The Language of Drama.

By Jodie Whitehurst

Hi, I’m Jodie. I’m at the beginning of a very exciting (and dramatic) journey, which I would love to share with you. Having recently received a fellowship from the International Specialised Skills Institute, I will soon be embarking on an international journey to research best practice and benefits of using drama techniques in the teaching of English as an Additional Language (EAL), more universally known as English as a Second Language (ESL).

I have decided to start writing this blog now, to share my plans and goals with anyone who is interested, in order to develop a community of likeminded practitioners, who would like to participate in professional development, share resources and learn more about best practice in using drama pedagogy in language teaching.

Since starting to teach in the adult community education sector in Melbourne, Australia in 2012, I have had a strong yearning to develop skills in this area. As a former secondary school Drama and English teacher, I have always been convinced that, along with music, drama is a perfect vehicle for language acquisition and the teaching of communication skills. However, it also quickly became clear that my multicultural, multi-aged adult students with little or no background in drama, were a very different kettle of fish from my previous drama students: predominantly native-English speaking teenagers keen to develop acting skills. I knew I couldn’t simply expect my adult English language learners to run and crawl around the room, improvise comfortably in Theatre Sports activities or connect their bodies with other students to form shapes or objects, without inhibitions.

Like many adult EAL/ESL learners, most of my students, when starting English classes in Australia, are familiar with more traditional teacher-centred class activities. Thus it takes careful planning and consideration to ensure that when using drama-based tasks in language classes, the students are made aware of exactly how the activities will help them acquire language skills. Additionally, it is essential that the activities are non-threatening, as the aim is to increase confidence, not shatter it.

I was initially able to tweak many of the activities I had used in my secondary drama classrooms, and also found some excellent ideas in books and articles on the topic of drama in language learning. All the published research I could get my hands on, supported what I had instinctively felt about the multitude of benefits of such pedagogy, e.g. improvements in: fluency, language retention, speaking confidence, comprehensibility, and non-verbal communication skills, to name a few. Additionally, as a Vocational Education and Training (VET) practitioner, I began to see how using drama pedagogy was an ideal way to teach the employability skills embedded in the EAL curriculum, such as communication, initiative and enterprise, teamwork and problem-solving.

However, I started to feel that to use drama effectively in this context, I needed to do some face-to-face, hands-on professional development and connect with others with experience and interest in this area. After all, part of drama’s appeal is that it is a whole-body learning experience, and I wanted to get back into a drama environment and experience it myself!! Unfortunately, my extensive searching for local PD or a community of practice, revealed a lack of available training in this area and left me feeling somewhat isolated. I did, however, discover a strong passionate community of drama in language education practitioners, experts and researchers in Europe and Canada.

Thus, the recent news that I had received a fellowship from the International Specialised Skills Institute (ISSI), felt like a profound and pivotal moment in my teaching career (and my life, for that matter). Since hearing about the existence of this fellowship in 2017, it had been a strong goal of mine to be awarded a fellowship, so I would have the chance to explore this specialised field.

Recipients of the 2018 ISSI VET International Practitioner Fellowships

Now, suddenly, through this fellowship, I am being supported by ISSI and the Department of Education and Training (DET) to travel overseas, and meet with experts, attend conferences and workshops in the area about which I am so passionate. Upon my return from my trip, I will disseminate my newfound knowledge and skills and create a community of practice for teachers with an interest in using drama techniques in the EAL classroom. What an amazing opportunity!!!

In July-August 2019, this fellowship will take me to Canada (Toronto and Montreal), France (Grenoble), Switzerland (Zug) and Spain (Barcelona).

I look forward to sharing more details of my plans and journey as they unfold.