The Research

School Drama Research

The evidence of the School Drama™ program’s efficacy can be seen in classrooms around the country. Over more than a decade, the program has changed the way teachers approach teaching English and literacy, and boosted learners’ confidence, imagination and English and literacy outcomes. The proof is, demonstrably, in the pudding. But beyond ongoing anecdotal evidence from teachers and students, School Drama is uniquely backed by a wealth of research, undertaken in partnership with The University of Sydney’s School of Education and Social Work and the CREATE Centre. This research has been collated in the School Drama research flyer, available for free download here

Leading academics in the field of education and drama-rich learning, including Professor Emerita Robyn Ewing AM, Associate Professor Robyn Gibson and Dr Victoria Campbell of the University of Sydney, and Dr John Saunders, School Drama Program Associate and President of Drama Australia, have spearheaded research and published books and papers. A  number of research students have completed dissertations on the program. Below, we have compiled some of the most rigorous studies on School Drama. Together, they provide an in-depth look at the program’s impact and sustainability, and clear evidence for not only the immediate effect of School Drama in the classroom, but its ongoing impact on the way creative drama-rich processes can transform teaching and learning across the curriculum. An annotated list of resources are also listed.


School Drama: Using drama for oracy in an EAL/D classroom
Olivia McAtamney, 2021

This article examines the pedagogical potential of drama-rich processes to develop and improve oracy skills for students learning English as an additional language or dialect (EAL/D). Research was conducted through a multi-level, qualitative case study of Sydney Theatre Company and University of Sydney’s School Drama ™ program. School Drama is a co-mentoring teacher professional learning program that promotes a dual focus of developing teachers’ capacity to use drama pedagogy with literature, and improving literacy outcomes and engagement for students. The research context was an intermediate Intensive English class at a western Sydney secondary school, involving students from refugee backgrounds. Data gathering included observations, focus groups, teacher interviews, and artefact analysis. While this instance of the program presented behavioural and structural limitations, benchmarking assessment depicted a marked to moderate improvement in oracy skills. Vocabulary, imagination and creativity and confidence emerged as the most salient ways oracy was developed and improved.


Multimodal language and learning: Drama as EAL/D pedagogy in the early primary classroom.
Natasha Beaumont, M.Ed (Research) University of Sydney, 2020 

Multimodality is becoming increasingly valued in the fields of second language learning and social equity. This investigation builds upon a growing body of research demonstrating that drama-rich strategies and techniques are a classroom innovation that can improve student engagement and learning outcomes. The experiences of three English as an additional language or dialect (EAL/D) Year 1 students and their classroom teacher are explored. The study interprets their engagement in socio-dramatic roleplay as a form of oral and written literacy instruction. Analysis centres around the body language and classroom conversations of participants, as well as the pedagogic strategies implemented. Drama encourages vocal expressiveness and creative language use. It also allows young students to use their innate physicality to create and access multimodal meaning. 


Dramatic Interventions: A multi-site case study analysis of student outcomes in the School Drama program. 
John Nicholas Saunders, PhD, University of Sydney, 2020. 

This dissertation reports on research that has examined the process and outcomes of the School Drama professional learning program. The dual aims of the program are to provide primary classroom teachers with the knowledge, understanding, skills and confidence to use drama-based pedagogy with quality children’s literature and to improve student literacy in a designated focus area such as confidence in oracy, creative/imaginative writing, descriptive language or inferential comprehension. This research aimed to investigate the impact of the program on students. An analysis of all data collected in 2017 from a range of participating schools, teachers and students provides a top-level overview of the program’s outcomes. A fine-grained analysis of three case study classrooms in diverse school contexts follows. A range of data was collected from students, the class teacher and the teaching artist/researcher including: student pre- and post-program literacy benchmarking tasks; student pre- and post-program surveys; student focus groups; teacher interviews; and teaching artist/researcher observations and journals. The findings suggest positive shifts in student English and literacy outcomes in the selected focus area (inferential comprehension), particularly in less able male students.  Perhaps even more importantly, there is strong evidence that quality drama-based pedagogy enhances student confidence, collaboration, imagination, engagement and connection to character. 


Everybody In! Drama as a Pedagogy for Inclusion. 
Olivia Karaolis, PhD, University of Sydney, 2020.

This inquiry explores the potential of drama as inclusive pedagogy with young children/ Included in the study are three preschools that enrol children with additional needs in their program. Together with the researcher, the children and staff engaged a range of drama strategies, including puppetry and found they significantly increased the participation and contribution of all children in their learning experiences, creating a more inclusive learning environment. The process of this study is depicted in portraits, allowing the audience to discover the world of the children, how their day-to-day experience was changed by the creative approaches and the potential of drama and puppetry as a valuable tool for professional development in the early childhood sector.


The School Drama Partnership: Beyond an Artist-in-Residence Program.
Robyn Ewing and John Nicholas Saunders 2019. In Michael Finneran, Michael Anderson (Eds.), Education and Theatres: Beyond the Four Walls, (pp. 149-163). Cham: Springer. 

This chapter first focuses on the relationship developed between a leading Australian theatre company, Sydney Theatre Company (STC) and the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Education and Social Work (FESW) in order to use one artform, drama, as a lens to interrogate another, contemporary literary texts for children in order to enhance literacy learning in its deepest sense. Subsequent acts pay particular attention to the role of the teaching artists in the program and their work with participating primary teachers. The outcomes of the project, from their perspectives and the development of what we have described as a collaborative zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978; Ewing, 2015; Moll and Whitmore, 1993) are then discussed .The final act explores some of the outcomes and implications for the ongoing sustainability of the program.


Drama-rich pedagogy and becoming deeply literate
Robyn Ewing
Drama Australia Monograph no. 12 2019

In this monograph Robyn Ewing considers the highly significant body of more than three decades of research, scholarship and practice that unequivocally support the transformative potential of embedding arts-rich or quality arts processes and experiences across the curriculum.  Ongoing research that specifically focuses on the potential that drama rich pedagogies in particular can play in becoming deeply and critically literate in the 21st century are explored including the School Drama program, a co-mentoring teacher professional learning program developed by Sydney Theatre Company in partnership with the University of Sydney.


Pandora and the Tiger’s whisker: Stories as a pretext in two Adult Language Learning contexts.
NJ: Drama Australia 42(1). 2019. Victoria Campbell & Zoe Hogan

This article discusses the way two traditional tales were adapted and modified for use as pretexts in the Connected: Adult Language Learning through Drama program (CALLD) with migrant populations, including refugees and asylum seekers, in two sites during 2017 & 2018 in Sydney, Australia. The focus of this article is to explore the way ancient stories such as folktales and myths function in these settings, and how through action and reflection the authors, as teaching artists on the program, adapted these tales to better engage the participants in the process drama that followed. 


Embedding arts-rich English and literacy pedagogies in the classroom.
Literacy Learning: The Middle Years 27(1), 7–17.  Robyn Ewing, 2019

This journal article discusses how the School Drama program enhances English and literacy pedagogy. Three primary teachers also discuss its practical application in their classrooms.


Towards ‘grown-up ness in the world’ through drama as critical, quality pedagogy.
Robyn Ewing and John Nicholas Saunders.  In G. Biesta, C. Naughton & Cole, D. (Eds.). The Arts, Artists and Pedagogy (Ch. 10). London: Routledge. 2017

Many western education systems are currently in crisis, providing an increasingly technical approach to classroom learning and assessment. This chapter focuses on how engagement in two artforms, literature and drama, can enable teachers, children and young people to learn in transformative ways. While acknowledging that 'grown-up-ness' is a slightly misleading term, Biesta argues that this concept is at the very heart of envisaging a mature way of being-in-the-world. The Arts remain an under-used component of early childhood and primary curricula despite unequivocal evidence that quality arts experiences and processes are important for human social and emotional wellbeing. The concept of 'grown-up-ness' aligns with empathy and compassion for others but such attributes are not easily measured by testing regimes. Despite the growing body of research documenting the potential of the Arts to transform the learning process, ongoing cuts in pre-service and in-service arts education in Australia has resulted in many teachers expressing a lack of confidence in the Arts.


School Drama: A case study of using drama for oracy in the secondary EAL/D classroom. 
Olivia Mcatamney, 2018. (Unpublished Hons dissertation). The University of Sydney.

It made me feel like I lost something: Engaging students in learning history through process drama.
Natalie Hankus, 2016.  (Unpublished honours dissertation). University of Sydney.


Dramatic play and process drama: Towards a collective zone of proximal development to enhance language and literacy.
Robyn Ewing 2015 In S. Davis, B. Ferholt, H. G. Clemson S-M. Jansson, A. Marjanovic-Shane (Eds.), Dramatic interactions in education: Vygotskian and sociocultural approaches to drama, education and research (pp. 135–152). New York: Bloomsbury Academic. 

The making of meaning was central to Vygotsky’s theory of thought and language development. Importantly he gave close attention to the relationship between affect and intellect (Mahn and Steiner, 2002: 369; Vygotsky, 1986). This chapter asserts that both early dramatic play and the embedding of educational or process drama strategies across the early childhood and primary curriculum can facilitate work in a collective Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) and link directly to children’s language and literacy learning. Furthermore, it is also argued that classroom professional learning models, like the School Drama Programme (Ewing et al., 2011, 2014), have the potential to encourage collective ZPD opportunities that can extend educators’ and children’s understandings alike and facilitate their deeper learning. Language and literacy learning is the particular area focused on for this discussion, but the principles can and should be applied across the early childhood and school curriculum.


School Drama: A case study of student academic and non-academic achievement.
John Nicholas Saunders, Masters Research, University of Sydney, Australia, 2015. 

This qualitative research study aims to focus on the student outcomes of the School Drama program, both academic (literacy and English) and non‐academic (motivation, engagement and empathy). This case study investigated a single Year 6 class and their teacher. Multiple data collection methods were employed including artefacts (for pre‐program and post‐program student benchmarking as well as sample student work), focus groups with students, reflective interviews with the Class Teacher, and observations from the Teaching Artist/Researcher. The findings suggest that students involved in the School DramaTM program generally showed marked improvements when comparing their results on the pre‐program and post‐program benchmarking tests. These tasks, with identical criteria, required students to illustrate their inferential comprehension and descriptive language skills. The data also suggests a range of non‐ academic improvements to students through the intervention, such as increased motivation and engagement in learning, and shifts in empathy. 


School drama: towards state of the art in drama professional 25 learning?
Robyn Ewing, Robyn Gibson, Victoria Campbell, John Saunders and Helen HristofskiIn M.Anderson & Colleen Roche (eds) State of the art : teaching drama in the 21st century, University of Sydney, 2015, p.25-48. 

This chapter examines the rationale for the establishment of the School Drama program and some of its outcomes from the perspective of the major stakeholders: teachers, learners and teaching artists.


Gibson, R., & Smith, D. (2013). Meta-evaluation of school drama 2009 to 2012. Sydney, NSW: University of Sydney.

Smith, D. (2014). School Drama program sustainability case study. Sydney: The University of Sydney.

Sze, E. (2013). Sustainable professional development: A case study on quality Arts partnerships in the primary classroom. (Unpublished Hons dissertation). Sydney, The University of Sydney.

Robertson, A. (2010). The school drama experience: A case study of learning in and through the art of drama. (Unpublished Hons dissertation). Sydney, The University of Sydney, Australia.


The Arts and Australian Education: Realising Potential  

In this publication, Robyn Ewing outlines and reviews the research that demonstrates the potential of the Arts to reshape the way learning and the curriculum is conceived and organised in schools. 


School Drama Resources

Ewing, R. and Saunders, J.N.  The School Drama Book 2016 Drama, Literature and Learning in the Classroom

Robyn Ewing and John Saunders provide the rationale and research that underpins the School Drama Program and 21 units of work that can be adapted and implemented in the classroom.


The School Drama Companion: A Collection of Devices 

An interactive practical resource to assist teachers in exploring how Drama can be used to improve literacy in the primary and middle years of schooling. The book contains helpful descriptions and videos outlining 24 key Drama devices to engage and unlock the creativity of your students.


Transforming the Curriculum Through the Arts 
Robyn Gibson and Robyn Ewing