The audience will not tune in to watch information. You wouldn’t, I wouldn’t. No one would or will. The audience will only tune in — and stay tuned in — to watch drama.
~David Mamet, playwright and screenwriter
I don't usually get my teaching tips from television screenwriters, but I thought the above quote was worth some thought. If drama has a wide definition--let's say drama is a story resulting from human interactions--then adding drama to our teaching is definitely a way increase student engagement--the "tuning in" that David Mamet talks about above.
Our students often aren't here for the information, they're here for the drama. The students frequently find that drama in the actions of their peers. One of our jobs as teachers? Try to create that drama in our subject matter and class activities. Is drama necessary for learning? No, but it sure can help. Some ways to create that drama? Building teacher-student relationships, and including stories about content matter and school.
Last week at my school, a teacher sent out a link to an inspiring (and dramatic) Rita Pierson video on teacher-student relationships. Some teachers discussed it at lunch, a few other teachers commented by email. Teachers engaging other teachers, all right. Another example: also last week at my school, a teacher announced "Staff Spirit Day" with the theme of "Hey, I went to college!" We were to wear our college sweatshirts and tell students positive stories about our college experiences.
No college sweatshirt being handy, I donned my high school FFA jacket--yeah, that's right, vocational agriculture all the way. I was part of an amazing high school FFA team--we competed in nursery landscape contests across the state and even made our way to nationals in Kansas City.
The FFA jacket I wore last Friday prominently featured the name of my high school, a neighboring school district to the one in which I now teach. As I was sharing stories of high school and college, one of my current students reminded me, "Ms. Johnson, my grandpa was your high school biology teacher!" Sure enough, which meant that my teacher-student-teacher relationship with this family now spanned two school districts and several generations! Good, we've got some human drama.
This high school biology teacher, as I described to my class, was a colorful character, a former Marine who was able to do push-ups with one arm while suspending himself between two student desks. He brewed coffee in his science prep room and gave us worms to dissect. He retired with the graduating class: the students proclaimed him the "Senior senior."