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  • Drama in the Mixed-Ability EFL Classroom: Observing its

    Effects on Motivation and Self-Confidence

    B.R. Neal

    Final Thesis to a B.A.

    in International Studies in Education, Faculty of Education at the

    University of Iceland

  • Final Thesis to a B.A. degree

    Drama in the Mixed-Ability EFL Classroom: Observing its

    Effects on Motivation and Self-Confidence

    B.R. Neal

    Final Thesis to a B.A. degree in International Studies in Education

    Advisor: Robert Berman

    Faculty of Education at the University of Iceland

    February, 2012

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    Drama in the Mixed-Ability EFL Classroom: Observing its Effects on Motivation and Self-

    Confidence

    This paper is submitted as a Final thesis to a B.A. in International Studies in Education

    Faculty of Education at the University of Iceland

    2012 B.R. Neal

    May not be copied or distributed without permission from the author.

    Reykjavk, Iceland, 2012

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    Advisor: Robert Berman

  • v

    Abstract

    This study is a result of experimenting with the use of drama to teach English as a foreign

    language in Iceland with special attention placed on a mixed-ability classroom environment. It

    begins with a comprehensive review of research pertaining to the use of drama for the

    instruction of English as a foreign language. It then examines my experience in the classroom

    through personal observation and unstructured interviews. The discussion focuses on the main

    benefits to using drama in the EFL classroom including increasing students motivation and

    self-confidence, as well as meeting the aims of communicative language teaching. Finally, I

    explore and discuss teachers fears about drama and make recommendations.

    keywords: EFL, drama, motivation, mixed-ability, self-confidence, inclusive education, active

    learning

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    Table of Contents

    1. Introduction

    2. Literature Review.

    3. Why Drama? ............................................................................................................................

    3.1. The Elements of Language

    3.2. Authentic Language...

    3.3. Motivation..

    3.4. Self-Confidence.

    4. Inclusive Education...

    5. Methodology ....

    6. Observations......

    6.1. Drama Works With Diversity

    6.2. Drama Increases Motivation..

    6.3. Drama Increases Self-Confidence.

    7. Why Not Drama?...

    7.1. What if Learners do not Want to Participate?..

    7.2. I do not Want to Take Part. Is That okay? ....................................................................

    7.3. Wont I lose Control Over my Classroom? .................................................................

    7.3.1 Democracy in the Classroom ...

    7.4. What Will my Colleagues say? ..

    7.5. What if This is out of my Comfort Zone? ...

    8. Conclusion and Recommendations...

    9. References ....

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    1. Introduction

    In the winter of 2011, I found myself paired up with an experienced actress, Sigrur

    Fririksdttir, to complete the teaching practice towards my degree. As a champion of active

    learning, I was excited to use her actors training and experience as an opportunity to develop

    active and exciting English lessons for our classes. The project surpassed both our

    expectations and sparked this study.

    The lessons, based on traditional drama warm-up games, require movement and high-

    energy from both learners and teachers. On the first day of class, we were surprised to

    discover that the school to which we had been assigned is a model for inclusive education and

    included children in wheelchairs, interpreters and assistants, as well as students with

    behavioural problems and other special needs. Of course, I had learned about inclusive

    education but had no experience working with students with disabilities and was unprepared

    for the challenges a mixed-abilities classroom can bring. I feared that drama would not be

    suitable and the lessons would be inappropriate or too challenging. The opposite was true.

    This paper reviews literature on the subject of drama instruction in English as a

    foreign language (DIEFL), describes my experiences using drama in the inclusive classroom,

    addresses the main reasoning behind the use of drama to teach EFL and attempts to address

    the most common reasons teachers do not feel comfortable using drama in the classroom. This

    paper uses the term EFL. The research, recommendations, and discussion can easily be

    applied to ESL or other L2 language classes.

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    2. Literature Review

    The process of reviewing research for this topic uncovered a large body of evidence

    which affirms that using drama in the foreign language classroom can significantly increase

    students confidence and self-esteem (Chauhan, 2004; Culham, 2002; Dodson, 2002; Hayes,

    1984; Stern, 1980). Research shows that learning activities based on drama increase student

    motivation (Stern, 1980; Gaudart, 1990). Literature on Communicative Language Teaching

    (CLT) commonly describes language as fluid, dynamic and spontaneous. DIEFL adds two

    important layers to language teaching: non-verbal communication and emotional inflection.

    This supports the underpinnings of CLT, which emphasise authentic communication. Drama

    activities, while providing a kinaesthetic learning process, allow teachers to accomplish the

    goals of CLT (Culham, 2002; Chauhan, 2004; Eccles, 1989; Stern, 1980). In addition to

    increased motivation, increased self-esteem and accomplishing the aims of CLT, drama in the

    language classroom provides rare opportunities for students to negotiate their own meaning

    with language (Dodson, 2002). Students also report a loss of fear of rejection (Stern, 1980).

    Susan L. Stern (1980) presents her research in Why Drama Works: A Psycholinguistic

    Perspective. She starts from the assumption that drama works and goes on to use quantitative

    and qualitative empirical research to assess how and why. She specifically cites self-esteem

    and emotional and kinaesthetic components involved in CLT, addressing the attitudes of both

    students and teachers and thoroughly examining drama techniques in L2 and EFL classes

    from the psychological perspective. The study reveals a dramatic increase in self-esteem and

    an increase in motivation and spontaneity. Additionally, students report a loss of fear of

    rejection.

    Cameron Culham (2002) reports on his action research in Coping with Obstacles in

    Drama-based EFL teaching: A Nonverbal Approach. He starts from the assumption that the

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    underpinning of all language is nonverbal. The author also identifies nonverbal language as a

    recurring point of miscommunication for his classes of intercultural students. He allows that

    for the purposes of CLT, nonverbal communication, silent interactions and manual symbols

    are essential. Culham identifies common problems for DIEFL, within the specific context of

    his varied cultural classes and adult learners. He identifies negative and traditional attitudes of

    students and peers as common roadblocks. Culham also writes that DIEFL is often not

    respected as valid learning. He remarks that students who are not familiar with the student-

    driven classroom have more problems becoming adjusted. He references many known

    researchers in the field as well as addressing the underpinnings of language learning by

    referencing outside the field. Culham also notes several key benefits of using drama in the

    EFL classroom:

    Drama is well-suited to support the aims of both Total Physical Response

    (TPR) and CLT.

    It releases the stress that is normally associated with the language learning

    classroom.

    Students showed increased motivation for reading and writing tasks.

    Most importantly, students showed increased confidence.

    Vani Chauhan (2004) makes another convincing case for using DIEFL in the

    classroom in his article, Drama Techniques for Teaching English, which details the positive

    aspects of using drama in the EFL classroom. He writes that drama activities provide

    opportunities for authentic communication and can build learners confidence in speaking

    English outside the classroom. He recommends teachers add this skill to their portfolio of

    teaching practices.

    Additionally, he writes about the nature of language itself, allowing that it involves

  • 4

    emotions, feelings, appropriateness of situation, and most importantly, adaptability.

    Traditional EFL strategies do little to address the flexibility of everyday language. The article

    reasons that English language learners, even after years of classroom learning, fail to master

    the nuances of colloquial English. He covers the most common reasons why teachers are

    sceptical of using drama in the classroom and recommends starting small with one-off

    activities for inexperienced teachers. This is an excellent source of practical information but

    lacks empirical evidence.

    Judith Grey Roykja (2002) agrees with Chauhan about teachers fears about using

    drama in the classroom in her article, Overcoming the Fear of Using Drama in English

    Language Teaching. Roykja references her experience