Thesis Title

Drama for At-Risk Students: A Strategy for Improving Academic and Social Skills Among Public Middle School Students

Graduation Date

Summer 2008

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Program Name


Program Director

Madalienne Peters, EdD


The use of drama to teach social skills to public middle school students labeled as at-risk is powerfully effective. Drama is a universal form of human expression found in cultures all over the world and throughout history. For students at-risk of poor educational outcomes, drama is effective for teaching social, emotional, and physical development. Drama allows at-risk students to represent externally what takes place internally. It places students in a leadership role when they might not be chosen as a leader in a traditional academic school setting. This increases self-esteem which crosses over into the classroom to support academic success in all subjects.

Howard Gardner came up with a list of eight independent modes of learning that are inherent to all human beings. Drama activities and productions develop all of Gardner's intelligences, while other methods might neglect one or more of the different modes of learning. There is persuasive research evidence over the past 25 years which documents that students exposed to theater arts training perform better in school, have more consistent attendance, demonstrate more empathetic behavior towards others, and have greater self-esteem.

This article explores how drama affects self-esteem, student motivation and success, and pro-social behavior in at-risk students. There have been several contributions to the literature in the area of using drama for students, often at the elementary and high school levels. There have not been many formal studies done with adolescents at the middle school level, which is 6th, 7th and 8th grade. The presentation then turns to a pilot study informed by theories and ethnographic research with at-risk students and the teachers who work with these students. This is a future project that will fill in the gap in the current literature at the middle school level.

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