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Obviously, students’ life stressors and their abilities to cope with them will vary from time to time and from one student to another. The problem of stress must be dealt with if students/teachers are to begin to learn/teach more successfully. The stress that adolescents experience can cause a great emotional block and resistance to the learning process. It is impossible to feed new information into an already fully logged computer disc and a student cannot be fed information if he/she is fully logged with life stress.
For simplicity, a universal approach must be taken in designing an educational structure to help this situation. This unit will provide an easy way to begin to deal with some of the stress that occupies the adolescent’s mind.
First, let’s be clear about what stress is and what recent research offers to deal with this problem. Stress is a created state or tension occurring in response to demands and pressures that come from the outside and the inside. It causes bodily as well as mental changes. Some bodily responses in dealing with stress pertain to hormone levels, high blood pressure and the lymphatic system. Stress has also been correlated with poor sleep patterns; either not being able to sleep restfully or the manifestation of increased sleep time. Most of these changes would not be readily visible to the teacher. Stress is usually most apparent during major life events. How might a teacher recognize stress? Early signs can vary and sometimes no signs are apparent.
Some of the mental signs of personal stress are:2
|1.||Lack of ability to think rationally. (A student is bumped accidently by another student and a fight ensues)|
|2.||Aggression and irritability that is manifested in a displaced manner. (Uncontrollable profanity directed at authority)|
|3.||Drawing away from a relationship. Isolation.|
|4.||An all around inability to relax.|
The result of adolescent stress is a classroom full of students unable to focus on anything. The teacher teaches to a room of chaos or a room of zombies. Listening and daily tasks suddenly become foreign to the students. The teacher begins to feel as though he/she is beating his/her head against a brick wall. The teacher becomes stressful because he/she can’t get enough work don in a classroom full of stressed students.
What do experts say will help? The most current answers deal with behavior therapy, cognitive therapy, cognitive-behavior therapy, distraction, physical activity, imagery, humor, escape time and relaxation techniques. Most of these are complicated and not readily available to all teachers, many of whom are already feeling an overload in the classroom.
This unit will borrow from all the current findings, combine them with drama, and take a form that can be easily used in the classroom to help students cope with stress. It will supply a light in the darkest part of the tunnel. It will produce laughter, tears, and hope. The unit will only need one hour of classroom time a week.
The unit borders on dramatic therapy with the difference being in its exclusively creative approach. Dramatic therapy would be presented as a definite tool to identify a problem and work it through. It would demand a willing participant, one who would agree that help and therapy is needed. The student in trouble may not realize that the need for help exists or might refuse it. The teacher will need to recognize the troubled student and provide as much help as possible.
The basic requirements for the teacher are not difficult, as they primarily consist of common sense tempered with compassion and warmth. The most important things to remember while using the unit are to remain calm and to be supportive through the initial phases of the unit. Students should be encouraged to decide for themselves what is safe to reveal under the tent of performing and should be offered other areas for possible stress release, if indicated, through teacher guidance. The unit is constructed in three phases.
|1.||For the unit to work successfully there must be a letting down of regular classroom walls during the hour spent on the unit each week. The students need to be allowed the freedom, while on stage, to use profanity, sexual comments and outbursts when necessary. When students confront the teacher with questions concerning these freedoms, students seem to respond best when phases like, “Use your own best judgement” and “Make sure you use common sense,” are used by the teacher. The teacher will need to walk a thin line of monitoring this freedom and allowing it at the same time. Full creative freedom for the student is essential for the unit to operate on its best level. The teacher is the best judge of creativity versus unwarranted behavior displayed by a student. Although you must be aware that even obnoxious behavior or strong displays are signals of a students mental well being.|
|2.||As a class, the students must be briefed on their role as a supportive audience. They won’t talk to the performer on stage, but they will “act” as still and quiet as possible. Laughing and clapping in support are acceptable. Each student needs to play the role’ of paying attention (the first attempt at good acting).|
|3.||The teacher should not expect immediate results with this unit. The students will test to see if they will be allowed complete freedom of expression. A student may present a written work containing strong language or content and ask if it is acceptable. If the teacher allows the student to make the decision of performing it in front of the class, rather than imposing restrictions, “the wind is usually taken out of their sails” and the student performs another piece. The students will also test to see if the teacher cares about each student as a person. When a student reveals personal information, he/she will look for acknowledgement from the teacher, and sometimes warmth. It may be advisable to show some simple form of physical affirmation such as a pat on the back or a hug as a simple way of showing concern for the student.|
The teacher needs to be a friend and a guide during this hour. The testing of the teacher is “being put through the fire.” If the teacher can make it through this fire somewhat calmly, then he/she is fifty percent of the way to a better classroom atmosphere for all. If the teacher is feeling abused, try talking with the students about the way “it feels.” The students have hearts, sometimes they just need to be prompted.
The nature of the unit is one that could be viewed much like group therapy. The unit should not be presented to the student as a form of therapy, it should be presented in its pure creative form. The creative work will produce results on its own merit. The teacher will be very much like a coach for the students. Because of the nature of the unit and the nature of dramatic performing, there will be some awkwardness. This awkward feeling is due to the vulnerable nature of the work. Once the ice has been broken the threat and fearfulness becomes lessened and enjoyment ensues.
The first and most crucial relaxation exercise consists of an imaginary trip. The students begin by lying flat on their backs and focusing on their breathing. The student should count silently to ten while inhaling and exhaling. (The teacher can count to ten out loud a few times to set the pace for the class.) This type of breathing enables the student to slow down mentally and physically. The teacher should talk in a basic tone, with a slow rhythm, guiding the students verbally through the tensing up and releasing of tension throughout the body. The teacher may begin with the toes progressing upward or the top of the head progressing down. An example would be: “Students tense your toes, breath, relax your toes.”*(See Lesson Plan) After guiding the students through this process the next step is to guide the student through an imaginary trip. Explain to the students that the trip is in the mind only and minimal movement is acceptable but extensive movement will disrupt the relaxed state. An imaginary trip is included in the lesson plan. The muscle relaxation technique can also be used without the imaginary trip after the completion of the exercise 2 or 3 times.
The use of this exercise should be explained to the students as a tool to use when developing their monologues or when working on characters. It is also a tool to help gain control of nervousness. The simple act of breathing slowly and with great awareness can give the student control again in a moment that lacks control. The teacher can use the exercise to help students begin to make choices in life. The old count to ten with breathing and then thinking will help the student learn to behave more rationally in irrational times.
The length of time devoted to the relaxation portion of the unit can vary. After the completion of the first technique two or three times as a class the students will be prepared for Phase II and Phase III. Mastery of relaxation could take a lifetime, so the teacher may want to return to this phase even after having moved forward into Phases II and III. It is the beginning of the unit, but should not be left behind when the students have gone through the phase.
Even the student who does not master this exercise will still reap some of its benefits. The idea is that without the pressure of actually going through therapy, the student will learn, slowly but surely, to transfer the control offered to help them as performers into control of everyday life situations. Just as the actor assesses unwanted behavior in a developed character, the students can begin to recognize unwanted behavior in their own lives and start to find ways to make new choices in situations where previously they may have reacted without forethought. Relaxation helps the imagination, strengthens the performer, puts ideas into perspective, and is the stepping stone to performing in life as well as on stage.
Objective Students will learn to actively take part in relaxing themselves physically and mentally. Students will learn to become aware of specific thought processes through relaxation exercises.
Materials Needed Mats or towels (optional for students to lie on)
|1.||Explain to students they will be doing a relaxation exercise. It will help them act (on stage) and exercise their imagination.|
|2.||Have students lie flat on their backs with legs flat or knees bent. (their option)|
|3.||Tell students to close their eyes and that no looking around or talking should be done during the relaxation exercise.|
|4.||Have students focus on their breathing by saying something like: “Focus on nothing but breathing, feel the air going in, feel the air coming out. Concentrate on the sound of your breathing, notice if you are taking slow or rapid breaths. Try to release all the thoughts from your mind while exhaling.”|
|*5.||Tell students to continue to be aware of their breathing and to listen to the directions given by the teacher.|
|*6.||Now the teacher will begin giving directives to the student for body relaxation. Example lead in: “Now I will guide you through relaxing the entire body. Tense your toes, breathe in, release the air and tension in your toes. Tense your feet, breathe in, release the air and tension in your feet.” As students and teacher become more familiar the guiding can be simplified to: “Tense (guide word) and breathe and release. Using these guide words, toes, feet, ankles, calves, thighs, buttock, pelvis, lower back, upper back, shoulders, neck, chin, lips, face, scalp, entire head, students are lead through complete muscle relaxation.|
|7.||Tell students to continue to breathe and be aware of any body tension being released. Tell students to do this on their own while following in their minds the imaginary trip. Example Imaginary Trip: As you are lying on the floor, suddenly you realize it is sand beneath you not a floor. Then you realize the sun is on you and you are hot, very hot. The sand you are lying in is warm and the sound of the water is in the background. The heat is almost unbearable, you try to move and cannot. (Now give students a few moments to absorb this much.)|
|*Finally, you are able to move and slowly you make your way to the water to cool off. What color is your water? Blue, green, blue/green. Is it clear or dark? You look around and realize you are on an island. What type of trees does your island have? Palm, oak, etc. . . . Are there animals? What sounds do you hear? Do you hear birds, wild animals, bugs, wind, etc. . . . You see a raft over by the shore and you get into it. What color is it? Is it made of logs, wood or rubber? You get into the raft and lie down and begin to float. Feel the water underneath you. What does it feel like? Is it soothing or unsettling? You are very tired so you lie serenely on your raft. Suddenly you realize you are lying on the floor again.|
|8.||Tell students to take their time getting up and make sure all are awake as some may have fallen asleep. Evaluation should begin immediately with the students grouped together.|
- Were you able to feel relaxed and focus on the imaginary trip?
- Did your mind wander?
- What did your island look like?
- Did you decide why you were there?
- How do you feel right now?..More relaxed, the same, a little different?
- What color was your raft and what was it made of?
- Students should show some proficiency the first time they attempt this exercise. After a few times look for increased ability. The island trip can be used again, expanded on or new trips may be developed. Make sure new trips are of some sort of relaxed nature at the onset.
When beginning the performance of the monologue, it will probably be advisable to choose a student to go first who is likely to excel. Then give something extra to the student who does well in front of the group and be prepared to give the student actions to go with the piece. An example of something extra would be: A student does a piece on the death of someone, suggest they do the monologue again and improvise a conversation with the spirit of the person. An example of added action would be physically reenacting the event described. *(See Lesson Plan) If students who excel are resistant to extras try not to push them. If any student is unable to perform, have them write down and turn in what they would like to do.
During this phase, compassion and warmth, supportive statements and positive feedback from the teacher should be used. It may be necessary for the teacher to work with one student for the entire hour. The teacher should also have information on hand to direct students to extra help if necessary; such as books on presentations, experienced people, other students who have met with success.
This phase will also give the teacher some clues into what the student is like emotionally. The beauty of this phase is that it becomes a time of stepping out of the basic day to day doldrums. Whether a student does something silly or serious, as the emotions flow, everyone’s stress becomes lessened. There is no secret to why it works. It is simply wonderful to have the chance to express oneself. The personal monologues will help the teacher and student get to know one another. Personal Monologues can be done as long as the teacher chooses.
Objective The student will learn to express themselves creatively through a monologue, speak in front of an audience as well as learning to be a good audience to others.
Materials Needed Space provided for a stage area, a chair
|1.||Give students an explanation of monologue, and that it will be performed by them alone in front of the class. *Allow students time to prepare a personal monologue of their choice. (written or improvised)|
|2.||*Meet with students for several one hour sessions and work with individuals to help them formulate and feel comfortable with the subject chosen as well as the personal monologue itself.|
|3.||Explain to the students that being an audience is as important as being a performer. Classrooms that do not naturally respond to being a good audience can be given letter and/or conduct grades for being an audience member.|
|4.||Set a chair up on ‘stage’ (real or created) and choose a student to perform their personal monologue.|
|*See essay portion for suggestions in dealing with problems.|
|5.||Have a student perform their monologue and when finished give him/her additions and/or new ideas and the opportunity to perform again with these additional suggestions.|
|6.||*Close out student work on the monologue when deemed necessary. Have the audience applaud.|
|7.||Give student personal words of affirmation.|
|“I really liked ____________________________________”|
|“It was funny when ____________________________________”|
|“I could really empathize with ____________________________________”|
- Was student successful at choosing a monologue?
- Did the student perform monologue?
- Was the audience supportive?
Optional Letter grades may be used if the teacher feels they are helpful. Talent and effort should be balanced for letter grades.
Excerpts from Monologues actually written and performed by students . . .
“Has someone really close to you ever died? Well it’s happened to me. Two people within two months. First it was my Grandmother. Not only was she my Grandmother but she was my best friend. She gave me everything I needed . . . food, clothes, money and shelter. She was always there for me and always took care of me. But then things changed. I had to start taking care of her. The doctors said that she had cancer. After 3 weeks, she passed away.
Then, my Grandfather. He got really sick the day before my Grandmother died. He was admitted into the hospital. After two long months in the hospital bed, he died.“Have you ever really been in love? Well, I have, and it’s really shocking because I’m not the type of person to fall in love, and all my friends know that. They were really shocked when I poured my heart out to them and cried on their shoulders.
I really didn’t know what I was gonna do. I mean my friends were there for me, they were really supportive. But, I mean do you know how it feels lying awake at night and crying. I mean first you’re guilty cause you didn’t even get to say goodbye then you keep asking, ‘Why God, why this person?’ I mean you always think they’re gonna be there for you and they’re gonna see you graduate high school. But, as the months passed I realized that even though that person passes on their memory will be there forever.”
Now this is how it all started. It was about 2 weeks before Valentines Day when this certain person who never even looked at me started noticing me and saying ‘Hi!’ when he passed me in the halls. Then he started calling me. Well I thought he was just being nice. I never knew what I was in for. One thing led to another and we started going out. I wasn’t sure how much I liked him. I knew I liked him a lot but I has no idea it was love. It finally hit me on Valentines Day when he didn’t even call me. I was really upset, cried all day. I kept the crying to myself, I didn’t let anyone know it effected me. The next night he ditched me. I got dumped. Yeah, I guess you can say he played me. After that we didn’t talk. Well actually I didn’t talk to him for about two months. I went out with a few people that didn’t really mean much to me to try to take my mind off him and to help me forget him. But I knew no matter what, I still wasn’t over him. I wanted to kill myself, I was so miserable, until April vacation! He called me, I said ‘Wait a minute, this has to be a joke, you’re actually talking to me?’ We talked for an real long time and then just out of the blue he asked me out. I didn’t understand why, but I didn’t care at the moment because I was happy and going out with him! This relationship was going pretty good, well that’s what I thought. On our one week anniversary he called me up (himself) and said ‘I don’t think we should go out anymore, but he wants to stay friends’. Well I just said O.K. and hung up and cried for days. That is the worst thing to say, and he said it. I couldn’t believe what he was putting me through. I couldn’t even look at him, my eyes would get all glassy, but I refused to cry in front of him. I kept on saying to myself ... ‘He isn’t worth it’, but I knew in my heart it really was. Recently he started talking to me again, just when I was trying to get over him. Now I love him even more. I try to get over him, but I just can’t help myself. He tells me he likes me but I don’t believe him and I don’t want to because I really don’t feel like getting hurt again. He told me he would ask me out, but his best friend likes me. That was like a knife going through my heart. In a way I wanted to believe him but I couldn’t. Sometimes I say to myself . . . ‘Why do I love him? Why am I wasting my time on someone I don’t have a chance with? Why me?’
I guess I don’t really have a choice. There is one thing I know, and that’s he is my first true love and even if I never get him back I will never forget him.”
Role Play is similar to scene work but it is specifically used for working on standing in another person’s shoes. A common use of role play is to allow students to solve daily problems on stage. Problems with parents, teachers and one another are possible options. Role play can be very helpful in dealing with conflict situations.
Improvisational Work can be fun or a way to tackle serious issues. It is a great way to play while performing. It is work using thoughts from off the top of one’s head. There are many improvisational games. One is called the one word story. Each student is allowed to use one word with the next student adding a word and together the words are to form some sort of story. Another improvisation game is “draw the idea from the hat.” Different ideas for scenes are put into a hat and drawn by groups of 2 to 3 people. The students then must perform a scene using the idea. Listening and cooperating are focal points for improvisational work. Other improvisational games can be found in theater books, some of which will be included on the unit teacher resource book list.
Character Development is yet another area of enrichment. Character development can be done through the study of character within a play or through real people and their personalities. When deriving a character profile from a play, traits can be determined from context clues and/or personal interpretation. This project may be done by individuals or as a group. When using everyday people; observing and the use of stereotypes are fun. The key to developing a well rounded character is using one’s own life experiences and expanding them with observations and imagination. *(See Lesson Plan)
All of the suggestions of further enrichment in Phase III are easily found in books that deal with theater. Using the strengths of stressful emotional release found in Phase I and II in combination with other areas of drama, stress can be released in new and innovative ways. The teacher can create a system that works for his or her classroom.
Objectives Students will learn to work from instinct and think quickly.
Materials Paper and pen (optional)
Procedures The following is a basic outline for improvisational work.
|1.||Participants are chosen.|
|2.||Ideas are chosen. Conflict situations are usually the simplest to work with.|
|Friendship conflicts, etc. . . .|
|3.||Short discussion among performers (teacher may also participate) about how the improvisation will go.|
|4.||Put the scene on stage.|
|If necessary, the teacher can ask students to find way to end the scene.|
Evaluation As the class discusses choices made on stage new or alternative choices can be discussed. Now the option to restage with new choices exists.
Objective Students will learn to observe the characteristics that create personalities in life and stage.
Materials Needed Any written play (optional)
Procedures This is just one of several basic observation lessons used to give insight into character development and the following can be transposed for usage in other ways.
|1.||Discussion: Personalities, What creates them? Voice, movement, nice, cool, villain, hero . . .|
|2.||Have each student choose one person to observe for one week. The way they walk and talk. How do they act when happy, angry, upset, nervous, etc. . . . Noting as many characteristics, physical and/or emotional, as possible.|
|3.||Have students report their findings and emulate at least one thing observed.|
|4.||Discuss these traits as building blocks for characters.|
|5.||If using a play, after completing steps 1 through 4 have the class read the play and discuss possible traits of one or two characters and how they relate to the actual people observed.|
Did student participate in the discussion? Was student able to observe characteristic traits? Was student able to transfer this knowledge to understanding characters in a play?
Benedetti, Robert. The Actor At Work: An Introduction to the Skills of Acting. Englewood Cliff, NJ:Prentice-Hall, 1981.
Cohen, Robert. Acting Power: An Introduction to Acting. Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield, 111978.
Franklin, Miriam. Rehearsal: The Principles and Practice of Acting for the Stage. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972.
Lane, Yoti. The Psychology of the Actor. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1960.
Stanislavski, Constantin. Building A Character. New York: Theatre Art Books, 1949.
Chilver, Peter. Improvised Drama. London: B.T. Batsford, 1967.
Martin, William and Vallins, Gordon. Exploration Drama. London: Evans, 1970-77.
Pierini, Mary Paul Frances. Creative Dramatics: A Guide for Educators. New York: Herder & Herder, 1971.
Barker, Clive. Theatre Games. London: Eyre Methuen, 1977.
Eberle, Robert. Games for Imagination Development. Buffalo: DOK Publishers, 1971.
Spolin, Viola. Improvisation for the Theatre: A Handbook of Teaching and Directing Techniques. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University, 1963.
Anjanaro, Altshuler. Response to Drama. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976.
Barranger, M.S. Theatre: A Way of Seeing. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1980.
Early, Michael and Keil, Philippa, Eds. The Best Monologues of the 80’s. (Women)
Early, Michael and Keil, Philippa, Eds. The Best Monologues of the 80’s. (Men)
Harling, Robert. Steel Magnolias.
Henley, Beth. Crimes of the Heart.
Howe, Tina. Painting Churches.
Kaufman, George S. and MacGrath, Leveen. Amicable Parting.
Nigro, Don. Seascape With Sharks and Dancer.
Noonan, John Ford. A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking.
Simon, Neil. Brighton Beach Memoirs.
Terkel, Studs. Working.
Wade, Kevin. Key Exchange.
|1.||Chandler, Louis A. Assessing Stress in Children. New York: Praeger, 1985.|
|2.||D’Onofrio, Jan and Klesse, Ed. Adolescent Stress. Reston, VA: National Association of Secondary School Principals, 1990.|
|3.||Hanson, Peter G. Stress for Success: How to Make Stress on the Job Work for You. 1st ed. New York: Springer Verlag, 1986.|
|4.||Johnson, James H. Life Events as Stressors in Childhood and Adolescence. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1986.|
|5.||Kendall, Phillip C. (Eds.) Advances in Cognitive Behavioral Research and Therapy. Vol. 3, Florida: Academic Press, Inc., 1984.|
|6.||Klein, D.M. and Aldons J. (Eds.) Social Stress and Family Development. New York: Guilford Press, 1988.|
|7.||Krohne Heinz W. and Laux, L. Achievement Stress and Anxiety. New York: Hemisphere Publishing, 1982.|
|8.||Landy, Robert J. Drama Therapy: Concepts and Practices. Springfield, IL: CCThomas, 1986.|
|9.||Lefcourt, Herbert M. and Martin, Rod A. Humor and Life Stress: Antidote to Adversity. New York: Springer Verlag, 1986.|
|10.||Robertson, Warren. Free to Act: How to Star in Your Life. New York: Putnam, 1978.|
|11.||Schattner, G. and Courtney, R. (Eds.) Drama in Therapy. 1st ed. New York: Drama Book Specialists, 1981.|
Contents of 1991 Volume V | Directory of Volumes | Index | Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute