Organizational settings:

Date: 8th May 2019

Place: Escola Secundária Fernão Mendes Pinto, Almada, PORTUGAL

Facilitator: Maria de Lurdes Ferreira da Cruz

Participants: Deolinda Fernandes, Zoraida Teles, António Rocha, Paolo Balicano

FGD recording is available here:

FGD video

Introduction

The facilitator started with a short introduction to the project and its goals. Then the participants were shown the powerpoint/video materials on theatrical activities used in the classes of Portuguese (as a second language), French and English together with an explanation of the class context: the portrayed situation and the students’ different language levels and the fact that some of the students involved had never participated in class or written any kind of text before that situation since they had many language learning problems. But now they showed interest and became easily involved. The participants seemed quite interested in what they were watching although kind of incredulous, at the beginning.

Summary of the Focus Group discussion (based on the assistant’s notes and the video recording of the Focus Group discussion):

The participants started by discussing the aspects they liked about the theatrical activities seen in the video recordings. They pointed out having fun, practicing and getting used to real life situations, being free, students working as a group and helping each other while learning and letting natural leaders act as such.

However, the participants doubted if such activities are sufficiently productive. The activities might be too time consuming and interfere with the preparation for the examinations and compliance with the syllabus.

Moreover, group work isn’t always productive as some students tend to lean back instead of performing their tasks. All the students are not likely to take advantage from theatrical activities and group work.

What concerns the suitability of theatrical activities for the target group they are quite good for students, but require additional work outside classes. On the one hand, there is much more dynamics in the group because working as a group requires more involvement, e.g. if they have to produce a video or work on their preferences (e.g., likes and dislikes) together. However, this often means extra work outside the regular school hours and not all students show sufficient commitment, which leads to complaints from the students and parents.

Regarding the possibilities to adapt the activities seen on the videos for their classes it was emphasized that the necessary vocabulary has to be provided in advance. For the teacher, it also requires additional work to adjust the topic of the syllabus to be taught with the help of theatrical activities.

Theatrical activities let the students feel like actors right after finishing the activity and learn the lessons from the experience they have gone through. Besides, it is important that these activities are close to reality.

In teaching languages, theatrical activities mean that students use their skills to deal with future situations. Students feel “free”, change their routine, feel happy and motivated. They overcome their fears and work on aspects such as accent and voice articulation. They also learn to place their VOICE in a communication context.

The language and other aspects which might be taught with the help of theatrical activities were believed to be communication, knowing how to interact and react, using gestures that are inherent to communication, the interaction between “characters”, the relationship with one’s body and resourcefulness.

The participants of the FG believed that all language aspects can be taught through theatrical activities. Despite the advantages many teachers still avoid using theatrical activities in the language classroom. When looking for the reasons the participants emphasized the need to consider aspects such as the “when”, “how” and “who” we are going to use the activities with. The number of students involved and their personalities, e.g. student passivity may also influence the use of these techniques/practices. It may also mean changing some of the teachers’ “habits” and certainly a lot of additional work.

Regarding the aspects that would motivate the teachers to use theatrical activities more often the extent of the syllabus was mentioned since there are fewer weekly hours available to work with the students (TIME!). Students’ reactions to role-playing usually are good so it would motivate them. Also, teachers would be motivated if there were more examples of success.

It was agreed that to have a bigger impact on the other teachers the SIMELTA team should provide examples of real life (successful) experiences because the “unknown” is scary. It was also suggested that workshops on theatrical activities would be useful.

To conclude:

  • The teachers agreed that theatrical activities are of particular advantage for developing actual communication skills with the involvement of bodily movements, gestures, the full range of benefits offered by human voice.
  • It was also agreed that formal environment imposes various constraints on implementing the full potential of theatrical activities as there are time limitations and syllabi.
  • Teachers expressed the need for a wider range of positive examples, workshops and more time allocated for working with their students on theatrical activities.

Finally, the participants answered a questionnaire in writing and shared their insights on the session. In general, the participants felt it went well, they enjoyed it and hoped their contribution had been meaningful.

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