Interview with Drama for Learning author Brian Radcliffe

In today’s interview, Drama for Learning Pocketbook author Brian Radcliffe tells us about his teaching career and his involvement in promoting drama techniques and brain-friendly learning.

Author Brian Radcliffe

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I am a writer and teacher who has specialised both in the delivery of innovative assemblies and the use of drama techniques to promote active learning. For 12 years I was minister of a Baptist church, focusing particularly on culturally relevant communication.  Since 1998 I have been a part-time member of staff at Fallibroome High School, a high-achieving Specialist Performing Arts School in Cheshire.

What was your first job?

I began as an English and Drama teacher at an 11-18 comprehensive in Nottinghamshire. It was the year that the school leaving age was raised to 16 and the school was a newly created combo from a boys’ secondary modern, a girls’ secondary modern and a mixed comprehensive. The school was located on three sites and we were taxied to and fro!

How did that lead to where you are now, and to your interest in this subject/topic?

I was heavily influenced by changing horses six years later to become a church leader. Working outside the conventional education world, yet still teaching across an age group from 3 to 93, allowed me to experiment widely.

How have things changed in this field since you first became involved in it?

Drama has become both a discrete curriculum subject and recognised as a series of techniques for use across the curriculum.

How do you see it developing in the next 5-10 years?

As we learn more about how the brain works and learning styles then I would hope that drama techniques become more and more widely used as they are so ‘brain friendly’.

What changes would you like to see?

A less prescriptive curriculum that allows time for teachers to experiment (and fail a little) and develop their teaching styles.

Professionally, what has been your most satisfying or inspiring moment or achievement?

The following account of a moment I’ll always remember was published in a TES Best and Worst feature in 16/02/07. I’d like to share it with you here:

Jamie had always been small, the runt of the litter. In school he was the victim of jokes, the bullies’ slave, the last picked for the football team. In Drama no-one actually chose to work with him; Splodge was his inevitable partner, Hardy to his Laurel.

We’d discussed child labour in Victorian England. The task was to create a mime of two chimney sweeps gingerly climbing, using body language to convey the appalling conditions. Twin vertical spotlights in a darkened studio created the chimney.

Splodge understood his job perfectly. He was the immoveable base. Jamie began to ascend, using Splodge like a climbing frame, his body twisting and contorting. With knotted muscles he hauled his partner after him, ever higher through the intricate bends of the brickwork, although they never actually rose above the studio floor.

The class was engrossed. Through Jamie’s climb they relived the terror, the struggle and the pain. His desperation to succeed was the story of his life. Only the small, the insignificant, shrugging off the bruises and grazes, could truly know the abuse. And the class recognised this.

With a final burst of energy Jamie hauled himself onto Splodge’s shoulders, raised his arms into the cone of white light as if reaching for heaven and, eyes closed, basked in the glow of succeeding.

There was a second of silence.

Then the class roared.

Moving on to your Pocketbook, what was the hardest thing about writing the Drama & Learning Pocketbook?

The stringent editorial parameters. There were many rewrites until I got it right!

And the most satisfying?

The high quality end product.

What did you learn in the process?

That I am a better writer than I am a teacher.

Available from Teachers' Pocketbooks at £7.99

Which elements of your book have teachers found most helpful?

The book has been integral to the whole process of CPD courses delivered by the school where I teach. A copy is given to all those who attend. Different subject specialists find different parts relevant to them. In fact, it’s the sheer variety of the techniques that makes the book work.

Thinking about professional development then, what are your top tips for teachers?

I would encourage fellow teachers to understand the way the brain works and to work with it rather than against it.

(Note from ed: Look out for the Learning & the Brain Pocketbook due to be published in January 2011)

What key attributes would you advise teachers new to the profession to acquire or nurture?

I believe it’s important to have the courage to experiment and to give yourself permission to fail. It’s part of the learning process for us as well as the kids.

What advice would you give to teachers who want to develop their expertise in Drama?

Do it!

What have you learnt recently that has contributed to your own professional development?

I’m trying to understand and utilise the concepts lying behind co-operative learning techniques.

And finally, what are you working on at the moment?

I’m developing a set of ideas for using drama techniques in RE.

Brian’s Drama for Learning Pocketbook is available at £7.99 + p&p, from our website www.teacherspocketbooks.co.uk or via email: sales@teacherspocketbooks.co.uk or phone: 01962 735573

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