My curriculum unit focuses on playwriting techniques for advanced 8th grade students. To devise a practical unit that responds to student needs, I plan the unit’s activities with both the individual and the whole class in mind. According to Richard Courtney’s “The Dramatic Curriculum,” my assumptions are holistic: I see student development in terms of total organic growth rather than strictly in terms of training, natural expression, or change. I believe holistic assumptions are necessary when students see school as a condition forced upon them and as a place for social interaction. For these students, school is not truly a place to learn.
My unit has several intrinsic goals. On an individual basis I aim to promote each student’s active participation, decisions, role-play, growth, and success. On a group basis, I aim to promote a sense of ensemble which allows for individuals to try on various roles. I plan to achieve this through a prepared class structure that outlines specific limits, consequences, objectives and rewards. In addition, I hope to guide but not dictate group behavior in improvisational exercises that develop their natural sense of ensemble and group play. I want them to have fun and to use imagination. Fundamental to these goals, a safe environment allows students to feel secure enough to play.
My unit’s activities play on the tensions between the personal and the social using both realism and fantasy. The unit has two, related, extrinsic goals. One is for each student to write a play (long or short) to submit to the Yale Children’s Dramat Contest in January. Through various exercises I will encourage the individuals’ plays to explore imagination. The second extrinsic goal is that students together may take turns in constructing a play based on the recent autobiography—“The Diary of Latoya Hunter, My First Year in Junior High” (New York: Crown, 1992).
The unit provides a guide for 20 weeks of class activity, from first meeting in September until the end of January. I prepare this unit for middle school classroom conditions distinguished by: 1) inconsistent and inadequate class time, 2) peer pressure, 3) apathy, 4) issues of justice (injustice) and equality (racism), and 5) problem discipline. By recognizing the given conditions, I seek to lay the groundwork for successful classroom experience for both students and teachers alike.