Anderson, Alida and Katherine Berry. “The Influence of Classroom Drama on Teachers’ Language and Students’ On-Task Behavior.” Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth 59, no. 4 (2015): 197, doi: 10.1080/1045988X.2014.903464.


Teachers’ language and students’ on-task behavior were examined during language arts lessons — both with and without classroom drama instruction — in two self-contained third grade classrooms for students with learning disabilities and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Language arts lessons that integrated classroom drama were associated with significantly higher rates of teachers’ assertive statements and lower rates of regulative statements. Language arts lessons incorporating classroom drama were associated with higher rates of students’ on-task behavior than conventional language arts lessons. The findings indicate that the classroom drama language arts setting influenced teachers’ use of assertive and regulative discourse and students’ on-task behavior. The authors discuss the implications of arts-integrated instruction for educational practice and research, as well as policy.

Key Findings:

Teachers’ speech to students was evidently and measurably more elaborative and dialogic in the dramatic language arts (DLA) as compared with conventional language arts (CLA) setting, in which both teachers used significantly more assertive statements to describe, expand and clarify lesson content. Also, teachers used significantly fewer regulative statements in the DLA as compared with CLA contexts. Both teachers used significantly more attention getting statements, repetitions and maintenance questions to redirect students to the lesson content.

The results of students’ rate of on-task behavior across DLA and CLA lessons showed that on average, students displayed more on-task behavior during DLA lessons. In an observation of the change in on-task behavior rates across the students with the lowest rates of on-task behavior five of the six students showed increased on-task behavior in the DLA as compared with the CLA context. The outlier students were typically disruptive students. The results indicate that the DLA context served as a facilitating mechanism for on-task behavior of students with learning disabilities (LD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

In summary, the drama context of language arts instruction was associated with significant differences in teachers’ assertive and regulative language and students’ on-task behavior. Classroom drama integration appeared to facilitate students’ behavioral engagement, as measured through on-task behavior (e.g., participating in the class activity, interacting with peers and teachers, and listening to and following directions).

Significance of the Findings:

The significance of this study lies in the integrative approach to using drama in the classroom to support dialogic discourse and contextual teacher speech. It examined teachers’ speech in dramatic and conventional language in DLA and CLA activities to influence the on-task behaviors of students with ADHD/LD. The major takeaway is that when teachers effectively engaged students in DLA, the results demonstrated an increase in “linguistic engagement in teachers use of elaborate and supportive dialogic discourse with students.


Data collection included observations, video recording and language sampling in the classrooms over two weeks during the school year. In week one, before data collection, the researchers met with the teachers to explain the procedures of the study and requested to observe two language arts lessons from both teachers (one lesson included DLA and the other lesson included CLA). In week two, the researchers observed language arts lessons in which they obtained data on teacher language and students’ on-task behavior. In the final week, the researchers conducted interviews with the teachers about the lessons and confirmed lesson context designations (CLA and DLA).

Regarding data analysis, the researchers videotaped all the lessons for transcription and coding purposes. The analysis set contained completed and intelligible teacher utterances, and the transcripts of teacher’s speech to the students was then coded. Students’ on-task behavior was measured as a percentage of time the students were on-task through direct observations of the videos of the language arts lessons. Qualitative analysis of teacher interview data provide supplemental information about attitudes toward language literacy learning, arts integration, language arts teaching and learning, and arts integration and student on-task behavior.

Limitations of the Research:

The authors denote that the results should be interpreted as exploratory findings because it is not necessarily clear, based on the results. It should also be noted that the sample size was very small, but possibly easier to replicate.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Conventional CLA classrooms typically teach with language that is incongruent with the needs of students who have ADHD and LD. As a result, students generally may have issues of poor comprehension in academic contexts and the use of written and spoken language, reading and verbal skills. How do could teachers use of linguistic engagement through the use of elaborate and supportive dialogic discourse with students impact students reading skills?