Drama to promote social and personal well-being in six and seven-year-olds with communication difficulties
The Speech Bubbles project by Jonathan Barnes
The programme was devised by theatre practitioners and aimed at six- and seven-year-olds with difficulties in speech, language and communication. Sessions were observed, videoed and analysed for levels of child well-being using an established scale. In addition, responses regarding perceived improvements in speech, language and communication were gathered from school records and teachers, teaching assistants, practitioners and parents. Data were captured using still images and videos, children’s recorded commentaries, conversations, written feedback and observation. Using grounded research methods, themes and categories arose directly from the collected data.
Fluency, vocabulary, inventiveness and concentration were enhanced in the large majority of referred children. The research also found significant positive developments in motivation and confidence. Teachers and their assistants credited the drama intervention with notable improvements in attitude, behaviour and relationships over the year. Aspects of many children’s psychological well-being also showed marked signs of progress when measured against original reasons for referral and normal expectations over a year. An unexpected outcome was evidence of heightened well-being of the teaching assistants involved.
Findings compared well with expectations based upon Fredrickson’s theory and also the theatre company’s view that theatre-making promotes emotional awareness and empathy. Improvements in both children’s well-being and communication were at least in part related to the sustained and playful emphases on the processes and practice of drama, clear values and an inclusive environment.