My last guest blogger of 2010 is Ania Musielak from Poland. I attended Ania’s drama workshop at TESOL France in Paris recently. Apart from being an excellent trainer, Ania is a walking advertisement for the importance of teacher enthusiasm and optimism. When she talked about using drama techniques in her classes with soldiers, she said she encountered absolutely no problems persuading the boys in uniform to do the activities she was describing. Seeing the way she throws herself into her work with good humour and energy, this came as no surprise.
I’m a Polish teacher and teacher trainer and I’ve been teaching using drama techniques for almost eleven years. Apart from drama, I’m interested in literature (especially the works of Shakespeare) and popular culture. I’m interested in the notions of the body, carnivalesque, advertising, kitsch, camp and films.
I have a PhD from the Silesian University in Katowice.
In my PhD thesis, there’s a chapter on The Body In Sports (e.g. in wrestling, in the past and nowadays) and the images of the body in contemporary popular culture.
I’ve worked at the military unit in my hometown, Tarnowskie Góry, and also at a college teaching British Literature and Culture and as methodology director in a private language school. At the moment, I’m writing workshops and teaching English to young learners and adults. It’s my goal to prove to my students that learning can be fun and effective at the same time. I’m not afraid to join my students in acting out and letting my imagination run wild.
In drama there are no wrong answers, everything is possible.
I have always loved teaching adults (especially beginners) as I considered it a very challenging and rewarding task. Some time ago, I was working with a small group of adults who knew very little English. Oh, and it’s important to know – they were soldiers who had to learn English as it was crucial for their further military careers.
So there I was, probably the only girl at the military unit. Who was more frightened – me or them – I will never know. My soldiers had six hours of English every day (plus homework, of course) and the course lasted for almost six months. Phew…sounds tough. And the skills I was responsible for were speaking, writing and reading.
As I have always been fascinated with drama and the possibilities it offers to both the students and the teacher, I decided to use some drama games to relax my students and make them speak. I think that drama techniques are simple and fun methods of teaching (and learning) and I was determined to introduce some of that fun to the gloomy military unit I was at.
We started with very simple techniques – saying Hi to the others in various manners. They were shocked when I asked them to stand up and move around. And to spice it up a bit, I used finger puppets with this exercise. Can you imagine a bunch of uniformed soldiers prancing around the classroom with a finger puppet of a king, a fashion model or a farmer, shouting, reciting or whispering Hi! to one another?
That was a good move, as this exercise put them at ease – they didn’t need to say much, just Hi in a different way. And what was important – I joined them! When they saw that I was willing to make a fool of myself, they were happy to follow! I decided to build on that exercise – we added some more expressions such as What’s your name? and How are you?.
They had to continue speaking in the register of the character. Later on, we made some pairs – e.g. a fashion model and a doctor, or a king and a businessman. What surprised me was the fact that they were even willing to play female characters.
Once the students were relaxed and at ease with the procedures, I applied more “complex” games. When we studied the verb to have, I asked them to find people who had a guitar/a motorbike/a great mother-in-law, and so on and so forth. When they couldn’t remember a word/a structure, they used their body language and mimed or drew what they wanted to say.
And that is why I (and my students) love drama – it helps us to be spontaneous when expressing emotions and by involving body language – treats people as entities. Like in every day communication, there are pauses, misunderstandings and our whole body gets involved in conveying the message.
I also made sure that when it was time for a reading lesson – it was not a reading aloud session – I used children’s stories that were uncomplicated. First, I took a very simple children’s story about animals and the different colours of their knickers, which was easy and entertaining for them. And can you imagine the joy of learning the word knickers – it definitely was not on the curriculum.😛
The next step was to come up with their own characters (not only draw them but also write the stories behind them). They came up with characters ranging from Private Joe Jones to Steve the Sad Farmer… After that, I divided them into three groups and each had to choose a form for their work – a comic strip, a picture story or a concertina book (I extended the reading into a writing project).
They were presented with big pieces of paper, colourful markers, cut-outs from magazines and glue. My soldiers were so fascinated with their tasks that their works turned into real masterpieces. They loved feeling like children again (and children have fun learning, don’t they? I always observe my four-year old daughter with fascination – how quickly and effortlessly she learns new words in both English and German and how much fun she has at that).
Drama brought balance to my classroom and the games were not merely fun but made the learning process memorable, meaningful and more efficient. Thanks to dramatization, my soldiers had a positive and confident attitude towards the learning experience. The games developed their imagination and creative freedom and helped them acquire the skills as if by accident, naturally – just like children!
And what I considered my greatest achievement was the fact that their enthusiasm was not faked and did not wear off for a long time. Most of them managed to pass their exams at the military unit with flying colours and some continued their adventure with English.
Unfortunately, Ania wasn’t able to get permission to use a picture of her with the soldiers, so here’s a picture of Your Humble Blogger trying out a drama activity at a military base in Taiwan…