Professional Development in Drama with Learners with Special Educational Needs and Disability

By: Melanie Peter  

Educators usually recognise the value of drama-in-education for children with special educational needs and disability (SEND), but hesitate to use it with unpredictable highly diverse groups that have limited communication and social understanding. This paper reports on a professional development initiative in an English all-age special school (3-19 years) to promote drama as an interactive, creative, and engaging teaching and learning style. The new head-teacher supported this initiative as a whole-school improvement strategy, as a differentiated framework for enhancing children’s communication through dialogic teaching, and as a coherent planning framework across the curriculum. It was underpinned by an original 5-staged professional development model formulated with serving and trainee teachers (Peter 1995, 2013, 2015; Peter and Walter 2010) for working inclusively with children with SEND. The effectiveness of an ‘Expert in the Classroom’ approach was evaluated, whereby the experienced researcher ran staff development sessions on drama and SEND, and worked with each class once a week over a half-term period, leading demonstration lessons and mentoring teachers. The model was used to identify teachers’ starting point and next step towards them gradually taking over leading drama sessions. Support with planning enabled them to integrate topic planning across the curriculum within an unfolding rolling drama narrative, and a developmental drama framework was used so that teacher and children could ‘learn how to do it whilst doing it’ (Peter 1994, 1995, 2009; Sherratt and Peter 2002). The research also informed alternative curricula and schemes of work in the arts for SEND (Peter 2018a, 2018b).

Teaching and Learning Arts Practices, Arts pedagogies, Arts and Disability
Arts Education
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Melanie Peter

Senior Lecturer in Education, Faculty of Health, Education, Medicine and Social Care, Anglia Ruskin University

Throughout my career, I have had two professional quests: to develop creative approaches to teaching inclusively using drama and the arts wtih learners with special educational needs and disability (SEND), and to demystify these through forging a framework for professional development. My early working experiences as a creative therapy aide in long-stay institutions instilled in me a holistic regard for the individual, and I subsequently trained to teach children with SEND at a time when highly structured Behaviourist approaches were rife. I quickly set about extending drama-in-education as a learning medium and narrative pedagogy for my pupils, which I researched at Masters level and subsequently for my PhD. After a few years working chiefly in special schools, I became a local education authority Advisory Teacher for the arts, SEND and the early years, before entering higher education. I am currently Senior Lecturer in Education at Anglia Ruskin University, and until recently was an Associate Tutor on Autism for the University of Birmingham. I have become widely known for my developmental approaches for the arts and SEND, an area in which I am a published authority, having written a number of books (David Fulton Publishers), chapters for edited texts, journal articles and curriculum materials, particularly on drama and dance. I was the education consultant for CBBC's BAFTA-winning early years dance show 'Boogie Beebies', and have recently authored the 'My Creativity' schemes of work in Drama and Dance for the Equals semi-formal curriculum for students with severe learning difficulties. My post-doctoral research has focused on professional development for SEND: I have advised government on teacher training generally for SEND (Peter 2013) and have contributed to government policy documents (including on Drama for the 'Speaking, Listening, Learning Strategy', and for Eire - NCCA), and a module for the acclaimed DfE (2012) on-line resource of training materials for teachers of learners with profound, severe and complex learning difficulties ( I am currently researching whole-school professional development to innovate more creative, interactive teaching approaches in a special school. I am also involved in advocacy work - my middle son, now a young man, has autism and severe learning difficulties.