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Drama as a Bridge to Literacy 2012


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Drama as a Bridge to Literacy 2012

  1. 1. Multiple Literacies: Beyond the Four skillsDrama as a Bridge to LiteracySusan Hillyardssnhillyard@gmail.comAbstractThis presentation explores drama, a polysemic discipline, as both a literacy itself and aneffective resource for the teaching of multiple literacies. It argues that drama can bridgethe gap between basic word skills and greater competency in sophisticated literacyskills. It shows how role adoption and contextualization in drama adhere to a number ofmodels of effective language teaching and how drama also appeals to different learningstyles. A comparison between improvisation and reading shows that the former is moreeffective in developing multi modal skills enabling the development of multipleliteracies leading to learning a language for life.Key words: Drama, literacies, multimodal skills, polysemic.PaperThis paper sets out to bridge the chasm between the basic word skills of decoding andencoding and the interpretation of those marks and sounds into real meaning throughdrama. It explores how drama, through its appeal to the five developmental areas of thelearner (social, physical, intellectual, creative and emotional) and to different learningstyles (visual, kinaesthetic and auditory) enables more effective literacy acquisition. Itsees the language teacher as a literacy teacher who is helping students to learn alanguage for life and recognizes those students as protagonists in the action. It alsoadheres to the notion that literacy contributes to the search for personal identity. In the beginning was the word and it was only spoken and heard As man developed webecame the only thinking, speaking, writing species and the need to develop these skillsfor the further improvement of mankind became essential. So was born literacy: theability to deal with words and derive meaning from those little black squiggles we adultliterates enjoy taking for granted. The problem for we teachers is “We live in a wordyworld, trying to cope with concrete kids” Anon As language educators we need to understand the complexity and interrelationships ofwhat used to be called The Three Rs, “Reading, Riting and Rithmetic” or literacy andnumeracy to which was added ORACY in the 60s. If we are to understand how to teacha language then we must surely understand the term literacy as an acquisition processleading to the discovery of personal identity. We need to find strategies which helpstudents to learn the language as a Language for Life, as suggested way back in 1975 bySir Alan Bullock, in The Bullock Report, conducted by the Department for Educationand Science in Britain. But what is a language for life? What life are we talking about?Certainly, it would be true to say that the life our students are living today and will beliving in their futures is very different from the life Sir Alan Bullock was living in his Susan Hillyard – Drama as a Bridge to Literacy
  2. 2. time. The literacies our students require are very much more complicated and variedthan they ever have been in the past. With the advent of information technology, the allpervading power of the media and the influence of globalization leading to the conceptof the knowledge society our students‟ needs have been transformed such that we, inturn, must transform our teaching. This paper sets out to suggest that we must do farmore than teach the four skills. We must find multiple ways to teach multiple literaciesto students with multiple learning styles. The use of educational drama can provide onesuch way.Most students living in developed societies receive a tremendous input from thetechnological word: they listen and watch visual images far more than their forbearsever did. It is vital that we teachers help them to make meaning out of thoseinformations by teaching beyond reading, writing, listening and speaking throughmoving into visual literacy, computer literacy, spatial literacy, body literacy, filmliteracy, music literacy and all the other literacies they are meeting in the life of this andfuture centuries.Literacy has enjoyed a long if varied history. Until the industrial revolution finallymade cheap paper and cheap books available to all classes in industrialized countries inthe mid-nineteenth century, only a small percentage of the population in these countrieswere literate. Up until that point, materials associated with literacy were prohibitivelyexpensive for people other than wealthy individuals and institutions. For example, inEngland in 1841, 33% of men and 44% of women signed marriage certificates withtheir mark as they were unable to write. Only in 1870 was government-financed publiceducation made available in England. The existence of secular and religious texts aswell as references to great metaphysical debates including reading and writing contestsin those texts from the Indian subcontinent (South Asia) points to a highly, perhapsselectively, literate culture there as far back as five to eight thousand years ago. Somemajor Hindu texts and other discourses contesting them are supposed to be eightthousand years old. The large amount of graffiti found at Roman sites such as Pompeii,shows that at least a large minority of the population would have been literate. InIslamic edict (or Fatwa), to be literate is an individual religious obligation, not aprivilege given to a few in the society, thus explaining how during the past twelvecenturies Islamic countries have known a comparatively high level of literacy Judaismplaces great importance on the study of holy texts, the Tanakh and the Talmud, so in theMiddle Ages male Jews learned to read Hebrew at least. In New England, the literacyrate was over 50 percent during the first half of the 17th century, and it rose to 70percent by 1710. By the time of the American Revolution, it was around 90 percent.This is seen by some as a side effect of the Puritan belief in the importance of Biblereading. In Wales, the literacy rate rocketed during the 18th century, when GriffithJones ran a system of circulating schools, with the aim of enabling everyone to read theBible (in Welsh). It is claimed that, in 1750, Wales had the highest literacy rate of anycountry in the world. Historically, the literacy rate has also been high in the Lutherancountries of Northern Europe. Already in the 1686 church law (kyrkolagen) of theKingdom of Sweden (which at the time included all of modern Sweden, Finland, andEstonia) literacy was enforced on the people and a hundred years later, by the end of the18th century, the literacy rate was close to 100 percent. Even before the 1686 law,literacy was widespread in Sweden. However, the ability to read did not automaticallyimply ability to write, and as late as the 19th century many Swedes, especially women, Susan Hillyard – Drama as a Bridge to Literacy
  3. 3. could not write. This proves even more difficult, because many literary historiansmeasure literacy rates based on the ability that people had to sign their own names.What constitutes literacy has changed over the years. It is only relatively recently thatliteracy has been seen as desirable at least and essential at most. In addition it is seen associally unacceptable if you are illiterate. More recently literacy has become far morethan just “The Three Rs or Reading, „Riting and „Rithmetic and teachers have beenexhorted to raise standards and provide for the new multiple literacies required by thecitizen of the new global world. In Scotland for example, literacy has been defined as:"The ability to read and write and use numeracy, to handle information, to express ideasand opinions, to make decisions and solve problems, as family members, workers,citizens and lifelong learners." This definition embraces the Social Practice approach toliteracies education and its impact on the "four areas of life" - personal life, family life,work life, community life and engages the "five core skills" - communication, numeracy,problem solving, working with others and ICT all competences that are considered toconstitute literacy. We might add such other necessities as visual literacy,environmental literacy, critical literacy and more if we trouble to analyse the skills nowrequired to understand the complex world in which we live. The basic premise thereforerests on the changing face of society in the developed world and how informationtechnology and the drive towards quality research in education has changed andexpanded our idea of the term literacy. We now recognize that there exist multipleliteracies which demand multiple skills from learners with multiple learning styles.Many educators today are changing practices of literacy instruction to reflect newknowledge about teaching and learning. A balanced approach to literacy instructioncombines language and literature-rich activities associated with holistic readinginstruction with the explicit teaching of skills as needed to develop the fluency andcomprehension that proficient readers possess. Such instruction stresses the love oflanguage, gaining meaning from print, and instruction of phonics in context. TheBalanced Literacy approach to reading instruction incorporates many reading strategiesin order to meet the varying needs of all students. Some of the components of theapproach include phonemic awareness and phonics instruction, reading aloud tochildren, independent reading, guided reading, shared reading and literacy centres forindependent practice. A Running Record, a documentation of a child‟s readingbehavior, is often used as an assessment tool to allow teachers to monitor the progressof students.In some more enlightened establishments drama may even be on thecurriculum. In fact in the Department for Education and Skills (UK) document for theNational Strategy for teaching English (2003) it is clearly stated “Drama developsthinking, speaking and listening, reading, writing and and critical analysis throughemotional and imaginitive engagement.”It becomes imperative here to define drama and this is just the place where wemight get stuck. The drama versus theatre debate appears unabated and so wemight venture a vague and all encompassing definition such as “Drama is thecollaborative exploration and analysis of meaning through thhe enactment ofevents”, also from the Df ES (2003). Dorothy Heathcote, the leading specialistwho introduced educational drama to the world, starting in the UK in the 60s,offers this definition: “Drama is anything which involves people in active role-taking situations in which attitudes, not characters, are the chief concern, lived Susan Hillyard – Drama as a Bridge to Literacy
  4. 4. at life-rate (that is discovery at this moment, not memory-based) and obeyingthe natural laws of the medium: · a willing suspension of disbelief · agreement to pretence · employing all past experiences · employing any conjecture of imaginationto create a living, moving picture of life which aims at surprise and discovery for theparticipants rather than for any onlookers.So let us go back to literacies and see that one such literacy is dramatic literacy. Asdrama is polysemic (multiple meanings through multiple signs) it becomes an enabler ofmultiple literacies. By using drama techniques the teacher can cope more readily withplacing words in a context to enhance their meanings and allow for different possibleinterpretations. This conforms to the horizontal axis of Cummins Four Quadrants forLanguage Learning where he advises embedding the language in literature, realia, realcontexts, first hand experiences and moving the learner, both physically and internally,rather than using the spoken or printed word only. Drama, by its very nature, embedsthe language in role play, improvisation, interpretation of a script or transformation of adifferent form of text into a dramatic act. Not only this, but according to Cummins it isimportant for language learners to be stretched to employ higher order thinking skills oras he terms it, more cognitively demanding tasks, and it could be argued that drama inall its guises pushes students to move out of the arena of lower order thinking skills intogreater heights. Patrice Baldwin (2004) presents new insights into the relationshipbetween drama and thinking skills, and therefore more sophisticated literacy skills, inher chart comparing high quality thinking with high quality drama. In addition Fisher’s Triangle of Language Learning (1998) indicates that it is vital forstudents to “perform” in order to develop proficiency. By this he means that studentsneed to have ample opportunities to use the language and not just understand how itworks in a simply receptive manner. Students need to have a need to use the language ina variety of near to true life situations especially if they have little exposure to thelanguage in their reality outside the classroom. Fisher suggests that students must movefrom the receptive to the productive where the language joins with thought and thedouble process acts as a means towards developing higher order thinking skills and ahigher competence in language proficiency. He also stresses encouraging metacognitionor learning to learn or speech thoughts as a route to greater proficiency and a muchwider range of skills on the part of the student. It seems to be true that most teachersspend little time on these essential skills, maybe because they do not have a wealth ofsuitable tasks to aid them in the implementation of such skills in the school setting or donot have the facilities and support required from their authorities. The implication forteachers‟ curriculum planning suggests a new paradigm shift in basic beliefs andmethodology.Andy Kempe (2000) suggests the soundbite is the medium through which most of ourstudents receive a great deal of information today. Multi-tasking, zapping, having i-podswith the capability of storing 10,000 songs compiled by the owner from just as manyCD compilations, snippets of news, e-mail brevity, MSN natter around the world withinterruptions from all and sundry make our students a new breed of learners and so wemust become a new breed of teachers. Drama provides a possibility to see and hear the Susan Hillyard – Drama as a Bridge to Literacy
  5. 5. soundbite in a new reality with its concomitant enrichment of tone, pitch, pace, volume,and texture of the voice coupled with the body language, facial gesture and stance of thespeaker. This is clearly different from seeing it quoted in print and clearly helps studentsto understand and possibly question the soundbites all around them.We know from studies (particularly of Vygotsky) that reading and writing are multi-modal activities. The definition of these activities can be compared to the multi modalnature of dramatic literacy. In support Moffat’s discussion of the differences betweenreading narrative and doing drama sheds some considerable light on the advantages ofincluding drama in the regular curriculum for everybody, not just the talented few. Hestresses the use of personal time, differences in viewpoint, different signs, and use ofevents time.This comparison is furthered through Simons and Quirck‟s analysis of the cueingsystems in reading and dramatic improvisation and the concomitant requirement topredict the author’s intentions and the actors’ choice of language code and action code.Role adoption seems to allow for students to put on the mask of security and to air theirprivate feelings in the public forum in a way that responding to print may not. Thematerial becomes strangely distanced from the reader and therefore far less threatening.In this way, when the text is dramatized the student can express real felt emotionsthrough the “protection” of the role. Connections to perhaps painful prior knowledge ordisturbing events can be realized and better analysed through a cathartic acting outrather than a straightforward reading.The response to the dramatic challenge ensures a development in literacy in a moreeffective manner than other literacy skills teaching, through focusing on people andfeelings. Dramatic activity is essentially related to the human condition and thereforetouches the learner in a more personal manner resulting in more experimentation withwider vocabulary, structures and tone, more truth value interaction between speaker andlistener and the practice of the expressive functions of speculation and prediction usedin real life communication acts.It is clearly noted that weaker language students often excel in drama and, having doneso, go on to improve in other subject areas at a dramatic rate. This is due to the holisticnature of drama in its power to activate more of the multiple intelligences cited byGardner, its appeal to different learning styles, its strength in combining activity onboth sides of the brain and its relationship to play and the basic human need to becreative and imaginative. As Heathcote(1984) said so many years ago Drama is Lifeand Life is Drama illustrating concisely how dramatic literacy contributes to a languagefor life and the teaching of multiple literacies. Susan Hillyard – Drama as a Bridge to Literacy
  6. 6. BibliographyByron K. 1986. Drama in the English Classroom. Methuen. LondonBaldwin P.2004 With Drama in Mind. Network Educational Press, Stafford UKCummins J and Swain M. 1986. Bilingualism in Education. Longman UKFisher R. 1998. Teaching Children to Think. Stanley Thornes. Newcastle UKGardner H. 1983. Frames of Mind Basic Books, Perseus, New YorkHeathcote D Ed. Jonson L and O‟Neill Cecily. 1984. Collected Writings on Educationand Drama. NWU Press, IllinoisKempe A J. 2000 Drama and the Development of Literacy. Article in Nadie JournalAutumn IssueVygotsky L. 1962. Thought and Language. MIT Press. Cambridge, MA Susan Hillyard – Drama as a Bridge to Literacy