Portuguese SIMELTA teachers using theatrical practices in the classroom share opinions on the impact of this approach

 

Role playing in a French class had always seemed to be an artificial activity, because the students just had to reproduce some pre-selected speech acts in a dialogue form, till the SIMELTA Project introduced me to a different approach.

So, with the help of Carlos Melo, a professional theatre stage director, who collaborates in this Project, the students of 10ª6 had the opportunity to experience a new learning method. In fact, having “Work” as the main theme, students imagined several day-to-day life situations and created their own script. The director managed to gradually engage everyone in the class, so that all students could both participate and have fun. As the rehearsals kept going, the fluency of their speech got better, and the lines made more and more sense to them. After all, the students stopped reproducing and began to play a meaningful text: their own. And when you understand what you do, you learn better, don’t you?

It was a short experience, because of the little time we had, but these students will always remember it.        

(Alexandra Alves, French Teacher – Escola Fernão Mendes Pinto, Almada, Portugal)

“It was a very enriching experience because, besides allowing language use in close to real situations and the consolidation of knowledge acquisition, it also enabled a greater interaction between the students by providing relationships based on cooperation and companionship and a greater enthusiasm and motivation in learning as well.

Deep down, theatrical practices applied to a language teaching and learning process end up becoming an added value and an excellent tool, as confirmed in the “PLNM” (Portuguese as a Second or Foreign Language) class and testified by the students who revealed they wouldn’t mind repeating this experience since they were able to learn while having fun and also had the chance to become aware of their learnings. Theatrical practices give the student the opportunity to feel as an autonomous and active agent in the development of his/her skills.”

(Armandina André, Portuguese as a Foreign Language teacher – Escola Fernão Mendes Pinto, Almada, Portugal)

In 2017/18 I decided to embark on the experiment of teaching / learning a foreign language through theatre techniques, motivated by the very positive feedback from both teachers and pupils who have been using it for some time at our school. As Alexandra Alves and I shared a secondary level class (10º6) in three different foreign languages – English, French and German -, we thought it would also be interesting for pupils and teachers to compare experiences.

In German, which was a beginner group, we tried these techniques with the topic “Freundschaften: Verabredungen” (Friendship: making arrangements) with particular focus on modal verbs to express willingness, wishes, possibility, etc. Carlos Melo, the expert, introduced students and teacher to the methodology directly in class with mixed reactions from the very heterogeneous group – from very enthusiastic to distant attitudes.

Due to the unstable attendance of the group, and the different level of commitment from the various groups, this experience spread over three 45-minute sessions (two of which under Carlos Melo’s guidance) throughout a whole month. The overall impression with this particular group was that it was ok as an alternative activity in class, not as a learning method. Sadly, most pupils never managed to transfer the language used in their dialogues to the language applied in class and vice versa. On a positive note, the pupil-authored dialogues triggered self-confidence in a few pupils and readiness to experiment with language.

Discontinuous as the experiment was with this group, in German, no convincing conclusion can be withdrawn from it. However, maybe with another group, under different conditions and circumstances, who knows… To be continued.

(Isabel Lopes, German Teacher – Escola Fernão Mendes Pinto, Almada, Portugal)

Students from 11 form, class 6, were told to work in groups in order to do this theatrical Project for their oral evaluation as regards 2nd term.

These students were supposed to have learnt English for 6 years, but 5 students were still in a very elementary stage of learning the English language due to the fact that they had immigrated to Portugal in recent years.

During the preparation of their texts, it was clear that these weaker students were feeling more at ease due to the help of their peers.

After deciding what type of situation they were going to perform, students had to write down their lines and start to memorize them 30 minutes prior to the end of each lesson (they did this during 10 lessons).

In the rehearsal session with the stage director, it was quite a surprise to me to see how all the 5 students had committed themselves to memorizing the texts and were performing their lines out loud, which had never happened during the classes. They had even skipped their oral presentation for the first term! 

In this session it happened that some students from another class and year (7) had to attend it. This was also something worth referring to as these students were very disruptive in class and during this session they suddenly started to behave and participate orderly. The stage director and project coordinator, after the session, gathered them all and asked them what they liked about it and not. The great majority was ready to participate in a similar experience.

Not all the students managed to finish their oral presentation in front of all the class, as some elements in their groups got sick or could not be present for many other reasons. Two groups were told to do it on different days according to their availability.

So the good thing here was that they all did the project and presented it to the class or to myself.

The weaker students felt more motivated to learn the language and had a chance to succeed in front of their peers.

As the activities of writing and speaking were already a part of their evaluation, the added performance was not at all seen as a waste of time but a way to enhance their learning skills. Furthermore, all the students increased their marks for the oral presentation this term, in comparison.     

(Hélder Silveira, English Teacher – Escola Fernão Mendes Pinto, Almada, Portugal)

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