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Integrating Performing Arts and Language Arts to Generate Output and Promote Cooperative Learning


By: Marilia Donoso and Sherina Isolica Pueri Domus School, Global Brazilian American Program

“Logic will get you from A to B.  Imagination will take you everywhere.”–Albert Einstein

The aim of this article is to share the experience of the Performing Arts teacher and the Grade 5 teacher who both work in a Bilingual School. The objective was to intentionally integrate P.A. and Language Arts to generate and produce authentic and meaningful language and promote cooperative learning.

What is output?

Dictionary definition : The act or process of producing; production

Output Hypothesis according to Merril Swain

Definition: The act of producing language (speaking or writing) constitutes, under certain circumstances, part of the process of second language learning.

Classroom Implications

Merril Swain’s output hypothesis claims that one way for a language learner to acquire or learn a new language is for them to produce language that “makes sense.” This hypothesis works in conjunction with, not distinct from, her previous “input hypothesis,” which claimed that the only way learners can acquire a new language is from hearing or reading the language being learned in a way that it can be understood.


How Did It All Start?

“Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.” Richard P. Feyman

In the Global Brazilian American Program, all elementary grades are expected to perform a play. Until 4th grade, students rehearse a prewritten play script. This time, the challenge was for the 5th grade students to come-up with a story based on their knowledge about Ancient Rome and then write their own script. They were expected to create the story, characters and plot structure, in order to develop the script and then perform on stage. (Bogart – p.2) This process was guided by the Performing Arts and the Grade 5 teacher.

As in tapestry our goal in this project was to develop the creative process of a play that would embrace a Social Studies’ theme, language output and cooperative learning. Moreover, it was an opportunity to weave in the writing process as an instrument for the students to write the script. In order to succeed the students needed to connect Social Studies, Language Arts and Performing Arts and then bring different skills together including their cooperative learning skills.

Structure and development of the Project

“You cannot expect other people to create meaning for you. You cannot wait for someone else to define your life. You make meaning by forging it with your hands. It is action that forges the meaning and the significance of a life.” (BOGART, 2007, p.2)

Initially, our main methodology was to give the students the opportunity to experiment with different possibilities for the story’s beginning, middle and end in order to develop a plot and create the script. They were encouraged to work in pairs and small groups and eventually all together to create a meaningful play.

The students were asked to use graphic organizers such as the one below, to structure their ideas.

During the Performing Arts classes the students would improvise the scenes they were responsible for, trying out the plot they came-up with through physical actions. In this perspective, we could say that like a scientist who has to carry out experiments to prove his theories, the students had to experiment their story with their own actions, forge it with their own hands, as said by Anne Bogart, to check its feasibility and effectiveness.

In the theater the PA teacher presented lots of exercises and specific games for students. These games served the purpose of exploring characters, settings and different “what if?” situations. At a specific point there were twelve scenes developed on stage, woven with different actions and characters, however the students were acting outwardly and not yet inwardly. They still didn’t know their lines by heart nor was the script completely ready when we started to rehearse the entire play from the beginning to the end. It was important to allow room for changes to the script as students became more familiar with their creation.

We applied a technique from Stanislavski’s system, the known Russian theater director and teacher, called the “magic if”. We proposed some situations analogous to the scenes’ conflicts, but closer to the students’ experience, to generate a reaction. For example, we posed the following questions: “what if your dad gave you the toy or trip you had always wanted? How would you feel?” Their answers had to be showed by their bodies, not by words. This body response needed to be linked to the scene in which the slaves were given freedom. We created an artificial memory to be revived on stage.

The exercises and techniques described brought to this project valuable tools to help the students take ownership of the subjects they were studying and to generate meaningful outcomes in the learning process.

Throughout this process the involvement of emotions and feelings proved to have an multi sensorial impact on the students’ development of metacognitive strategies. Students had to notice language in order to produce an effective script. The opportunity to work in groups provided ample opportunities for language exchange as well as cooperative learning. All in all, there was a boost in language acquisition and students gained a wider, deeper and more self- confident command of the language. Acting also reaches and embraces students who are more kinesthetic, and it engages and motivates learners to incorporate fluency, intonation and to produce authentic language.

“The desire to write grows with writing,” Desiderius Erasmus

Writing is usually solitary and sometimes needed but it can also be challenging for language learners. Some students lack ideas, vocabulary or even both.

Cooperative learning and Output through Performing Arts

This process provided an opportunity for output orally and on paper. There was a constant exchange of ideas as students needed to discuss how to organize their scenes, they had to research appropriate settings and had to carefully consider language structures and appropriate vocabulary.

In this project, there were 10 scenes plus lines for the narrators. Students were split into groups and each group was responsible for a scene and the 2 narrators were responsible for their lines. Each group was provided a booklet in which they first noted the scene it was responsible for, who was in the scene and the personality of each character. The group then had to develop the scene: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and solution. During the P.A. classes, students had a chance to explore their ideas and check for effectiveness and coherency. At this point they still had not written any lines, on stage they improvised with guidance. In this part of the process, there was a lot of exchange of ideas, opinions and suggestions. There was also opportunity for intervention with regards to language noticing and correction.

We read short plays to fully understand the elements of a play, character development, how to transform a story into a play. We analyzed the language used, appropriate punctuation for dialogue and specific verb tenses. We noticed how adverbs are used to help direct the actors on stage and help the actor/actress express opinions and ideas which are coherent to the role of that character.

During the Social Studies classes, students gained knowledge of Ancient Roman history, the society itself and all the factors which relate to and affect an ancient civilization. This was important as it provided ideas for scene settings, character behavior, costumes and possible plots.

Once the students were comfortable with their characters and the process, each group began writing the script for their scene. They were constantly guided to notice the language, spelling, punctuation and vocabulary. At the same time the language had to remain as authentic as possible.

In the writing process the student learned how to identify the elements of writing a scene for a play, brainstorm for ideas in groups, plan and outline the scene, organize and develop the first draft of the script, use the revision to produce the final draft, proofread and edit before publishing the script. Throughout the entire process output was generated orally (one-on-one, in pairs, in groups and teacher led) and on paper.

Post – Project Evaluation

“The limits of your language are the limits of your world.” Ludwig Wittgenstein

After the final performance, we carried out an oral collective evaluation of the process. The discussion was guided by the following questions: How did you do in the play? What were the difficulties or challenges you had to face during the process? In which areas do you consider you could improve?

Each student shared his/her reflection about these topics, criticizing his/her own performance and attitudes during the process, as well as identifying the aspects they did well and the ones they needed to improve.

Students showed maturity in their positions, since they could accurately describe skills they needed to develop. The main challenges and difficulties mentioned were: to speak louder and clearer, to keep focused during rehearsals, to be more expressive, to make use of body language and to position on stage. Some students also referred to their difficulty to face the audience and overcome their shyness. These are all skills that students need in order to be more effective communicators.

Teacher Collaboration

The experience of developing a collaborative project requires the teachers to be flexible and to be open to listen to each other’s ideas. A balance must be struck between both teachers’ ideas, which demands flexibility, willingness to share expertise and availability to learn from each other. The project starts with a plan, but teachers should keep in mind they cannot anticipate everything; the plan therefore has to be flexible according to the needs of the class. Moreover, the objectives and expectations for the project must be established in advance, working as a guide to develop the play process, at the same time these expectations will help in the evaluation process.

As a result of the project, the creative process of the play proved to be a valuable way to integrate and develop contents and skills from different areas. Certainly, the writing process helped the students to create and perform their characters on stage, to memorize their lines and to get a global perspective of the play. On the other hand, the acting skills helped the students to increase their knowledge about Ancient Rome and to write a script collectively.

“In order to be proficient and productive students, English-language learners (ELLs) need many opportunities to interact in social and academic situations. Effective teachers encourage their students’ participation in classroom discussions, welcome their contributions, and motivate them by such practices.” (Cazden, 2001; Stipek, 2002)

The Authors

Marilia Donoso holds a Master of Arts in Performing Arts and a B.Ed in Art Education. She currently teaches Performing Arts for preschool and elementary students in a Bilingual School in São Paulo, Brazil. She has been working as an actress for 16 years, having participated from International Festivals in Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Cuba and Venezuela.

Sherina Isolica currently teaches Grade 5 in a Bilingual School in São Paulo, Brazil. She holds a B.Ed in Education and a B.Ed in Business Administration, as well as TEFL certification. She worked as a TEFL teacher for 10 years and has been working with bilingual education for 12 years. She has published 3 articles : Digital Pathways, Class Meetings and Mentoring Programs



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