And Now Presenting…! How Dramatic Arts Integration Increases EL Students’ Use of Academic Language in the Classroom

And Now Presenting…! How Dramatic Arts Integration Increases EL Students’ Use of Academic Language in the Classroom

Now create a skit!

In their paper, “The Influence of Classroom Drama on English Learners’ Academic Language Use During English Language Arts Lessons,” Alida Anderson and Sandra M. Loughlin investigate the effect of classroom drama (aka dramatic arts integration) on English Language learners’ use of academic language in class.

Anderson and Loughlin note that contextualized language-learning tasks, such as dramatic arts-based activities, have a powerful effect on students’ acquisition of academic language, as these types of activities support “connections between concepts and language expression” (265). However, decontextualized language instruction is often the norm in ELA classrooms, in which “language-learning tasks…are removed from immediate or accessible meaning beyond the language itself” (266). Yet there is a powerful case for contextualized learning environments, given that they “foster academic language proficiency through discovery and experiential approaches that integrate basic communication skills, new information, procedures, tasks, as well as vocabulary, structures, and functions in academic discourse” (267). In this learning environment, teachers would provide “action-based language opportunities” that enable “collaboration, discussion, and planning” (267).

“A significant body of arts education research has linked dramatic arts activities and students’ language use, demonstrating that involvement in classroom drama has significant, reliable, and causal connections to a number of literacy outcomes, including oral language use, reading comprehension, and writing production” (268).

For this study, Anderson and Loughlin worked with a teacher and cohort of elementary school students in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Forty percent of the school’s student population identified as English Language learners, and sixty percent qualified for free or reduced lunch (271). The authors asked the participating teacher to conduct with his students two separate lessons about the solar system during two 90-minute blocks. The first lesson was designated as “conventional” and did not have dramatic play as a main feature of the lesson. In this lesson, the teacher orally read the text and posed questions to students, who were to discuss those questions in table groups. The student-directed activity in this conventional lesson “focused on reading and writing, as students were directed to read the text and write a compare and contrast paragraph after discussing their ideas with their group” (272). Students then read their paragraphs aloud and discussed their paragraphs with classmates. The second lesson included dramatic play as a main portion of the lesson. For this student-directed activity, students were given copies of the text and were asked to create and present skits that demonstrated their understanding of that text (272).

The authors video recorded both lessons and analyzed the teacher-language-use and student-language-use in each lesson.

The Findings

“Dramatic play has been identified as a facilitator of second-language abilities and higher-order thinking skills because drama directly engages students’ affective states and allows them to use symbolic and verbal expressions to convey their thoughts and feelings” (268).

    • In the dramatic arts integrated lesson, the teacher used more “requestive speech”, asking “who, what, where, when” more often (273)
    • Students were given more opportunities to use descriptive language in the dramatic lesson (273)
    • In the conventional lesson, the teacher used more “regulative language that was not connected to the conventional lesson content, such as attention-getting utterances” (274)
    • Students used more elaborative and descriptive language in the dramatic arts integrated lesson
    • Students asked more “who, what, when, where, why” questions in the dramatic lesson (276)
    • In the conventional lesson, students’ language “was marked by use of regulative maintenance statements (e.g. okay, yeah) to maintain the conversational flow (277)
  • In the conventional lesson, students asked more questions about the instructions, rather than the content (about the solar system) (277)

“In the drama context, ELs used language to interact, critique, question, and revise their ideas in collaboration with their peers. By contrast, in the conventional ELA context, students had very limited opportunities to interact with each other or with their teacher about the concepts and information. They were most focused on understanding the language of instruction” (278).

Anderson and Loughlin conclude the paper by emphasizing that the integration of dramatic arts into ELA lesson planning has a substantial effect on students’ use of academic language. They argue that dramatic arts-based activities promote learning and engagement and should be used in ELA classes, especially as a way to support English Language learners (279).

Paper Title:  The Influence of Classroom Drama on English Learners’ Academic Language Use During English Language Arts Lessons

Authors: Alida Anderson (American University) and Sandra M. Loughlin (University of Maryland, College Park)

Full Paper:

Published: Bilingual Research Journal, Volume 37, No. 3, 2014, Pages 263-286

Professional Development:

Classroom Drama

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