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ERIC Number: EJ1065658
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2015
Pages: 24
Abstractor: ERIC
ISSN: ISSN-1559-663X
Applied Theatre, Adolescent English Learners, and the Performance of Literacy
Murray, Beth; Salas, Spencer; Thoghdha, Michele Ni
English Teaching Forum, v53 n2 p2-11 2015
Youth in middle and secondary grades, between childhood and the adult world, sometimes struggle with their identities as readers and learners. Too many describe themselves or are described by their teachers and parents as "reluctant, disengaged, and/or unmotivated" by classroom texts or by the rows of books in school libraries. Even though blockbuster series have powered young adult fiction and cinematic markets over the last two decades (e.g., "Harry Potter" "The Hunger Games" "Diary of a Wimpy Kid"), "I don't like to read" is nevertheless a common refrain in schools and in homes. In terms of teaching English as a foreign language (EFL), the communicative language teaching paradigms that have long dominated the field tend to downplay literacy as a focus in preference for conceptualizing language as distinct if overlapping skill sets of reading, writing, and listening. Whether a student did or did not like reading has historically been of less concern to a field more focused on communicative language development. Yet, with more contemporary proponents of "literacy" arguing the multidimensional, multimodal, and existential ways of reading the "word/world" as an alternative ( Freire 2000; Heath 1983; Paris 2011), the concept of literacy has slowly begun entering the professional lexicon of TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) International Association and other leading English language teaching professional organizations; in addition, the "power of reading" is an emerging centerpiece of primary and secondary curricular paradigms (see Fay and Whaley 2004; Krashen 1993). In this article, the authors argue that how adolescent language learners position themselves as readers does matter to teachers of EFL and that teachers do not have to accept a student's declaration of "I don't like to read" as a permanent reality. Schools, and English language classrooms in particular, can promote a culture of reading that forwards a communicative paradigm and at the same time embraces literacy as a "system for representing the world to ourselves--a psychological phenomenon; at the same time it is a system for representing the world to others--a social phenomenon" (Barton 1994, 33). Specifically, they outline in practical ways the potential of applied theatre for stimulating purposeful, creative literacy engagement with adolescent learners in order to engage communication in multiple modalities and in interactive ways. They begin with a brief overview of applied theatre and contemporary theorizations of its relationship to literacy development. Next, they provide a description of four approaches for activating applied theatre for literacy development, using Shel Silverstein's (1964) "The Giving Tree" as an anchor example. They conclude with special attention to how applied theatre might be leveraged across grade levels in diverse classroom settings and adapted for varied genres and forms of text.
US Department of State. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Office of English Language Programs, SA-5, 2200 C Street NW 4th Floor, Washington, DC 20037. e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Middle Schools; Secondary Education; Junior High Schools; High Schools
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A