Facilitating English Through Drama

July 3, 2021

In this recent live webinar—the 9th such interview hosted and organized by Hua Quan Village this academic year—the internationally experienced educator, Mr. Sean Hughes, introduced and explored the different pillars of an infrastructural framework to facilitate English learning. A guru in defining new techniques and approaches to teaching English, Mr. Hughes’ talk focused on one of the main pillars of art: drama.

There are three elements that must be addressed in order to give students the best learning experience and to create an optimal facilitating environment:

  • Teachers must be trained how to facilitate effectively. They need to know how to support the students while still challenging them and giving them ownership over their own learning;

  • The environment must also be enabling and engaging;

  • Students have to be prepared and facilitators must provide the students the freedom to make their own choices and avoid micromanaging them.  This facilitating process is essential for students to encourage self-growth, discover new knowledge, make their own connections, and become lifelong learners.

By including students in the planning process for a study unit, students can gain as much as 30% of the knowledge just through this process alone. Hughes believes that the open-ended and cross-curricular nature of drama education is the perfect vehicle to drive this self-driven model of learning forward. With the right strategy, drama empowers students to have the confidence to express their ideas and contribute to lessons without the fear of being wrong. It also facilitates the opportunity for dialogue, giving facilitators the opportunity to provide personalized feedback to students based on their individual needs and gives students the opportunity to communicate their feelings and feedback. Hughes feels that drama with a focus on English is one of the most effective avenues to establish an optimal facilitating and learning environment. This environment is one where the contributions of individual students are valued, facilitators take a step back and give the decision making ability and center stage to the students, and students are celebrated and encouraged to be active participants in their own learning.

The primary instructional strategies used to implement EDUNION’s “Facilitating English through Drama”

A vital component of learning a language is the repeated exposure to unfamiliar words and sentence structures. The number of times a learner must be exposed to a new word or structure before retaining it is still inconclusive as it differs from learner to learner and will also be impacted by the existing size of a learner’s current vocabulary with regards to the target language. Nonetheless, repeated exposure to a new language is essential.

In order to provide students with this exposure, Facilitating English through Drama engages them in a wide range of multi-sensory activities where students are exposed to the words in different formats repeatedly to meet the needs of different types of learners. Hughes emphasizes that drama is one of the most effective ways to develop students’ language abilities. The drama classes can include key target vocabulary in different drama activities, such as requiring students to create short scenes or dialogues using specific vocabulary or making sure that the target vocabulary is integrated into the prepared drama scripts. Edunion’s scripts and resources are developed to be ideal for improving the students’ language abilities with varying levels of difficulty to ensure that the students are challenged but also not put off due to the content being too difficult.

A key advantage of using Drama to facilitate language is manufacturing learning experiences with real-life contexts, which allows the students to make connections between the outside world and the classroom. Associating learning with memorable activities has the added benefit of acting as a memory trigger point for the students in the future. A memorable play, will promote better language and skill (gained in preparation & performing) recall. This kind of education is also particularly powerful for learners who engage more with kinesthetic activities. Hughes reaffirms that through drama, facilitators can not only give students the raw tools they need to communicate in English, but also the confidence and practice to express themselves.

Hughes stresses another crucial area where drama helps with the learning process is by motivating students to learn. Motivation is crucial for meaningful learning to occur. By having students in a community with a common goal such as collaborating to prepare for a drama performance, the learning process becomes more significant, more incentivized, and more than just about learning. This process helps the students tremendously in terms of improving their learning effectiveness.

Collaboration is another key element of drama education. By varying group dynamics through a wide range of drama activities, students can develop a wide range of skills such as team work, adaptiveness, and the ability to navigate and accept a variety of different roles within a group. Students ultimately take ownership of their own education when they are given the opportunity to apply what they are learning in a wide variety of real-life situations. Hughes feels that drama education is a natural companion of language learning and that many of the learning outcomes within drama education are key to communicating effectively in any language. By learning a second language through the medium of drama, students can significantly speed up the language learning process.

Given differentiation is the primary foundation for the 21st-century learning/facilitating environment, how can drama help facilitators differentiate by environment, product, content, process, and emotion?

Drama is perfectly suited for a differentiated model of learning because the complete learning process and classroom dynamics can be adjusted on the fly to meet students’ individual needs. Drama is a very flexible educational medium. For example, in Edunion’s English Play – Play English (EPPE) curriculum, there are 28 original stories with six different language levels. Each story and drama script has been developed to cover a wide range of themes, topics, environments, and characters, which helps expose students to a wide range of situations and contexts.

To enable differentiation based on student needs, it is possible to identify and use particular stories depending on the students’ learning goals or targets. Each story in Edunion’s EPPE is aligned with a particular language level covering a variety of content and on top of this, the stories can be modified to meet the students’ level.

In terms of differentiating the classroom environment, drama education is perfectly suited to facilitate a wide range of classroom dynamics and engage the students emotionally. By using differentiated content, the students can explore a variety themes and scenarios and can be exposed to a wide range of situations. These situations can be structured to help the student examine and illicit a variety of emotions. This process is fantastic for developing different target learner profiles for students and developing awareness of particular character traits as students are required to consider stories from other viewpoints and perspectives.

Hughes recaps that by exploring stories creatively, facilitators can really manufacture exciting discussion points for students and can differentiate learning outcomes by altering the content of the learning units and study resources. Art and specifically drama can actually simplify the differentiation process as these subjects naturally lend themselves to individual interpretation and provide a platform for creativity. According to the Montessori school of thought, the moment that students feel they are being taught they will not learn.  Through Drama, educators can facilitate all types of subjects and knowledge whilst still empowering and engaging the students.

Drama not only helps nurture 21st-century learner profile traits in students, but also helps establish a student-centered classroom and improve STEAMS education.

Hughes summarizes that drama gives facilitators the perfect method to create a student-centered classroom because it requires all students to be active participants. It relies on the mutual exchange of ideas and helps develop the students’ needed skills and traits especially around communication and team-work. Additionally, drama can be a crucial medium that links multiple areas and subjects in the curriculum together in STEAMS education, which is in line with the One Subject Called Knowledge Approach.

EDUNION’s long journey serving the sacred mission of Education worldwide.

Edunion began its journey in 2013 by organizing student exchange programs between schools in the UK and China. Since that time, they have organized yearly visits between schools and have set up long-term partnerships, ensuring that partner schools are aligned in their philosophies and goals and committed to a stable and mutually beneficial cultural exchange.

The drama camps, which Edunion continues to do both in China and the UK, were the primary source of inspiration to begin creating Edunion’s “English Play – Play English” (EPPE) curriculum in 2017. The EPPE curriculum is a comprehensive English language curriculum that blends drama education with English language learning. Edunion has created ready-to-be-taught resource materials for schools to use, which span from their specialized early-year program to classroom resources for students up to 16 years old.

Edunion’s main goal is to help students reach their full learning potential, not just in terms of their English language development but across all areas of their studies. In the future, Edunion is planning to expand its impact by helping other schools worldwide deliver a new and innovative style of education that puts students and their needs at the forefront and to ultimately set the student up for success in the future. Additionally, they are hoping to run international drama camps in new locations worldwide and to connect with likeminded educational facilitators who share the passion for English language learning and drama education.

This summer Edunion is running multiple summer camps in collaboration with Hua Quan village. Students from local schools will take part in 5-day camps where they will collaborate to put on amazing drama performances in English.

If you missed the talk or would like to rewatch, you can catch the replay here: YouTube or Bilibili.

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