THA 138B Education Through Creativity and Theatrical Pedagogy

THA 138B Education Through Creativity and Theatrical Pedagogy

THA 138b – Education through Creativity and Theatrical Pedagogy

Thursdays 2-4:50pm – Merrick Theater

Jennifer Cleary, Senior Lecturer –

Drop-in Office Hours (Spingold Office #3, First floor) – Mondays, 12pm-3pm

Course Description

A core question is: how can we help others learn something with meaning and depth? Something they will remember long after the lesson has ended? The answer is: by using creativity in teaching and learning. Learning by creative means allows all of us to not only learn about something, but we learn within it by being involved in it and reflecting on it. Creativity breeds innovation and imagination, allowing us to solve problems and make decisions in a different way; we have the ability to equip ourselves and our students with the creative reach to make a real difference in the world in which we live.

How many of us try and educate others in our lives through storytelling? More specifically: how about the coach/mentor/advisor who helps students understand through role-play? Or the religious leader/mentor who guides others through visualization and imagination? How many math teachers have a secret talent for comedy, to make algebra come alive? Or the science teacher who loves to tell stories using different voices while explaining cell biology? The French teacher who also loves painting and uses art to teach French culture and language? Or the adult community program instructor who helps senior citizens write poetry about their own oral histories?

This course will focus on creativity in pedagogy from a theatrical/storytelling lens. Together, we are ultimately finding the creativity that already exists within each of you and helping you to use it in the work we do in class. This course will first focus on the building of community and confidence that must take place within a learning environment that utilizes creative and theatrical arts as a modality. Creativity may be interesting and fun, but it can be risky for all involved; we need to create an environment where people will want to take these risks. We will read about using story and theatre in the classroom and engage with the examples in these readings. This foundational exploration will help students to ground their own ideas, as well as to expand their own creative reach.

How do we know when our students are learning in a theatrical/creative exercise? How can we use theatre as a tool for building confidence, community, and leadership, outside of the realm of professional theatre practitioners? Can we redefine what theatre means in this context? How can we enhance the process-based learning environment and not over-focus on the product? And finally, how can we create the kind of environment that allows students to take risks and look silly and fail and have fun and LEARN, all at the same time? This type of pedagogy allows people of all ages to see how creativity can help them in everyday life – and will allow you to feel the power of your creativity in your own life as well.

Course Format

We will work to build a learning community in this class. Our community-building may be implicit or explicit – but it will bring us together into a like-minded space, leaving the day and the world behind for a moment and freeing ourselves to think creatively, both individually and collectively.

Our work together will be based around themes. Through readings, discussions, and hands-on exercises/assignments/writings/speakings, we will discuss our ideas behind using theatre and creativity for different outcomes. We will connect every theme we discuss to creativity, teaching, and learning.

You will engage in a semester project focused in your own area(s) of interest, learning how to infuse creativity and theatrical pedagogy in creating innovative learning plans/projects and navigating assessment in creative endeavors. We will all teach each other and learn from each other, through the playing out of the content.

Finally, this course focuses on reflective communication and reflective writing. Learning how to speak and write well is a critical part of a Brandeis education.

Required Readings will come from the following texts. They will be on reserve in the library and are also available used on Amazon. When possible per copyright laws, I will post readings as PDFs on LATTE.

Theatre Games for the Classroom by Viola Spolin

Power of Story: Teaching through Storytelling by Rives Collins and Pamela J. Cooper

Teachers as Cultural Workers: Letters to Those Who Dare Teach by Paolo Freire

  • Readings policy in class: The order of readings is listed on the Scheduleattached below. You are expected to keep up with this reading schedule, even if we go off topic in class – this way, the amount of reading per week stays consistent and balanced.
  • My philosophy on readings: We will not discuss every reading in class, but they are still important as the foundation to the work done in class and to your learning. Just because we don’t discuss it specifically doesn’t mean we are not using it. I will assume you are keeping up with these readings.


Self-Discovery Speakings and Writings (2 Speakings, 2 Writings)

  • These assignments/due dates are on the schedule below and occur throughout the semester. You are expected to note what/when and keep track of this yourself in your own organizational system. I will not regularly remind you to complete them. If you need support in how to organize your assignments and deadlines, please don’t hesitate to talk to me about this!
  • Through 2 Writings and 2 Speakings this semester, you will explore your experiences and thoughts/ideas around creativity, artistry, and education. Creativity doesn’t mean we don’t have guidelines and limitations - expectations are still vital even when working creatively.
  • When you write, please write in the first person (like you would if you were speaking), as if you are having a conversation with me. When you are speaking, have a conversation with me! Do not just read to me on video. While the writing and speaking styles are more informal in nature, please be aware that you must write and speakwith care and with careful proofreading/preparation. They are in an informal, creative style but are still professionally completed.
  • Length will vary, depending on your answer to the question asked. An average length of Writings (double-spaced) is between 2-4 pages (but you can write single-spaced, I am fine with this). An average length for the Speakings would be 2-4 minutes long.
  • You will be graded on the depth of your reflection, regardless of format, and your quality/efforts in writing/proofreading/speaking, as well as on following instructions completely and on-time submission.
  • Post on LATTE in PDF Format for all Writings.
  • Send me a link for all Speakings. Use whatever platform works for you, as long as I can access it.

Semester Project –5-Lesson Unit Plan

  • Your final project in this course is a Unit Plan, the creation of an original, cohesive unit of studywith goals, objectives, methodology explained, reflection, and assessments.
  • See the Unit Plan Description on LATTE. This project will be explained further in class, but you can start (and should start) thinking about this on day 1!
  • You will have one lesson plan draft reviewed in a March classto prepare you for the entire project. These are ungraded and peer/instructor reviewed but they will affect your final unit plan grade if you submit them late or do not submit them at all. See the syllabus schedule.



  • You may turn in ONE writing or speaking late this semester without penalty (with the exception of the Unit Plan) – this extension is for no more than 72 hours (3 days). If you request an extension, you will be using this one free extension to do so. An additional requested extension will not be in addition to this free extension, regardless of reason.

Late assignments:

  • I will accept late assignments, but you will be graded down one full-letter grade for every day it is late (A to B, B to C and so on), outside of your one allowed late assignment. After 3 days, the assignment will receive an E grade (but turning it in will earn you a 50% failing grade, as opposed to a 0% failing grade, which will make a positive difference to your final grade.)

Your final grade will be based on the following:

  • Class participation in discussions/activities. You must attend class (on-time) and participate (active listening as well as speaking) to achieve full-credit.
  • Ability to work consistently and respectfully as a member of a group.
  • Equal contribution/in-class participation in group projects.
  • Writing and Speaking assignments.
  • Ability to take risks and dig deeply and creatively.
  • Commitment to the class as a community of learners.
  • Completion of readings.
  • Final unit plan and presentation.


Absences are not permitted during the Unit Plan Presentations (see dates on syllabus). You are all active participants in all of these presentations, not just your own. You may not use your free absence during this time.

Note that regardless of absence reason, excused or otherwise, students must complete a make-up assignment to be discussed with the instructor, based on the work from that week of class. No class is a free miss without a make-up assignment. It is on you to contact the instructor and meet about this make-up assignment.

You are allowed ONE excused absence for any reason but be aware that this absence equals missing one week of class. We meet once per week, and we do a week of work in class, and when you miss class, you are still responsible for all of the work missed AND I will not meet to reteach the course with you. I will answer questions about the class only after you have conferred with a classmate about what you have missed. This absence does not need to be approved by me and I do not need to know the reason. It should be used wisely and not wasted, and used prior to April 19. If you do not need to use the absence, I suggest you do not use it, because regardless of when you pick, you will miss important class-time group work that cannot be made up.

After ONE absence, you will lose one letter grade towards your class participation grade for each additional absence for any reason (50% of your grade would go from an A to a B and so on). Even if you write to me about absences beyond the first free one, I will not excuse them beyond the 1 permitted, unless there are extenuating circumstances that are communicated to me and to Academic Services, such as extended illness, death in the family, etc. Coming to class is of the utmost importance for this course and will be reflected in the final grade. If you have questions about this, please speak with me. If you cannot commit to attending class, you should rethink taking this course.

Be sure to let me know if you are traveling to/from another class. Even if you are coming from another class, you are expected to arrive within 5 minutes of the start time. Repeated lateness will affect your class participation grade as well, regardless of reasons.

Four-Credit Course (with three hours of class time per week)

Success in this 4-credit hour course is based on the expectation that students will spend a minimum of 9 hours of study time per week in preparation for class (readings, papers, projects, etc.).

If you are a student with a documented disability on record at Brandeis University and wish to have a reasonable accommodation made for you in this class, please see me immediately.

You are expected to be familiar with and to follow the University’s policies on academic integrity. Faculty will refer any suspected instances of alleged dishonesty to the Office of Student Development and Conduct. Instances of academic dishonesty may result in sanctions including but not limited to failure in the course, failure on the assignment in question, suspension from the University and/or educational programs.


ATTENDANCE: Overall Presence, Engagement, and Participation (Active listening, dialogue, preparation, group work, attendance, punctuality, make-up work for missed class): 50%

  • Note that just showing up will not give you full credit. You will be individually graded on your work in the group projects done in class and assessed based on your commitment to the class community in discussion, attendance, and punctuality. You do not need to talk all the time to show engagement – active listening is crucial to being a member of a community.

Speakings/Writings (4): 20% (5% each)

Final Unit Plan Project: 30%

Specific Schedule: **Subject to Change. Reading assignments will NOT change unless stated in class.

Week 1 (Jan. 11) - INTRODUCTIONS. Syllabus. Semester Unit Plan Project.

  • Community-building. Working in groups.
  • What is Creativity? Creativity in Education?
  • Space and Environment’s role.
  • Setting Home Groups for semester – check-ins, peer review, support.
  • DUE NEXT CLASS (by 9am on class day): 2 LATTE Posts: Introduce Yourself and Post Freire Reading Response
  • DUE NEXT CLASS: Readings
  • Paolo Freire, Teachers as Cultural Workers: Letters to Those Who Dare Teach: “Fifth Letter: The First Day of School.” PDF ON LATTE. Post Responses to LATTE Forum Question.

NO CLASS – Jan. 18 (Brandeis Monday)


  • Social Change in Education – an underlying foundation (Freire Reading).
  • Group work in class: Water Cycle. Complete preparation in class.
  • DUE NEXT CLASS: First Writings/Speakings Assignment (post Feb. 1 by NOON): Tell me about your experience with an educator/teacher/mentor who made something come alive for you. What did they do?
  • DUE NEXT CLASS: Readings (PDFs all on LATTE)
  • Spolin, Theater Games: Author Bio. Preface. CH 1, “Why Bring Theater Games into the Classroom?”
  • Collins/Cooper, Power of Story: Preface (poem). CH 1, “Storytelling Is…”


  • Present Water Cycles!
  • DUE NEXT CLASS: Readings (PDFs all on LATTE)
  • Spolin, Theater Games: CH 2, “Warm-ups.” **Note games you like from this chapter.
  • Collins/Cooper, Power of Story: CH 2, “This is Why I Tell It: The Value of Telling Stories.”

Week 4 (Feb. 8): LESSON PLANNING. PLAY, CREATIVITY, AND EDUCATION. How do play and creativity relate?

  • How do you learn? How do you teach? Teaching, learning, community, culture. Lesson planning/writing. (Format ON LATTE).
  • Ideal Spaces for Teaching and Learning.
  • **Unit Plan Presentation Schedule Posted on LATTE this week.
  • DUE NEXT CLASS: Bring in a PLAY ITEM from your living space – anything that says “playful” to you.
  • DUE NEXT CLASS: Readings(one of the two on LATTE. Books on reserve in Library)
  • Spolin, Theater Games: CH 3-4, “Rhythmic Movement Games,” “Space Walks.”
  • Collins/Cooper, Power of Story: CH 3, “We All Have Stories: Discovering Personal Narratives.” ON LATTE


  • Warm-up: Play object.
  • Group work in class: Story Projects.
  • DUE NEXT CLASS AFTER BREAK: Second Speakings/Writings Assignment (post March 1st by NOON): Tell me about your childhood play memories. What are some of the things you loved to do as a child? Give me 2 specific experiences.
  • DUE NEXT CLASS: Readings (One of the three on LATTE. Books on reserve in Library)
  • Spolin, Theater Games: CH 5, “Transformation Games.”
  • Collins/Cooper, Power of Story: CH 4, “Going to the Well: Choosing Stories for Telling.”
  • Dorothy Heathcote, Drama as a Learning Medium (1976): CH 1: “What Drama Can Do.” ON LATTE.

NO CLASS – Feb. 22 (Feb. Break)


  • Present Story Projects!
  • Review Unit Plan Questions.
  • DUE IN TWO WEEKS: Unit Plan Draft Single Lesson Plan (BRING to Class on March 15 in HARD COPY, STAPLED): Give me an example of what a lesson plan in your Unit will look like. Be prepared to talk about it in class, present it to your group/instructor, and to receive/give peer feedback.
  • DUE NEXT CLASS: Readings (Books on reserve in library)
  • Spolin, Theater Games: CH 6, “Sensory Games.”
  • Collins/Cooper, Power of Story: CH 5, “Taming Stories for Telling: How to Prepare a Story.”

Week 7 (March 8): IMPROVISATION FOR EDUCATION AND CREATIVITY. Winging it with purpose!

  • DUE NEXT CLASS: Readings (Books on reserve in library)
  • Spolin, Theater Games: CH 7-8, “Part of a Whole Games,” “Mirror Games.”
  • Collins/Cooper, Power of Story: CH 6, “The Story is in the Telling: Finding Your Own Voice.”

Week 8 (March 15): THE CREATIVE LECTURER. Teachers as performers and public speakers.

  • Skills for Unit Presentation – Lesson Plan Peer Feedback and Lecture Practice.
  • DUE NEXT CLASS: Readings (One of the three on LATTE. Books on reserve in library)
  • Spolin, Theater Games: CH 9, “Where, Who, And What.”
  • Collins/Cooper, Power of Story: CH 7, “Bringing a Story to Life: Story Dramatization with Listeners.”
  • Winifred Ward, Creative Dramatics (1930): Preface, CH 1-2: “Introduction,” “Attitude.” ON LATTE.


  • DUE NEXT CLASS: Third Writings/Speakings Assignment (post March 29 by NOON): Are you a creative person? Why or why not? Is this the same as being an “artist?” Define artist for yourself. Are you an artist? How have you used creativity in your life?
  • DUE NEXT CLASS: Readings (one of the three on LATTE. Books on reserve in library)
  • Jessica Hoffmann Davis, “Redefining Ratso Rizzo: Learning from the Arts about Process and Reflection.” ON LATTE.
  • Spolin, Theater Games: CH 10, “Communicating with Words.”
  • Collins/Cooper, Power of Story: CH 8, “Happily Ever After: Exploring Storytelling Through Activities.” Epilogue.

Week 10 (March 29): SOCIAL CHANGE IN EDUCATION – What is the teacher’s role? Responsibility?