CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 4. . . .September 25, 2009
Kathleen Lundy brings her experience and wisdom gained from years of teaching the dramatic arts and dance in Toronto schools, her experiences of leading workshops in schools for specific groups of students, and her current work with teacher candidates at York University to the writing of this book. It opens with a dramatic story of two boys whose friendship is challenged by a hurtful comment, and then it moves into a discussion of what teachers who teach fairly do, and how to listen to students in order to create the potential for transformation. Lundy’s voice is heartfelt as she entreats her readers to strive to create classrooms that are safe and inclusive, that value students’ voices and that build relationships before knowledge. This is important work and one would not argue against it. An important question though is, “Who should be doing this work?” While all teachers hopefully see classrooms as “places of possibilities,” not all teachers are ready and able to orchestrate the “academic, artistic and social work” (p. 23) for which Lundy passionately advocates in this book.
As I read this book, I struggled to identify who the target audience was meant to be. Teaching examples included a wide range from university classes, high school groups, principals, grade seven and eight classes, to grade two. Drama teachers and experienced teachers can certainly use many of the ideas presented in this book to reflect on and enhance their own teaching. Beginning teachers and those with no drama background would most likely need to do some additional research for some activities and proceed with caution if they choose to have students act out their inner-most thoughts. Lundy refers to another drama educator, Dorothy Heathcote, who speaks of “protect[ing] . . . students into understanding” (p.51), and also states that “we questioned casting students in the role of racist or the perpetrator of racism” p. 58. These cautions should be elaborated on and emphasized more strongly than saying, “we felt more comfortable putting students in enabling roles, such as the opponent of racism” (p. 58). As Lundy acknowledges in the excerpt above, teaching in this way could be a “dangerous act.”
The chapter on “Building Community” provides many ideas for creative ways that students can get to know each others’ names and to develop a sense of belonging and acceptance of each other. Lundy uses the idea of creating an “I am From. . .” poem, combining student poems to create “We are From . .” poems and then practicing to do a dramatic reading of them. A great strength of this book is the detailed description and examples Lundy provides for her readers for most of the ideas she discusses. Any teacher could read this content and have enough information to create a good lesson using these ideas.
After making a strong case for helping students to find their voices, develop empathy and explore points of view through drama, the following chapter, entitled “Critical Thinking and Emotional Literacy (Elementary),” moves on to describe workshops Lundy has conducted with grade eight students that culminated with a video production. This is followed by an interesting account of a summer course Lundy taught to a group of teachers from China called “Oral Language Development through Drama.” The lesson she describes introduces her students to a very brief story and involves the students’ underlining the nouns and writing an expanded story she calls Four Times Story Nouns. While Lundy effectively used this technique with adult English language learners, it is an excellent learning activity for students of any age who have the ability to use a dictionary or thesaurus. A dramatic choral reading concludes the activity. Other examples in this chapter use graphic novels, picture books, and the novel The Giver, by Lois Lowry (1993), to develop critical literacy skills in students from grade 5, 7, and 8.
“Interpreting Text Through Active Engagement (Secondary)” includes a lesson on residential schools using primary source documents, plays, paintings and magazine images as the text in lessons designed to create “classrooms of conscience” (p. 89). Activities include drawing, writing, questioning in role, prepared improvisations, role playing, teacher in role, tableaux, forum theatre and many others. This book will support teachers who wish to incorporate drama and critical thinking into various subjects such as language arts and social studies.
While Teaching Fairly in an Unfair World provides many ideas and detailed descriptions of drama activities, it would be most useful to teachers who have some drama background since it is written with the assumption that the reader knows some basic drama techniques. There is also the possibility that the passion with which Lundy writes about in her examples would prompt teachers to research and learn the drama techniques with which they may not be familiar or lead them to seek out more knowledgeable colleagues. The final chapter, “Remaining Hopeful,” encourages teachers to construct transformative classrooms together and develop professional learning communities.
The easy-to-read page layout includes a left margin with highlighted information or quotes and space for your own notes. Quotes from Desmond Tuto to student poems are thought-provoking and important to read. A few blackline masters and a list of 50 teaching strategies to use in an inclusive classroom conclude the book. Some of these strategies are the ones that Lundy has used to illustrate her points earlier in the book; others are new.
The detailed index is useful to locate topics and the titles of books and stories used in her examples. A consistent referencing format would be helpful as some of the books, such as The Island and Nobody Rides a Unicorn, are referred to by title only in the text, and it is necessary to scan the Bibliography to find the authors are Armin Greder and Adrian Mitchell respectively. Others include the author in the text but omit the publication date.
While I have identified what I see as a few shortcomings, Kathleen Lundy certainly does meet her goal of providing teachers with “viable ideas” to lend support for students’ social, emotional and intellectual needs, to maintain high expectations for all, to tailor and choose instructional strategies so that they are relevant and thought-provoking. Her stories of transformative teaching moments present a challenge to all teachers, and her detailed examples show us how to proceed.
Betty Klassen teaches in the Middle Years Program in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.
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