Date: 26 April 2019
Place: Paris XVIIe
Facilitator: Karinne Michel Radburn
The summary and the analysis of the Focus group discussion are based on the questions and opinions raised by the invited Focus group participants as it could be seen in the video recording of the Focus group discussion.
FGD video recording is available here:
The discussion took place after watching the video clips on sketches (available here) prepared by English Com’Eddy Theatre.
After watching the videos, the participants wanted to know who creates the sketches for the theatre, which, on the one hand, might be just a general ice-breaker, but on the other hand, might be searching for resources for their work, which is a part and parcel of a teacher’s job.
The participants were interested in the objective of the sketches – Is it to facilitate speaking by making students feel more at ease by applying humor, absurd, etc.?
The facilitator explained their aims which focus on facilitating students oral communication skills through theatrical sketches in target groups of 10-12 people. English Com’Eddy Theatre work with students of different ages and different levels of language.
The participants pointed out that at the age of 10 children are very good at imitating sounds and wondered if the same had been observed by the English Com’Eddy Theatre. The participants expressed various observations regarding the young age advantages in learning.
When asked if the FGD participants were ready to apply the activities in the video in their own classroom settings it was said that it depends on the institution, some of them are not that free in the approaches they accept. There was also some doubt about the availability of budget for this, however the participants seemed to agree that theatrical activities can be implemented with commonplace objects and no additional investment.
The teachers inquired the theatre about the length of their classes, which was starting from 1 hour up to 2.5 hours. The participants were explained the structure of the classes the company follows: the sketch is first read and understood together, which is followed by group work, a lot of repetition and correction of pronunciation, intonations, vocabulary on stage while putting the body into movement which aids memory. Audio recordings are provided for listening at home.
The participants agreed that this was the procedure they followed in their work with texts as well.
The participants inquired about the ideal length of a sketch, which was explained to be from 3 minutes up to 20.
The teachers were also interested if the theatre followed that the same type of phraseology is used and repeated and built-on all through the sketches. The facilitator agreed and pointed out that they strive to develop “language automatisms” in their students.
The teachers asked why English Com’Eddy Theatre did not let students write their own texts and were explained that they wanted to prevent creation of French texts in English, but rather facilitate the use of the actual English everyday language.
The participants observed that sketches were a good way to practice the rhythm of the language. They also saw that this way expressions return automatically and are anchored somewhere within.
Everybody agreed that humor helps in memorizing the language. They had noticed that situations could be “improved” by adding more information to make them more humorous. On the one hand, it also meant entering into the English corporal habits, however, it does not have to be perceived literally (e.g. the English do not always get down on 4 legs).
Concerning the motivation to apply theatrical elements, it was underlined that the teacher must have enthusiasm to use this method. Otherwise it will not work even if the students are willing to try it. The teacher must almost be ready to go back to the school playground. And it does not necessarily mean following the same rules a professional theatre does.
Participants agreed that expressing themselves is always what the language teachers aim at in their students.
They admitted that all the theoretical things are difficult to be taught through theatre.
Moreover, the FG participants highlighted how important it was that sketches step by step provide for the students’ progress and inquired if English Com’Eddy Theatre adjust them the sketches this way.
The FG participants admitted the existence of age limitations, which can be overcome by a systematic approach and a lot of creative work.
The teachers emphasized the work on fixing pronunciation. They exchanged opinions on whether we should make students repeat lexical units until they pronounce them correctly.
One of the participants mentioned the following: “We do phonetics with my students. We correct them repeatedly explaining them from the start so that the person does not feel embarrassed. We do not block them, they are free. But we insist on the pronunciation, we do not give in and explain the pronunciation of words.”
Another participant hinted that “the difficulty of humor” should be used, e.g. asking students speak English with a French accent or act out situations where one person in a pair succeeds and the other does not. However, it should be done with humor and kindness.
Regarding the aspects missing for the participants to start practicing theatrical activities they mentioned the following:
- The material and sketches.
- The starting point is the desire. The teacher has to want it. Then by doing it you are improving. At first, we can start with a single page.
- Even if we have to adapt texts that we have… by adding a humorous side – these texts can still serve as a base.
- We have to adapt the texts to the group. Any text. We are working on a text from Victor Hugo about Quasimodo, about how he likes his bells. You can emphasize it, exaggerate it. Play it.
- The Focus group participants stressed the need for a structured approach and consistency in the chosen linguistic material in the sketches;
- The teachers agreed that detailed understanding of the textual material to be played out is very important;
- Correct pronunciation is very relevant, it can be practiced through theatrical activities despite the big number of repetitions needed to get it right.
- They highlighted the need for ready-to-use study materials – sketches, plays etc. for practicing the language through theatrical activities;
- It was also agreed that existing materials can be modified to meet the needs of the theatrical approach.
- Humor is very relevant for theatrical activities;
- The application of theatrical activities for language learning does not always require following all the rules of a professional theatre.