Nadie Papers No. 1 Drama, Language and Learning: Reports of the Drama and Language Research Project, Speech and Drama Center, Education Department of Tasmania

Schaffner, M., Little, G., & Felton, H. (1984). Nadie Papers No. 1 Drama, Language and Learning: Reports of the Drama and Language Research Project, Speech and Drama Center, Education Department of Tasmania. National Association for Drama in Education, Education Department of Tasmania.

Abstract:

This study examines the effects of drama on the development of fifth and sixth grade children’s language, thinking, and learning. The researchers define drama as “being and doing within an imaginary situation” and focus on improvised drama activities that do not include the writing or use of scripts. The researchers examined transcribed recordings of language samples during drama sessions and found that children used expressive (i.e., less concrete or informational) language in drama, which aided their development of abstract thinking. Also, reflective discussions about the drama activities raised moral issues.

Key Findings:

  • Children used expressive (subjective, less informational) language in drama, especially during reflective discussions after drama; however, the researchers did not specifically examine children’s language during other classroom activities, only during drama sessions.
  • Children’s use of expressive language helped to develop abstract forms of thinking.
  • Reflective discussions about the drama activities also raised issues involving moral values.

Significance of the Findings:

This study finds that drama activities provide children with opportunities to use expressive, more abstract language as well as to explore moral issues. Previous research shows that typical classroom language is informational or concrete; therefore implementing drama activities may encourage children’s development of a range of language expression and abstract thinking.

Methodology:

Nine schools participated in the study. The researchers selected the schools to represent city, suburban, and rural areas as well as various socioeconomic backgrounds. Within these schools, they then selected eleven classes of fifth and sixth graders to participate in the study based on teacher interest. Teachers were not required to have experience with drama and had access to speech and drama advisors during the study. Teachers were trained on study procedures and requirements during a two-day seminar in the spring prior to data collection.

Language samples during all drama session were recorded over the course of two terms in one school year. The frequency and length of drama sessions were not standardized. Teachers were instructed to record all children in the class over the course of the study to minimize bias that any one child would dominate the language samples. The researchers transcribed and analyzed the language samples, resulting in 45-85 word samples selected based on being typical of that session. The researchers reported the primary data collection challenge was obtaining decipherable tape-recordings. The researchers identified three phases within the drama activities: planning, drama-in-action, and reflection.

Limitations of the Research:

A main limitation was that researchers only collected language samples during drama sessions and did not examine children’s language during other subjects or classroom activities. Therefore, comparisons regarding whether children’s language was “more expressive” during drama activities versus “more informational” during other typical classroom activities cannot be made with certainty. Thus, a more accurate statement regarding the data would be that children used expressive language during drama activities. Another limitation is that no comparison group was included. Additionally, since teachers self-selected into the study, they may have had more interest and ability to integrate drama than the typical classroom teacher.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Do children use more expressive language in drama activities versus other classroom activities? Would the findings be similar if an experimental or quasi-experimental design was used?