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Heathcote, Dorothy



Drama teacher, Dorothy Heathcote was born in 1926 into a family of mill-weavers in Yorkshire, England. After studying at Northern Theatre School in Bradford, she took a position as a lecturer in drama education at University of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1950.Without any formal teacher training, she developed a unique way of using drama to teach children various subjects, including moral standards. Rather than emphasizing drama primarily for the audience's enjoyment, Heathcote focused on its use as a learning tool accessible to all, not just actors.

Known for her vivacious, energetic personality (one article quotes her saying, “I could spend a lifetime watching a rock and still die of a heart attack”), Heathcote promoted her methodology at Newcastle upon Tyne and in lecture tours covering five continents, both explaining her method to teachers and applying it to groups of children.

During a typical lesson with children, she would have young students and their teachers together act out situations relevant to the topic of study, such as ancient monks for a history class or a hospital for fifth-grade science. She would then use the dramas to encourage higher levels of thinking, vocabulary, and reasoning. She encouraged teachers to assume the “mantle of the expert” and ask the “right” questions that would provoke thoughtful and descriptive answers from young pupils, as opposed to one-word answers. She emphasized language and communication while often incorporating ethical themes, a move that provoked some criticism.

Due largely to the influence of Northwestern University School of Speech alumna and faculty member Anne Thurman, Northwestern hosted Heathcote as a guest professor for the summers of 1972, 1974, 1977, and 1979. During these times she taught classes such as “Theory and Practice of Drama in Education”, “Workshop in Drama-oriented teaching techniques”, and, for young children, “Children's Theatre”. In 1973, the School of Speech created a film series on Heathcote containing four parts. The first two, “Dorothy Heathcote Talks to Teachers: Part 1 & Part 2”, feature Heathcote giving a workshop to teachers on her practices. The next two, “Building Belief: Part 1 & Part 2”, show her actually working with 10-year olds. The films were distributed around the globe and are still used today.

Heathcote's work was expanded on by various authors and commented on by scholars around the world. Heathcote also attracted widespread media attention; various TV programs, such as BBC and the Bill Moyers show, newspaper articles, and films focused on her work.

In 1976, Betty Jane Wagner, Chair of the English/Philosophy Department at the National College of Education (now National Louis College) in Evanston, published Dorothy Heathcote: Drama as a Learning Medium to explain and expand upon Heathcote's methods.

Heathcote died October 8, 2011.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Dorothy Heathcote (1926-2011) Collection

Identifier: 20/73

The Dorothy Heathcote Collection combines material collected by Anne Thurman and Betty Jane Wagner, and fills nine boxes (of which six contain audio cassettes), spanning the years 1971 to 2005. The collection sheds light on Heathcote's methods and her influence on other drama educators. The bulk of the materials consist of transcripts from Heathcote's sessions and courses, and audio cassettes

Dates: 1971-2005