Applied Drama in English Language Learning
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis is a reflective exploration of the use and impact of using drama pedagogies in the English as a Second Language (ESL)/ English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classroom. It stems from the problem of secondary school English language learning in Malaysia, where current teaching practices appear to have led to the decline of the standard of English as a second language in school leavers and university graduates (Abdul Rahman, 1997; Carol Ong Teck Lan, Anne Leong Chooi Khaun, & Singh, 2011; Hazita et al., 2010; Nalliah & Thiyagarajah, 1999). This problem resonates with my own experiences at school, as a secondary school student, an ESL teacher and, later, as a teacher trainer. Consequently, these experiences led me to explore alternative or supplementary teaching methodologies that could enhance the ESL learning experience, drawing initially from drama techniques such as those advocated by Maley and Duff (1983), Wessels (1987), and Di Pietro (1983), and later from process drama pedagogies such as those advocated by Greenwood (2005); Heathcote and Bolton (1995); Kao and O'Neill (1998), and Miller and Saxton (2004). This thesis is an account of my own exploration in adapting drama pedagogies to ESL/EFL teaching. It examines ways in which drama pedagogies might increase motivation and competency in English language learning.
The main methodology of the study is that of reflective practice (e.g. Griffiths & Tann, 1992; Zeichner & Liston, 1996). It tracks a learning journey, where I critically reflect on my learning, exploring and implementing such pedagogical approaches as well as evaluate their impact on my students’ learning. These critical reflections arise from three case studies, based on three different contexts: the first a New Zealand English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) class in an intermediate school, the second a Malaysian ESL class in a rural secondary school, and the third an English proficiency class of adult learners in a language school. Data for the study were obtained through the following: research journal and reflective memo; observation and field notes; interview; social media; students’ class work; discussion with co-researchers; and through the literature of the field. A major teaching methodology that emerges from the reflective cycles is that of staging the textbook, where the textbook section to be used for the teaching programme is distilled, and the key focuses of the language, skills, vocabulary, and themes to be learnt are identified and extracted. A layer of drama is matched with these distilled elements and then ‘staged’ on top of the textbook unit, incorporating context-setting opportunities, potential for a story, potential for tension or complication, and the target language elements. The findings that emerge through critical reflection in the study relate to the drama methodologies that I learn and acquire, the impact of these methodologies on students, the role of culture in the application of drama methodologies, and language learning and acquisition. These findings have a number of implications. Firstly, they show how an English Language Teaching (ELT) practitioner might use drama methodologies and what their impact is on student learning. While the focus is primarily on the Malaysian context, aspects of the findings may resonate internationally. Secondly, they suggest a model of reflective practice that can be used by other ELT practitioners who are interested in using drama methodologies in their teaching. Thirdly, these findings also point towards the development of a more comprehensive syllabus for using drama pedagogies, as well as the development of reflective practice, in the teacher training programmes in Malaysia.
The use of drama pedagogies for language learning is a field that has not been researched in a Malaysian context. Therefore, this account of reflective practice offers a platform for further research and reflection in this context.
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