Teaching Profession

Students Find an Outlet Through Playwriting

By Francesca Duffy — April 02, 2013 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Teachers, students, and community members gathered last week at a small performance space in Washington to recognize plays written by area students and to discuss the value of arts-integration in schools. The event, hosted by the Young Playwrights’ Theater program, which partners with schools in the region to bring playwriting instruction to classrooms, also celebrated the group’s first publication of student playwrights. Write to Dream includes plays written by local students since YPT’s inception in 1995, as well as common-core-aligned lesson plans for teachers.

Actors with the Young Playwrights' Theater in Washington perform a student-written play titled "Society Unjust."

YPT, which is similar to the New York- and Los Angeles-based Story Pirates, serves approximately 1,800 K-12 students in the D.C. metro area. According to the executive director, Brigitte Pribnow Moore, the program brings theater professionals into schools to conduct workshops during English classes once a week for 12-week periods. The actors, playwrights, directors, and stage designers help students understand the structure of a play—including character development, conflict, and language—and guide them through the writing process. The program culminates with professional actors coming in to perform excerpts from each student’s finished product.

“YPT’s mission is not just to enhance literacy, creativity, and critical-thinking skills,” said Moore during her welcome speech, but to “help students realize the power of their own voices.”

Last week’s event kicked off with the performance of a student-written play, acted out by professional artists. Written by a YPT alum who is now away at college, the play touched on issues of gentrification, portraying an elderly woman and her struggle to keep her home from being demolished by developers seeking to build a coffee shop in its place.

“Real-Life Issues”

After the performance, Chelsea Kirk, a high school English teacher at the Maya Angelou Academy in Laurel, Md., an alternative school located in a juvenile detention center, spoke of how the YPT lessons allowed her students to use writing as an outlet to talk about deep issues they are grappling with, such as violence and street life. “I think playwriting is so powerful for these kids. It’s a way for them to express themselves and deal with tough issues in their own way,” said Kirk.

Sam Burris, a high school student in Arlington, Va., spoke about how the playwriting instruction he received at school has helped him gain confidence in his writing.

Sam Burris, a student at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Va., whose published play focuses on a soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder, explained that his experience with YPT did wonders for his self-esteem. “In English class, there are usually strict rules with what you can do, so you don’t feel confident in your writing,” said Burris. But since YPT does not dictate the content of students’ plays, “you feel like what you wrote is actually yours.”

And since the plays deal with real-life issues, Kirk said she pairs them with nonfiction texts—a focus of the English/language arts Common Core State Standards—to discuss the issues that were brought up in the plays.

In terms of actual student-achievement gains, program manager Laurie Ascoli explained that the group has been working over the past several years with an education researcher to “establish a measurable model for arts learning in classrooms” throughout the region. Currently, YPT students complete an initial and an end-of-course writing assignment, which teachers use to assess progress. Students also complete questionnaires and surveys that address their understanding of playwriting concepts, writing ability, motivation, and interest in theater at the conclusion of the 12-week session. Ascoli said the group tends to see progress in those areas.

Three student-playwrights whose work is included in Write to Dream concluded the event by offering their advice to aspiring artists. Burris told the audience that it’s important to speak up about difficult issues. “If you see a problem that you think people should know about, it doesn’t matter how you express it … don’t be scared to talk about it through your own art form,” he said.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Assessment Webinar
The State of Assessment in K-12 Education
What is the impact of assessment on K-12 education? What does that mean for administrators, teachers and most importantly—students?
Content provided by Instructure
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Proven Strategies to Improve Reading Scores
In this webinar, education and reading expert Stacy Hurst will provide a look at some of the biggest issues facing curriculum coordinators, administrators, and teachers working in reading education today. You will: Learn how schools
Content provided by Reading Horizons

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession What Happens When Teachers Are Out of Sick Days?
We asked EdWeek's social media followers to share their school policies on COVID-related sick leave. Here’s how they responded. 
Marina Whiteleather
2 min read
Female at desk, suffering from flu symptoms like fever, headache and sore throat at her workplace
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Teaching Profession Explainer: Why Are Chicago Schools, Teachers' Union Fighting?
The issue that caused the most chaos in the roughly 350,000-student district was when and how to revert to remote learning.
3 min read
Members of the Chicago Teachers Union and supporters stage a car caravan protest outside City Hall in the Loop, Wednesday evening, Jan. 5, 2022. Chicago school leaders canceled classes in the nation’s third-largest school district for the second straight day after failing to reach an agreement with the teachers union over remote learning and other COVID-19 safety protocols. (Ashlee Rezin /Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Teaching Profession Some Teachers Are Running Out of Sick Days, and Administrators Are Hesitant to Help
With a shortage of substitutes and pressure to stay open, administrators are reluctant to extend paid time off for teachers with COVID.
13 min read
Professional male social distancing or self quarantining inside a coronavirus pathogen.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Teaching Profession Opinion 18 Ways to Improve Teacher Observations
Holding pre- and post-conferences, showing more compassion and less judgment, and organizing peer observations are valuable.
19 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty