Sunday, 1 June 2014

Language Learning and Drama

Language Learning and Drama

Why do I think they link so well together?

I was trained as an English / Drama and MFL teacher in the 1980s. An unusual combination at the time that I have never regretted. My personal passion for theatre comes from my love of literature in all languages and my wonderful AS Level in Theatre Studies many moons ago! I always remember the power of the texts and performances. My A Levels (German, French and English Literature ) were made all the more vibrant by Theatre Studies and a clear message that Antigone wasn’t written in English , that Mother Courage didn’t speak English and that pantomime had its modern day European origins in Italian satire! I wanted to read the texts in their original language to find out more about how they should be interpreted!

Theatre, the Arts and communicating ideas to others through performance and setting up an emotional dialogue have always been a passion of mine. 
As a modern foreign languages’ NQT many years ago I had the good fortune to work with a Performing Arts Department in an inner city  secondary school.The exploration of text and film through performance and the challenge to link language learning to the sequences of learning activities developed was an amazing opportunity. I remember how we focused on a five minute introduction to a film and took it frame by frame…asking the children to describe, anticipate  , translate into dance , Art , music , drama and target language  communication what they could feel and see! The pupils had limited language skills and often in class didn’t see the relevance or point of French and German , but put in this new context they rose to the challenges set them and explored and produced creative performances with language elements. This steep learning curve has informed my language teaching ever since!  

You can probably realise from the statement above that I love to explore theatre and drama on an intellectual level but that through my love of teaching and learning I have seen how “Performing  Arts “ are such a powerful tool to harness in the realms of language learning
Performing Arts embraces Art, Dance, Music, Theatre, mime, Opera, Ballet etc.

We are set the challenge to introduce children to “great” literature so in my opinion we need to provide the children with the tools to explore and bring to life this literature.Drama and dramatic devices and the use of these as parts of language learning can help us provide both a support and a springboard for the children as we do this!   

As a Primary Languages AST sponsored by my secondary school’s Performing Arts Department I was allowed the freedom to explore the beneficial links between drama and language learning- and it’s not all “lovey dovey” as some people may fear! My findings were reinforced when in 2004 I became a Primary Strategy Consultant and worked alongside the primary literacy team to promote the use of role-play and drama in exploring texts with young children.

Drama and dramatic devices promote in language learning:
  • Better and more confident communication skills
  • Deeper and more reactive understanding of text
  •  A purposeful reason to explore how to memorise and recall language
  • An understanding of why intonation and pronunciation matter and how these can enhance character
  • Importance of dialogue and actions
  •  Inclusive participation
  • Platforms upon which to develop independent creative writing
  • Dialogue reinforcement 

In Key Stage One we are already promoting listening and joining in, participating and using actions to convey meaning. Take a look at these blogs (bear explorers, growing sunflowers with numbers  and pirates). The bogs may give you your ideas of ways to use drama and dramatic devices to explore language content.

In Key Stage Two we are looking at ways that we can develop links between drama and grammar to make the learning of grammar creative and physical and to engage the learners in such a way that the application of grammar is a memorable process.(Making a drama out of basic grammar can explain more!).The ideas are easily transportable to KS3 too.Work with a drama teacher can help KS3 MFL colleagues develop some creative reinforcement and performances of grammar points in the target language.

We work with Art (take a look at Matisse and the Cut Outs ) (3D Art Renoir) to explore language content and contexts and generate opportunities to develop creative performances that enhance the children’s language and context understanding.

We encourage children to explore language learning through the use of their bodies to generate creative performances (Here are two examples:  colour mimes and word association  and body parts and movement)

We have created a sequence of simple plays for the children to explore as both reading comprehensions where they need to add the stage directions once they have understood the text and where they also now need to add the performance to communicate the humorous meaning.

We are exploring the use of drama to engage with poetry. Take a look at the blog of a verse from a famous poem by Jacques Prévert to link with our UKS2  café theme drama and mystery in the cafe

Sometimes we take it much further and the use of dramatic devices linked with other ways of exploring the performing arts can generate a whole creative performance using target language text. Take a look here Physical Pop Up Poems

In Key Stage Three and beyond

In Key Stage 3 MFL teachers are required to explore authentic texts …once again drama and the use of dramatic devices can be ways to bring this to life for all learners. Some of the techniques promoted above n the KS2 blogs may help with this. From 1985 to 2002 as a secondary  MFL teacher dramatic devices such as freeze frames, conscience alley, mime, hot seating  all allowed the pupils to explore language learning and content purposefully.

Sketches and the use of drama allow language learning  to be exclusive from an enthusiastic performance of numbers ,names and feelings by Year 7 in a whole year group performance to a  Come Dine With Me sketch with Year 9 disillusioned low ability boys , drama was a means by which everyone could engage.

Finally at the start of this blog post I mentioned Mother Courage and still in my memory is the way my lower sixth were able to engage with Leben des Galilei because of the way we performed key dialogues and monologues….The preparation and though behind the performances led to improved use of German , questions about grammar that cleared up sticky points and an observation and accuracy of pronunciation and intonation…because just like my Drama teacher taught me , they wanted to convey their understanding of the  true meaning of the text!

Hope you enjoy finding your own links between language learning and drama and that you find them really useful effective motivators of young language learners!

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