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Drama in the classroom

Margao-based teacher Bernadette D’Souza who holds a Doctorate in Education has written her first textbook titled ‘The Power of Dramatic Activities in the Teaching of English as a Second Language’ which will be released today, July 19 at The Black Box, Ravindra Bhavan, Margao.
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A boring English language class can be transformed in minutes through the inclusion of dramatic activities for all age groups and at all levels of academic instruction.

“Children have a natural desire to ‘act’ or to ‘express’ their inner feelings in some outward form. From an early age they create characters and stories to explore the world around them. So, with the introduction of dramatic activities into classroom teaching, they are provided with the necessary outlet for their feelings and emotions,” says Bernadette D’Souza, a teacher with 26 years of experience.

These activities, she adds, have a tremendous effect on the psyche of students as they touch upon multi-learning styles and intelligences through a multi-sensory approach.

But even though, the enhancement of the educational system through the encouragement of innovative practices and experimentation does find mention in the NCERT’s (The National Council of Educational Research and Training) National Curriculum Framework of 2005, D’Souza was surprised to find that despite the benefits of drama, there is no textbook on the subject of dramatic activities written by a teacher educator in India, in the triple roles of an experienced classroom teacher/ teacher educator/researcher in the second language classrooms.

The sheer gravity of the situation compelled her take up the challenge of writing ‘The Power of Dramatic Activities in the Teaching of English as a Second Language’. “I decided, to formulate an interactive course of action that blended ‘content’ with the ‘methodology’ of using dramatic activities in the classroom,” she says, adding that she adapted prose/poetry topics, stories from prescribed English textbooks and even popular songs to create dramatic activities in classroom teaching, for different age and stage levels.

The contents of this book are presented in two sections: the first section provides theoretical information on the power of dramatic activities in the language classroom for the development of speech fluency and other English language skills.

The second section is practical oriented. It contains empirical evidence of stage-play performances within the academic context and a wide range of ideas that can be incorporated in a drama oriented language classroom. An eclectic range of original scripts for role plays, skits, stage plays, etc are attached.

“The original play scripts given in my textbook have been designed to be enacted by students/young people, whether as school plays, in youth theatre, in drama workshops, or as a part of other youth activities for the intermediate and advanced level of English learning in English as a second language (ESL)/English as a foreign language (EFL) classes,” she says.

In fact, during the course of working with ESL students, she became aware of their deep anguish whether in the classroom, playground, or just about anywhere. “In the absence of speech fluency, they are prone to committing errors, and would invariably become the laughing stock of the ‘superior critics of human follies’, their classmates. Such profound disappointment tends to accelerate an undesirable decline in their progress over the years. Subsequently, they develop phobias or try to make peace with their unhappiness by developing a pure hatred for the language,” she says.

To become fluent speakers of English, D’Souza says, students must be able to do more than just speak grammatically correct sentences. They must also learn how to use body language, incorporate rise and fall of pitch patterns in their speech, example: intonation, voice-modulation, diction and correct pausing patterns

And by participating in such dramatic activities as laid out in her book, and in a non-threatening atmosphere, will help accelerate the learners’ speech fluency and communicative competence to a level at which they are challenged without being frustrated, she believes.

Drama is also particularly relevant for children with special needs as it is a co-operative task, believes D’Souza. This in turn helps them to imbibe the rules of working together and co-operating with their classmates.

Dramatic activities also provide the necessary motivational impetus to learn for ‘Gifted’ underachievers who get bored easily. “Many a time, it has been found that learners who underachieve are not necessarily the ones with learning disabilities. Their learning styles may just not be compatible with the traditional ‘talk and chalk’ method of teaching. Teachers must be aware and skilled in guiding and understanding the nature of giftedness of such students,” says D’Souza. The students then can be guided to ‘perform’ plays or narrative stories that have a number of characters and dialogues, and which have been read over a period of time. These performances could be informal or formal and do not necessarily have to involve props, costumes or a stage, she explains.

“As teachers, we can either reverse the fate of our students through our commitment and dedication or consign them to oblivion, due to our lack of interest,” says D’Souza.

(The book will be released on July 19 at 5 p.m. at The Black Box, Ravindra Bhavan, Margao at the hands of joint registrar (academic division), Goa University,

Donald Rodrigues)

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