DFS Classroom Visit: Using Drama to Build Critical Consciousness

One of Detroit Future Schools' 11 Essential Traits of Mind, Habit and Character is "critical consciousness." We define critical consciousness as a process of "questioning established systems, practices, hierarchies, processes and histories, both macro and micro."

We work to foster this trait in all DFS program participants, including: teachers, students, artists and program coordinators.

As part of the DFS professional development training, teachers reflect on their established patterns of instruction and how they are or are not fostering the 11 Essential Traits in their classrooms. They identify which traits need the most growth and then work closely with a teaching artist to design ways of using digital media arts in the classroom to support that growth.

At the start of the 2012-2013 school year, one of our 12 DFS classrooms decided to make critical consciousness the focus of their first semester. Patrick Butler is a drama instructor at Western International High School and Bobby Colombo is a DFS Digital Media Teaching Artist.

Below are their reflections on how they evolved one of Patrick’s established lessons to better foster critical consciousness, using digital media arts.


A typical assignment for my beginning drama students is to write a eulogy. Students write and perform an informal, 60-90 second introduction speech, then watch videos of well-known orators like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Robert and John Kennedy, even Richard Nixon, and discuss what makes a speech successful. One of the videos I show is Robert Kennedy's moving speech delivered upon hearing the news of Martin Luther King's assassination. While not technically a eulogy, Kennedy's words of praise and respect can easily be seen as a fitting tribute to a great American leader, and are the precursor of an actual eulogy. The class then discusses and defines what a eulogy is, as well as when and why eulogies are given.

The next part of the assignment is for each student to write a eulogy about a fictional character. This allows the student to get creative in regard to character choice, and how or why the character met his/her demise. The students then perform these eulogies as if they were actually at a funeral or wake.

This year, while thinking about the socially conscious goals of DFS, we came up with the idea of having the students write a second eulogy, this time "mourning" the loss of an aspect of life in Detroit that most of us would like to see gone. First the class spent time brainstorming, and we made a list of societal ills that we would like to see dead and buried. Abandoned houses, hunger and racism were some of the most popular ideas, and students wrote and performed each eulogy, explaining how our society would be better off with each problem gone for good.


With my assistance, we recorded the students performing their pieces. Students worked in pairs using Audacity (free audio editing software) to cut and splice their classmates' individual eulogies into new, original audio pieces with a collective voice. After they finished these audio pieces, they used iMovie to make video slideshows, putting images corresponding to their new eulogy underneath the audio. This helped build another DFS Essential Trait: collaboration.

This lesson demonstrates how long-time teachers can make simple changes to their instructional practices in order to cultivate the 11 Essential Traits of Habit, Character and Mind in their classrooms. It also shows how digital media arts provide a powerful vehicle through which to do this.

You can view a sample from the eulogy video project here.


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