The use of drama in mathematics teacher education

6 min read

In the final week of my teacher training course in 2001, there was an ‘options’ day, in which a range of workshops were available for trainee teachers to choose from. I decided to attend the forum theatre workshop. I self-consciously entered the room where the workshop was to be held. The workshop leader, as I recall, asked me what subject I taught. I said, “mathematics.” And he looked at me as if to say, “you’re in the wrong room mate.” I looked around the room at the punctual trainee teachers, they were mostly prospective English teachers, history teachers and even a science teacher. But the initial impression was that for a mathematics teacher to be in a forum theatre workshop was beyond the pale. That I must have made a mistake – got the wrong room.

It wasn’t a mistake, I wanted to be there. I was not sure why. Maybe I just wanted to experiment with the teaching of maths.

What is forum theatre? The Drama Resource website describes it exactly how I remembered it being explained to me:

A technique pioneered by Brazilian radical Augusto Boal. A play or scene, usually indicating some kind of oppression, is shown twice. During the replay, any member of the audience (‘spect-actor’) is allowed to shout ‘Stop!’, step forward and take the place of one of the oppressed characters, showing how they could change the situation to enable a different outcome. Several alternatives may be explored by different spect-actors. The other actors remain in character, improvising their responses. A facilitator (Joker) is necessary to enable communication between the players and the audience.

The strategy breaks through the barrier between performers and audience, putting them on an equal footing. It enables participants to try out courses of action which could be applicable to their everyday lives. Originally the technique was developed by Boal as a political tool for change (part of the Theatre of the Oppressed), but has been widely adapted for use in educational contexts.

I started to use an adapted technique with a trainee teacher who was having difficulty last year. Yes, I suppose you could just call it role-play and that’s what it was. The trainee and me acting out teaching moments, rewinding and replaying situations. I was coaching him in his technique of classroom performance. But drama helped us try things out and develop some mastery experience (see Bandura, 1997 for conceptualizations of the development of confidence and self-efficacy through a ‘enactive mastery’ experience).

This summer I began thinking more about the use forum theatre with the trainee mathematics teachers in their faculty sessions. During the last five years, I had waded through lots of theory and engaged them in a meta-narrative of their (social) psychological processes as they learned to be teachers. This was all abstract. And it did not allow them to build their practice and their self-efficacy in aspects of their practice in the faculty. The theoretical felt far too abstracted from the experience they would have in the classroom.

So, for the first two days of the induction programme this week, I have been using a form of forum theatre in order that they can really think about what is going on in the classroom, by acting out the parts. We have a mini lesson in the faculty session. We crowd source ideas for the mathematics topic to be taught, the age of the learners and their context. There is a teacher and six students. I am the facilitator and the rest of the trainees not taking part are potentially ‘spect-actors’. After the first two days it’s more role play than forum theatre, but I imagine we will progress. At least the principles of forum theatre gives me an idea of where we are going. I, rather than just being a facilitator, act as a kind of coach, giving some advice to the volunteer teacher. Again, I imagine this will change – the group will become more self-sufficient and will be able to use the forum theatre technique to help plan and evaluate teaching.

During the first day there were immense preoccupations with classroom management and behaviour, both from the acting teacher and the acting pupils. The scenario was one in which they were supposedly 11 and 12 year-olds in their first maths lesson in big school. One of the girls at the back shouted out, “How old are you miss?”. “Really?” I asked. There was then debate about the behaviour of year sevens in their first maths lesson in secondary school. We did three mini-forum lessons on the first day. There was not much on mathematics (all rather procedural) or on the psychology of mathematics learning. It was all about classroom management. It was role playing how the teacher might establish and maintain a productive and classroom environment.

We had time for one mini forum lesson on day two. In this one we went more into the nature of mathematics and getting children to think about the concept and meaning of area. Those playing the members of the class also constructed biographies so that their behaviour and attitudes to mathematics had a background and history.

Tomorrow, we have two two-hour sessions. The theme of these are lesson planning and lesson observation. I will use forum theatre to illustrate how planning works based on my theory of teacher decision making and what they might attend to in a lesson.

So more to follow.


Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman.



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