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Dramatising the syllabus -

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Sydney University academic Robyn Ewing is leading a celebrity backed push to have drama used as a
learning tool across many disciplines.

Transcript

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: There's a new push to integrate drama right across the school curriculum
instead of as a stand-alone subject, and one of Australia's most famous actresses is at the
campaign's forefront. Cate Blanchett has joined forces with a Sydney University academic to run a
drama program in schools to help teachers find their inner thespian and students improve their
literacy. Natasha Johnson reports.

NATASHA JOHNSON, REPORTER: At Haberfield Public School in Sydney's inner-west, this is how you'd
expect to see children to learn about literacy. And this is how they learn when there's drama in
the classroom.

It might look chaotic, but these Year Three children are acting out characters they've created,
inspired by the book they're studying called The Lost Thing.

But this is not a drama class, it's an English lesson in which drama is being used as a teaching
tool as part of an innovative program to integrate drama across the school curriculum to improve
learning.

ROBYN EWING, EDUCATION, SYDNEY UNI.: We have significant numbers of children who become disengaged,
especially in the middle years of schooling. It's been demonstrated over and over again that
actually getting into the action, engaging children in their own learning instead of being taught
to or taught at makes a huge difference.

NATASHA JOHNSON: Building on 15 years' work interweaving education and the arts, Sydney University
academic Robyn Ewing has now joined forces with the Sydney Theatre Company, headed by director
Andrew Upton and his wife actor Cate Blanchett who visited Haberfield to see the program in action.

CATE BLANCHETT, SYDNEY THEATRE COMPANY: If you can bring a book alive, if you can ignite a sense of
wonderment in a child's education, then that is something that will just ...

ANDREW UPTON, SYDNEY THEATRE COMPANY: Stay forever.

CATE BLANCHETT: Yeah. I mean, it's a bushfire and a productive bushfire for that child. And I think
that that is - if we can impart that in any way, I mean, I think it's - we have a responsibility to
do so.

NATASHA JOHNSON: The program is aimed at the teachers, not the students and employs professional
actors to work alongside teachers over seven weeks, training them in how to use dramatic techniques
to better engage their children in learning.

CATE BLANCHETT: Becoming parents made us revisit our own sense of our own primary school education,
...

ANDREW UPTON: Yeah.

CATE BLANCHETT: ... and we were very influenced by the theatre and education programs. We have two
in primary school, and you realise how different children are and the way they don't always learn
in a conventional way. And it's often a left-of-field approach that will open up the important
questions that are going to develop that child's personality and their love of learning.

NATASHA JOHNSON: Ben Wood has enjoyed screen success in television shows like Underbelly, All
Saints and the odd commercial. In between acting gigs he's employed to help teachers like Katie
McLennan find her inner performer.

BEN WOOD, ACTOR: The first week or two, they don't really know what to do. They kind of sit there
and they watch you. But there are these great moments when they jump in and they take over and you
get a lotta satisfaction out of that.

KATIE MCLENNAN, TEACHER: It's been quite confronting, and the first couple of lessons I was quite
reserved, but as we've gone along and I've got more confidence and more skills, I've definitely got
in there, gone for it with the children and just had as much fun as them, really.

NATASHA JOHNSON: The program was piloted in five Sydney schools in 2009 and has grown to 18 in
three years, all reporting it's helped boost children's confidence and literacy.

KATIE MCLENNAN: The engagement in the subsequent literacy activities has been really significant.
They - because they're connecting the literacy with the fun of the drama activity that they've just
had, they're automatically more engaged in doing work on it.

ALISTAIR MACDONALD, STUDENT: They're really fun and you get to do anything you want and say
anything you want and you can act it out and move your body. Like, when you're in normal class, you
just have to sit there and do your work.

VIVECA TANG, STUDENT: After the drama lessons, I'm thinking more about the books and the story and
the characters.

NATASHA JOHNSON: Provided free to schools and funded largely by donations to the STC, the program's
results are being evaluated by Sydney University with the hope it can be extended across the
curriculum and the country.

ANDREW UPTON: The big vision of course would be that we could then impart that knowledge to all the
other state theatre companies and they could link up with a university in their city.

ROBYN EWING: Drama can have a similar impact in social studies or in history, in geography, in
maths, science, etc. You only have to look at the engagement of the children to see that's the kind
of learning we want across the primary curriculum.