drama to learn about the seasons whilst having lots of fun off course!

Head teacher of the school, Eylem Tan, said (translated from Turkish);

‘Drama helps our students learn new information in a different way. We saw this in the project you took part in 3 years ago. Our students found it easier to learn and they retained what they had learnt for a longer period of time.  This time through doing and feeling they have learnt what hot, cold, wind and sun are.  Drama education is therefore very important for our students.’

The performance itself was held in Ortaca in an outdoor cafe area and there was a small amphitheatre that we used as the stage.  The advantage of having the performance outside was so that passers by could pause and watch.  In Turkey people with special needs are often hidden from the community and rarely leave the house.  By having the performance outdoors we hoped to give the students and their parents the opportunity to feel included in the community of Ortaca as well as break down the social barriers and prejudices that people have about disabilities.  Twenty students took part in the performance (about a quarter of all the students that we worked with)- some were confident, others withdrew, but all in all everyone looked like they were having a good time.  At the end of the performance we gave out certificates to all the students who took part and this is when all the performers seemed to truly come out of their shells and proudly accept their certificates.  Hicran Kilinç, a teacher at the school said (translated from Turkish);

‘Many families here think that their child can not do what “normal” children are able to do,  they think that “my child can never be like them, my child isn’t normal”.  By doing this performance we are were able to show parents that their child is able to do the same things as every other child.  Last night, during the performance, we saw that many families were crying.  Why?  Because we broke down their beliefs. We showed them that their child could do things they thought they were unable to do.  When parents saw this they cried from happiness…. Parents also often see their other children or other families children in a lot of performances in mainstream schools and do not think that their child in a special school can do the same.

For the children- they gained a great deal of confidence by standing up in front of so many new people.  These are children who do not normally go out into the community and they stood up in front of so many different people and acted out the performance.’

From these comments alone it is clear to see how many misconceptions there are about special needs, even from within families.  What the school is doing is constantly trying to break down these barriers but this too is difficult when disability in Turkey is so misunderstood- by individuals, families, schools and the government.  In the UK there are countless charities campaigning for human rights, equality and justice for people with disabilities- where as in Turkey there is just a handful of these organisations and they are all in the major cities.  I don’t feel like I can come to a conclusion on this subject as the issue is so vast but I do feel like I am getting a better insight into people’s thoughts and judgements.

Our time in Ortaca has now come to an end.  As well as the students we hope that the teachers have had a good time and have taken away some new ideas to use in class.  Our volunteer Gizem Yılmaz has returned to her studies in Istanbul and I’m off to Alanya to work with a new volunteer at another special school.



First week in Ortaca

Tell me a Tale in Turkey 2011 has begun!  After months of planning, the project started at a special needs school in Ortaca (Ortaca Coşku Özel Eğitim Okul) in the Muğla province of western Turkey.

I previously did a 2 week storytelling residency at this school in October 2008 with Light and Colour workshops and was keen to revisit the school as the project was so well received before.  Back in 2008 we worked with the same ten children for 2 weeks leading up to a performance and I had imagined that we would be doing something similar.  At that time however the school was recognised as a ‘school’ by the government but it is now recognised as a ‘rehabilitation centre’. What this means is that there are no longer children who are at the school for the entire school week.  The children who are at the school are assessed by the government who then decide how many hours a specific child needs to attend the school per month based on their needs (the maximum is 12 hours per month). The government then pays the school dependent on the hours that they have assessed that the children need.  The children’s needs range from very mild learning difficulties (struggling with reading, writing, learning days of the week etc) to profound and multiple learning difficulties.  To continue to receive funding from the government each child need to be assessed every year and if they are not assessed they are not able to go to the school.  Most of the children then go to government mainstream schools for the remainder of their education.  The mainstream schools differ widely and every class has 30 children and 1 teacher with no additional support (no teaching assistants).  The education that the children will receive is varied on which school they live close to.  There are over 300 children at this special school in Ortaca and they come from different towns and villages that surround the area.  In the entire area there are only two mainstream government schools that have a teacher for children with special needs and there is one government special needs school (which I hope to visit next week) where some of the children from our school go to for their remaining school hours.  Ultimately which other school they attend depends on their location and transportation resources.  Our school is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 9am to 6pm.  Being open past 3pm and on a Saturday means that children with mild learning difficulties are able to attend all the usual hours of their mainstream school and attend this school as additional support.

In Turkey it is not a requirement for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties to go to school.  Usually children up to the age of 14 have to go to school by law but children can be assessed by the government to say that they do not have to go to school if their needs are deemed profound enough.  So all the education they get is the 12 hours a month that the government has paid for.  Some of the children at the school simply would not be able to be in a mainstream class without one to one support.  What families can do is to pay the school on top of the hours that the government has provided- though there are obviously many families who are unable to afford this.  The system is therefore complex and full of inequalities (like many systems).  I would also like to add here that although I keep using the word ‘children’ there are several mature students in their 20’s and 30’s (who also attend our workshops) who are students at the school.  As long as the government gives them the green light on their assessment to attend the school they are able to.

At Ortaca Coşku Özel Eğitim Okul the children receive both group lessons and one to one lessons.  The school was founded by two physiotherapists and therefore has a strong physiotherapy backbone with treatment available for children who attend the school as well as several other therapies including Sensory Integration Therapy.  Coming from a sensory theatre background I find this therapy very interesting and hope to observe some of the one to one sessions later next week.

I’ve spoken a lot about the school and the system here but the way the school functions has had a big impact on the work that we have been able to do. We are only able to work with students for a short period of time as they come to our workshops during when their group session would usually be so this is usually one or two hours in the week.  Next week we will work with some children we have already seen and also children who we haven’t worked with so far. We are working towards a performance which is next Friday about the seasons (a story based loosely on our recent sensory theatre tour of SEASONS in Devon).  We develop new ideas of what to include in the performance from the students so we spend the workshops exploring the seasons through sensory stimuli, movement, poems, art, music and songs.  Many of the children who attend our workshops will not be able to attend the final performance due to transport restrictions or family circumstances but we are still trying to include their ideas in our performance.  We work between 9am and 6pm and have a new group of children every hour (the groups differ between 1-6 pupils) and within our first week we have worked with over 60 students. Next week we hope to have a list of children who will be able to participate in the final performance although we wont know for sure until the performance itself. In some ways working with so many children for such few hours working towards a performance has been a huge challenge.  At the same time it has meant that we have been able to give a larger number of children a new experience and it has kept us on our toes as we explore the same idea with all the children and we wont know until the last moment whether they will be in the final show!

On Friday we also ran a workshop for the teachers on how to use storytelling techniques along with sensory stimuli.  It was a stretch for my Turkish but I got through it and the teachers seemed very excited by the different sensory props that we brought over from the UK.  Next week we will be running a workshop on how to use storytelling in their sensory room.  The first week has been exhausting yet exhilarating and inspiring.  The school staff have been so supportive of our work which helps a great deal.  I have also been lucky to have been joined by a wonderful student volunteer, Gizem Yılmaz, a second year drama student from Maltepe Univerity in Istanbul.  All in all the project has started with a bang and I’m looking forward to seeing what the next week brings…

Makaton in Turkey


Now I probably should have called this post NO Makaton in Turkey…

Makaton is a language programme that uses signs and symbols to help people communicate which was developed in the UK in the 70s. It has been designed specifically for people with learning disabilities or communication difficulties.  It is not a complex language like British Sign Language, Amercan Sign Language or AUSLAN but has a simple vocabulary (random selection: the alphabet; days of the week; toilet; cake; rain; night; day; cold; mother; father; happy; sad). It varies from stage 1 (easy) – 8 (complex).  I have seen Makaton used in more or less every special needs school that I have worked at in both the UK and Australia (totalling over 50 schools).  Makaton is also now used in the UK in baby and toddler groups as babies can learn to sign before they can speak.

I use Makaton a lot when creating Sensory Theatre productions for special needs schools.  Not only does it give the audience I work with a better chance of understanding a story it is also a great performance technique, the gestures are big and bold thus very dramatic!  Sensory Theatre involves a lot of audience participation and signing is a big part of this as children love to copy actions.  When there aren’t signs for specific words it is easy to make them up as you just need to sign the obvious (e.g the sign for drink is to point your thumb towards your mouth).

Today when I was discussing Makaton at a teacher training workshop I lead at a special needs school in Turkey I was informed that no signing systems are taught at universities and they are strongly discouraged in schools for fear that if children learn to sign then they will not learn to speak.  Not only is Makaton discouraged but so is sign language for deaf people.  The reasoning behind this is that now hearing aids are so advanced there is no need for sign language. Now I don’t know enough about the technology of hearing aids to comment on this but I find it difficult to see how using a language designed for a specific group of people is harmful.  As no one is trained how to use Makaton or sign language in Turkish universities anymore it means that there is no one to teach the children who many benefit.

Speaking specifically about Makaton there are many people with special needs who are non-verbal and who will always be non-verbal.  Therefore not giving them the opportunity to express themselves using signs seems ludicrous.  We have been using Makaton and other signs all week with children in the school we are currently working in and many children that teachers say won’t be able to participate in our work have been able to through the use of signs (e.g instead of singing a song, or telling a story, they sign it).

I was also told that a few special needs schools in Turkey have started to use PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System).  I have seen this system used extremely well previously in many schools.  Children are able to create entire sentences using a picture system (like Makaton it goes from easy to complex). When I asked why the Turkish education system was opposed to signing but not to PECS I was told that if a child needed to express themselves to a stranger they would be able to do so using PECS, but not with signing.  E.g with PECS they could show someone where they lived but with Makaton they would not be understood.  This to me doesn’t make sense on so many levels. People with profound special needs will usually spend time with people who they know or are familiar with, and therefore understand whichever language they communicate in. In the unfortunate circumstance that a person is lost and needs to tell someone where they live it is unlikely that they will have their PECS book at hand.  Surely it is better to be able to use a language system that isn’t well known than have no language at all?

Signing gives individuals the opportunity to communicate and can reduce isolation and frustration.  I would now like to learn more about the hesitation of its use in Turkey and a quick google search has taught me very little (Wikipedia tells me ‘…there is little published information on Turkish Sign Language’).  If anyone has any advice on how I could begin my research on this topic please contact me at

For more information on Makaton you can visit this site:


Makaton, Birlesik Krallikta (İngiltere) insanlarin iletisim kurmasina yardimci olmak icin isaret ve semboller kullanarak 70 lerde gelistirilen bir dil programidir.Ozellikle,ogrenme yetersizlikleri ve iletisim zorluklari olan kisiler icin tasarlanmistir.

İngiliz, Amerikan, Avusturya isaret dilleri gibi karmasik olmayip,basit bir kelime dagarcigina
sahiptir(rasgele secim: alfabe, haftaningunleri, tuvalet, pasta, yagmur, gece, gunduz, soguk, anne, baba, mutlu, uzgun) 1.evreden (basit)- 8.evreye(karmasik) kadar degisik evreleri vardir. Hem İngiltere, hem de Avusturalya’da calistigim,toplamda 50nin üzerindeki tum ozel gereksinim okullarinda Makaton’un az ya da cok kullanildigini gordum.Makaton,aynı zamanda İngiltere’de bebek ve yurumeye baslayan cocuk guruplarinda konusma oncesi isaretleri ogrenebilmeleri icin kullanilmaktadir.

Ben, Makaton’u,ozel gereksinim okullarindaki algisal tiyatro produksiyonlarinda pek cok kullanirim. İzleyiciye hikayeyi daha iyi anlama olanagi vermesinin yani sira, ayni zamanda jestlerin gosterisli ve abartili olusu nedeniyle cok dramatik ve buyuk bir performans teknigidir. Algisal tiyatro pek cok izleyicinin katilimina ve cocuklarin hareketlerin taklidini sevmesi nedeniyle bunun buyuk bir kismini isaret diliyle iletmelerine yol acar. Belirli kelimeler icin isaret yoksa apacik olani isaret ederek belirtmeniz cok basittir. (icme isaret etmek icin bas parmagi agza goturmek gibi).

Ozellikle Makaton’dan bahsedecek olursak, konusamayan ve hicbir zaman konusamayacak pek cok kisi buna ozellikle gereksinim duymaktadir.Bu nedenle,onlara isaretler kullanarak kendini ifade etme olanagi vermemek gulunc gorunmektedir. Biz Makaton ve diger isaretleri calistigimiz okullarda cocuklarla tum hafta kullaniyorduk ve ogretmenler bize katilamayacak durumdaki pek cok cocugun isaretler kullanimi sayesinde katilabildigini soylediler. (ornek:sarki soyleme veya hikaye anlatma yerine isaret etme).

Bana Turkiye’deki birkac ozel gereksinim okulunda RDİS sistemin kullanilmaya baslandigi soylendi(Resim Degisim İletisim Sistemi).Bu sistemin onceden pek cok okulda son derece iyi kullanildigini gordum.Cocuklar,cumlelerin tumunu bir resim sistemi kullanarak olusturabiliyorlar.(Makaton gibi basitten karmasiga dogru gidiyor).Turk egitim sisteminin nicin isaretlere karsi olup RDİS e karsi olmadigini sordugumda,bana bir cocuk sayet bir yabanciya kendini ifade etme geregi duyarsa bunu isaretle degil RDİS kullanarak yapabilecegi soylendi.

Ornek olarak RDİS ile birine nerede yasadigini gosterebilir fakat Makaton ile anlasamazlar.Bu bana pek anlamli gelmiyor.Derin ozel gereksinimleri olan kimseler genellikle bildikleri ve tanidiklari kisilerle vakit gecirirler ve bu nedenle iletisim kurduklari icin birbirlerinin dillerini anlarlar.Bir kimsenin kayboldugu ve birisine nerede yasadigini anlatmasini gerektiren sanssiz durumlarda elinde RDİS kitabi olma olasiligi yoktur.

Elbette,hic bir dil olmamasi yerine iyi bilinen bir dil sistemini kullanabilmek daha iyidir.İsaret etmek bireylere iletisim kurma olanagi saglar,soyutlanma ve dus kirikligini azaltir.Ben bunun Turkiye’deki kullanilmasindaki endise konusunda daha fazla bilgi edinmek istiyorum.Yaptigim hizli bir google arastirmasindan cok az sey ogrenebildim (Wikipedia Turkce İsaret Dili ile ilgili yayinlanmis cok az bilgi vardir diyor).Sayet bu konuda arastirmaya nasil baslayabilecegim hususunda onerisi olan varsa,lutfen benimle baglanti kursun.
Daha fazla bilgi icin: