Photos courtesy of Sonya Wong
Written by Sonya Wong
While the Mother Tongue languages review has been ongoing for years, with the emphasis on interesting and engaging lessons, it still seems easy for students to comment that Chinese Language (CL) is boring and difficult to learn. Blanket statements these may be, but it would not help much to counter them with "CL is your roots so how difficult can it get?" or "You are a Chinese, so learn your CL!" Would it make a difference if we instead, try unloading CL from more than its due cultural baggage, and highlighting more of it being a living and practical language?
The magical charm of drama, when activated in the classroom and infused into teaching, will transform the learning environment into an active and engaging one. Some teachers might have tried adapting textbook passages into play scripts, or rehearsing learning content into play performances. Out of these teaching strategies, Process Drama (PD) stands out as a somewhat different pedagogy. Firstly, there are no scripts. The focus of PD is on the improvisational process of exploring and discovering, instead of a scripted and rehearsed product. Hence the term Process Drama. From it, students take charge of their own learning, make self-discoveries and reflections. There are a myriad of PD conventions teachers could use in class: role play; teacher-in-role, frozen images, thought tracking, mass-in-role etc. Whichever conventions are being used, students have to remain engaged in such a PD-infused CL classroom. Apart from the learning content, there are no written scripts that students can rely on. Together with the teacher, students need to think, react, question and respond to the fluid scenarios propelled by PD. Students need to use the Chinese Language to interact, feel, observe and express. An environment to use and make the language come alive, is thus created and supported by PD.
|Process Drama in Action: Frozen Image and Thought Tracking|
Neither students nor the teachers need to be professional actors before they can participate in PD. They just have to put aside their inhibitions, be open about themselves, and be ready to believe in the drama worlds that they co-create with their learning community, in this case, their teachers and their peers. The situations driven, or even made complex with dramatic tension, experienced by the characters, role-played or presented by the students, could then create interesting platforms whereby students, while experiencing in character, could also step out of character to comment or even help turn around the situation by making active suggestions to bring about changes, thereby constructing their own learning.
So far, students I have worked with, have given rather positive reviews to the PD-infused CL lessons conducted with them. They are ready to speak up and participate more actively in such lessons. One vivid observation I have was with a reserved girl who hardly contributed to ideas openly during normal lessons. After a few CL lessons with PD infused, she began to open up. During one of the lessons, she started taking the lead to answer my questions, and was enthused and engaged enough in the PD activities to take the initiative to voice her views, without me prompting her. I was pleasantly surprised with her views, which were rather insightful. At the end of the school term, she specially asked if there would be more PD-infused lessons for CL during the new term. There was much positive anticipation for it, in her voice.
Even for students who were too shy still to express themselves openly via drama activities, they still carried with them their fair share of learning takeaways. We might not hear of them much in class as yet, but their learning could still be reflected in their writings from the writing tasks given after lessons. It is assuring to me as a teacher that these handful of silent observers are also constructing their learning in their own way, much more than I am aware of.
|Process Drama in Action: Hotseating|
In our drama worlds, my students are beginning to see things from perspectives of the different characters. They develop empathy and understanding for people who may not be within their world in reality. I witness the potential and impact that PD can demonstrate on learning, not just in grasping a language, but in life education as well. The learning I glean from my students is as enriching as what they glean from PD.
It will however, be unrealistic to declare PD as the panacea for CL teaching and learning. There are still many effective pedagogies depending on the teachers' expertise and the students' needs. PD can develop as one of them in the repertoire. Currently it is still relatively new and in the process of developing in maturity as a proven effective pedagogy in CL learning. There remains much more that like-minded educators can collaborate and explore, to realise the potential of PD.
|Sonya Wong is a secondary school teacher and is currently perusing her Masters in Philosophy (Education) at the University of Hong Kong.|
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