This problem is an excellent candidate for an interdisciplinary approach, because it meets two qualifications:
(1) The problem is the focus of two or more disciplines: The topic is discussed by the discipline of English as well as communication, additionally there is some research available within the field of theatre as to which activities are the best for teaching language, and which activities translate well across cultural boundaries.
(2) There is a gap in attention to a problem in beyond one domain: Only a handful of studies have ever been done on the using drama in adult ESL education (though there are several studies done using children).
Justifying an Interdisciplinary Approach
As mentioned above, the research currently available on the uses of drama in teaching ESL is limited. There are many studies available on the use of drama in teaching children, but very few focus on adults. Furthermore, the majority of studies currently available either focus on interpersonal communication and English or interpersonal communication and drama. An interdisciplinary approach will help to combine the research available, using interpersonal communication as common ground. By taking an interdisciplinary approach and researching new methods for teaching adult ESL learners, both the quality of education and the quality of life for students can be improved.
Evaluation of Insights
As previously mentioned the disciplines most relevant to this project are English Education, Interpersonal Communication, and Theatre. Each brings their own set of biases and insights to the topic of ESL education.
The field of English Education does not see dramatic activities as a way of teaching language to adults. However, there is much discussion about how the arts can be used to teach children. One theory that supports this is Hymes Theory of Play and Education. This theory states that play is a way of providing children a place to experiment with learning and organizing the world around them, and that play also a means of helping children learn. There is a definite bias towards the use of dramatic activities to teach English, but only with children, and not with adults.
Interpersonal Communication has no specific input on the issue, but offers a basis for communication across cultures as well as providing social science backing on motivation and attitude which is vital in education. This statement is backed up by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (which explains which needs must be met in hierarchy form in order for a person to be motivated) as well as various models of attitudes and how they are formed. There seems to be no bias or opinion towards the controversy, the only thing that communication provides is: (a) the explanation that learners must be motivated and (b) the implication that there is more to learning a language than the laws; learners must be able to communicate fluently outside of the spoken words.
The field of theatre sees itself as a means of sharing messages and communicating ideas, is a self-proclaimed “slice of life” that reflects cultures, people, and languages. Theatre offers the theory of mimesis: that theatre mimics day-to-day life and people. The bias seems to err on the side of dramatic activities having a positive influence on language learning. Though much of the research seems to be neutral, there is no evidence against. Within theatre, the study of dramatherapy does have some input as to the uses of dramatic activities to influence language usage.
Creating Common Ground
Research and concepts must be extended in order to fully investigate the use of dramatic activities in teaching English as a second language to adults. To integrate the areas of study, the basics of improvisation and drama must be examined (i.e. what are the “rules” of improvisation and how do they compare to day-to-day interaction). Additionally, research must be done on how ESL is currently taught and what role other aspects of communication play (for example, the understanding of how language is used to create humor within various cultures).
There is a bit of common ground already created among the areas of study, as the areas do not have conflicting viewpoints. The field of English recognizes the need for new techniques to teach language as many students feel that simply learning the language doesn’t prepare them for real conversation. The field of communication recognizes the same problems, and suggests that students need to be made more fluent and be taught some of the “quirks” of the English language. Though there is very little input from the field of theatre, it holds one potential solution.
Integration can only occur when they create a better explanation in combination than they would if they were isolated. In order to achieve common ground, the areas of English, Interpersonal Communication, and Theatre had to be extended. The basic concepts of teaching ESL had to be integrated with the understanding of how people use language to communicate. Only when these areas were extended was the art of theatre able to be integrated to create a new and improved approach to teaching ESL.