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INSPIRING EDUCATION | oise.utoronto.ca
Act I Scene I

Student Voices- Anne Wessels

My name is Anne Wessels and I’m in the fifth year of my PhD. I came to OISE as a classroom secondary school drama classroom teacher and had been really enjoying my additional qualifications courses and thought ‘I’d really like to stay in school.’ So I applied for the M.Ed. And when I arrived here at OISE I took Kathleen Gallagher’s course on Drama and the Arts in Urban Schools. And it was in that course that quite a lot changed because I had never considered that drama could be used methodologically in research. And when I started to read Kathleen’s work and start to hear more about the kind of things she was doing in schools through drama, I decided that this really held quite a lot of interest for me. And it was at that point that I changed from the M.Ed. to the M.A. and Kathleen agreed to be my supervisor for that project. And when I was coming close to the end of my Master’s, Kathleen invited me to be part of her research team. She was embarking on a 5-year research project looking at schools in many different regions of the world, schools that particularly served marginalized students, and this was hugely of interest to me as I was totally fascinated in learning more about how students could be engaged through drama. So the work on the research team has really been a very rich and fascinating experience. And I have a little prop here to show you: this is the three pages of skills and tasks of the other research members of the team and I put together trying to just keep track of all the things that we were learning as we took part in Kathleen’s project.


So when it came time for my doctoral proposal for my doctoral research, what I did was I started to think about the ways that Kathleen had used drama methodologically and I started to think ‘well how could I use drama to tell me more about suburban schooling?’ The focus of my research was looking at suburban schools rather than urban schooling, and I started to think how could drama help me understand youth experiences of the suburb and diversity of suburban schools more fully. So I asked my students in the classroom where I was doing my research, I asked them to create rituals about their everyday lives. And I asked if they could enact these rituals in the places where they took place. So throughout the school grounds, throughout the school property, all of these places were home to these various rituals that the students had experienced themselves in their schooling.


So the data itself was incredibly rich as you might imagine. And I also recognized that we had created these drama in the classroom. But I started to ask myself, how could drama be integrated into more conventional ethnographic methods like the interview. So what I started to do is start to incorporate drama into the focus group interviews so that the students would do drama together, and as a group they would discuss it. And this would happen after school and not during class time. So these were some of the ways I was trying to use drama and expand the uses of drama methodologically.


And another thing that I found really really interesting in Kathleen’s way of working was using writing as method. And in her project, as we started to collect the data, we would discuss it. And then when we thought we had enough here to start to do some writing what we did was we continued our discussion together as we analyzed the data that we had and then we started to engage theory and then write papers that we could publish in peer reviewed journals and also to present them at various conferences both in Canada and internationally. So as you can tell, this was an amazing five years of incredible learning about drama methodologically, about all sorts of ways that people can collaborate with each other through the processes of research, and this was to benefit youth, but also to expand the great possibilities that drama holds as a pedagogical tool.    

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