Fine Arts Programs in Middle Schools
In middle school, students begin moving from creative drama to more formal theatre. The emphasis in sixth grade remains on creative drama. In seventh and eighth grades, the curriculum and instruction in focus on interpretation and performance. As they advance, students gain a deeper understanding of theatrical elements, principles, and conventions. Young actors begin to dramatize more complex characters. Building on elementary school creative drama, students continue to build improvisation skills in unscripted theatre work.
Seventh and eighth graders continue creative drama work and begin to examine scripts, learn basic acting techniques, and explore aspects of technical theatre. By reading scripted materials, students analyze characters, study dialogue, and design stage movements. Middle school students acquire the knowledge and skills to be successful in theatre through research, creative thinking, problem solving, and improvisation.
The TEKS for sixth graders continue to emphasize creative drama. In grade 7, the introduction to formal theatre makes it feasible to combine seventh and eighth graders in a mixed-age class. Beginning and intermediate theatre students can be in one class as long as the teacher differentiates instruction for the various stages of skill development. Flexible grouping can also be used as a tool to support increased student learning.
Other considerations for scheduling and class size include:
- Space limitations
- Safety of participants
- Age and maturity of students
- Range of instructional activities included in the curriculum
- Amount of student-to-student interactions through discussion, peer evaluations, and group projects.
Middle school theatre can use a variety of facilities, equipment, and materials for classroom instruction, though the following types of performance spaces are most effective at this level:
- Standard classroom. A classroom with moveable desks or tables and chairs provides a clear space for instruction and rehearsals.
- Flexible theatre space (i.e., a theatre room, a black box theatre). A large room with a high ceiling can be used for rehearsals, laboratory scenes, and small-scale productions. This setting provides a close connection between performers and the audience, limited scenery needs, and platforms and lighting instruments for various stage configurations.
A grade 6 theatre program benefits from an alternative facility, or clear space, to best accommodate creative drama activities. In grades 7 and 8, a classroom may be used for instructional purposes, but a performance facility is also necessary. A flexible theatre space is preferable to a traditional proscenium theatre that seats a large number of people, has acoustical challenges, and may limit exploration of alternative staging and performance styles.
Students who beginning actors are usually more at ease performing for smaller groups, and a small space demands less of the adolescent’s developing voice. Seventh and eighth graders develop self-confidence, perceptual awareness, and basic principles of acting and script interpretation. A small, flexible theatre space allows students to foster these concepts and skills most effectively.