Robyn Ewing and John Nicholas Saunders: Bridging the literacy-arts divide in Australian primary education: drama as critical quality pedagogy

Ewing and Saunders present a meta-analysis of research findings on the School Drama programme.

In neo-liberal times the distance between traditional understandings of literacy and the Arts has lengthened dramatically. A partnership between Australia’s largest theatre company and Australia’s oldest university has developed, School Drama, a co-mentoring teacher professional learning program that bridges this distance and divide. Teaching artists co-teach in primary classrooms to support and encourage teachers to use drama-based pedagogy with quality children’s literature to improve student English and literacy outcomes. Almost a decade later, School Drama has gained both national and international attention reaching more than 22,000 teachers and their students since 2009. Ewing and Saunders will present a meta-analysis of the research findings from its pilot phase to subsequent scaling of the program across Australia in metropolitan and regional areas. Research findings encompass: the effectiveness of this teacher professional learning model to change teacher literacy pedagogy; the impact of the program on student academic and non-academic outcomes; the program’s long-term sustainability.

John Nicholas Saunders, a former secondary school teacher and Head of Department, is currently the Education Manager at Sydney Theatre Company and President of Drama Australia. He has extensive experience in and is a strong advocate for transformative Arts Education. An Honorary Associate, Sydney School of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney, John also teaches at a number of Sydney universities and regularly presents at national and international conferences. His doctoral work concentrates on the role of Drama pedagogy in improving student academic and non-academic outcomes.

Robyn Ewing AM, is Professor of Teacher Education and the Arts, University of Sydney. Formerly a primary teacher, Robyn’s teaching, research and writing includes a focus on the role quality arts experiences and processes can and should play in creative pedagogy and transforming the curriculum at all levels of education. She has worked in partnership with Sydney Theatre Company on the teacher professional learning program ‘School Drama’ since 2009.

Tegan is a strong advocate for the development of Theatre and the Arts in community settings and has been involved with numerous Applied Theatre programmes throughout her professional training and experience. Tegan graduated with a Master of Arts with Distinction in Applied Theatre from The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London. She has professional experience in Community Performance that promotes Young People’s expression and engagement through Puppetry and Theatre practices. As well as collaborating and performing with ERTH Visual & Physical Inc and Welsh theatre company PuppetSoup, she has co-directed and worked alongside Shop Front Arts Co-Op Junior Ensemble of 8-14-year old’s to create the original devised production, The Unknown. Tegan is currently working as Teaching Artist for Sydney Theatre Company’s ‘School Drama’. This is a Teachers Professional Development Program designed to improve teaching and learning by modelling the use of drama-based strategies with quality children's literature.