Whodunit??

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This term my Year 8 class scripted, rehearsed and performed their own plays. I’ve taught various versions of this unit for a couple of years now. The students always enjoy it, and often create quite good dramas. It was time for a twist though, and it came in the form of cross-curricular learning with Science.

[A quick contextual note: at my school Year 7 and 8 are integrated into the secondary school, i.e they have subject specialist teachers. Year 7 are taught in a homeroom, with the exception of subjects such as Science, Art and Music. Year 8s move around from subject to subject, teacher to teacher, as Year 9s and upward do.]

I found out that the Year 8 Science classes do a forensics unit, complete with a trip to Police Museum – fun!, and often they make their own films showing a crime to be solved. It seemed that this could dovetail nicely with my drama unit.

In addition to the drama skills, including mime, improvisation and drama conventions, I usually taught, we also covered some plotting ideas. We discussed the need to plan carefully. The girls would need to know ‘whodunit’, why, and how before they started writing. This was a real spin-off bonus to the unit, from my perspective. I do find that sometimes no matter how much I emphasise the need to plan before starting, the starting is the planning for many! However, in crafting a detective story, students could see the benefit of working backwards, so to speak, in order to take their audience on a journey.

The Science teacher and I decided on some parameters: no brutal CSI or Criminal Minds episodes for us, thank you! (The relevant information sheet is here: Year 8 Crime Drama Play)The girls had the prompters of three titles: The Locker Raid, The Case of the Missing Lunch and The Words that Should Not Have Been There. The girls weren’t to stage the crimes, but to start in medias res, as many plays do – smack bang in the middle of the action – after the crime had been committed. The plays were to be set at school and be realistic. I wondered if the girls might not find this much fodder for their creative juices, and one group wasn’t so keen initially, but I think the task had its own challenges and working with a familiar setting and context actually was easier.

In order to incorporate the forensics, the girls had to include a ‘multimedia presentation’ in their play. This meant that the audience could ‘see’ the clues that were discovered during the course of the play. They learned about fibres and fingerprints and tooth marks in Science and took pictures with a microscope which they put into Google Slides. These presentations were then screened during the play – another element to incorporate into their scripts as stage directions. While the quality of the images wasn’t always so great, and the girls didn’t spread the clues throughout their plays as I had imagined they might, this definitely helped keep them on task and focus on the real Science behind their crimes.

Working in Google Docs and Slides worked so well for this unit. We had a lot of students struck down by illness, but sharing the documents and working collaboratively meant no excuse for work being in one book, or stuck on one student’s account. It also allowed students to work on different scenes of their plays at the same time – a more equal sharing of responsibilities. The illness was an issue when we moved into rehearsal phase though. I didn’t get to see many groups rehearse fully to give them as much feedback as I normally would around their use of space or audience awareness.

Overall though, this was an interesting unit. The girls kept a reflection log throughout the process, and the overarching theme of these was how much fun they were having. I did ask them to reflect on what they had learned, but some found this difficult. Maybe some sentence starters next time will help bring more focus to their responses. The thing I most enjoyed was the group who had a completed script…and then realised that the Science didn’t support what they had planned to use as clues…so back they had to go and re-work their piece. I don’t know if their Science teacher prompted them to do this, but I certainly didn’t. Seeing the girls having to think critically about how to interweave the forensics into their English script was amazing. I also enjoyed inviting parents into the class to see the girls perform. While we didn’t have a huge uptake, at least one-third of the girls had a supporting adult come along. This small but authentic audience helped the girls to focus on learning their lines and taking their performances seriously. As always, there are things I could have done better, but I was proud of what the girls achieved and having to work cross-curricular really added to their learning experience.

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