Performed multilingualism in drama and theatre-pedagogical settings in subject and project lessons. An empirical study of linguistically and culturally heterogeneous contexts in consideration of heritage languages and German as a second language.

Introduction

This project investigated multilingualism and the inclusion of heritage languages in drama and theatre-pedagogical scenarios in both project and subject lessons (class context) in lower secondary school. This responds to current discussions around multilingualism in education, which see opportunities to cultivate language awareness, promote learning, intercultural skills and integration.

In particular, this project examined:

  1. how multilingual scenarios are realised, including language use and interactions regarding task distribution, mutual understanding, performative aspects of self-presentation, and feedback.
  1. the participants’ perspectives: individual perception and others’ perception of language and culture; learning processes as well as developing perceptions and relationships in multilingual and intercultural constellations.

Opportunities for and constraints on the inclusion of multilingualism (especially heritage languages) in playful scenarios and theatre-pedagogical approaches were thereby explored. 

What was investigated and how?

A fundamental concept in this study was that of 'performative competence', which refers to multiple, connected individual competences such as the ability to initiate and stage social interactions, to help shape these independently and to critically reflect on one’s own role within them. Interactions between participants were observed, and the ways in which they introduced different linguistic and cultural resources to various scenes examined.  Research emphases lay on the experiences and learning processes of the participants, how they present their own and perceive others’ languages.

Interactions could be compared via the implementation of an identical catalogue of multilingual scenarios in various project and subject lessons, which integrated performance scenes with an emphasis on language use. These activities also aimed towards holistic language learning and the development of language awareness as pupils were confronted with the linguistic diversity of their peers. Performance-based scenarios were video recorded and analysed using multilingual didactic methods. These analyses were supported by oral interviews with students and teachers who shared their perceptions and perspectives. Participants could also comment on individual scenarios via ‘stimulated recall’. The investigation was complemented by language tests (C-test, profile analysis) and a quantitative survey on social background, language biography and self-assessed oral competences.

Results

Special attention was paid to the students’ own assessments of their oral language skills (meaning how they experience and evaluate their use of German). When compared with the test data at the beginning of the project, significant differences were identified among the students. Statements from the interviews conducted at the end of the project indicate an increase in linguistic competence. Moreover, it could also be revealed that intensive communication between project participants strengthened trust in one’s own linguistic abilities over the course of the project. At the same time, analyses of the videotaped interactions during subject lessons reveal a correlation between increasing performative competences and linguistic growth.

During interviews, teachers generally viewed pupils’ lifeworld multilingualism to positively influencing cognitive abilities, language and cultural awareness. Yet they were unsure what significance heritage language should be granted. Many teachers were critical of heritage languages as the primary means of communication in pupils’ families as this is perceived to hinder skills in German.

Participating pupils viewed the learning of their peers’ heritage languages positively, while, at the same time, expressed ambivalence towards their own own heritage languages. This ambivalence can be attributed to negative attitudes and difficult situations that pupils experience regarding their language background. On the other hand, many described a process of discovery that came about through contact with the languages of their peers. The respondents' statements suggested an increase in knowledge of vocabulary, learning strategies and the recognition of structural similarities and differences between languages (i.e. language awareness).

The analyses showed that 'freer’ settings, such as project-based teaching, can offer more opportunities for interactive exchange. Project teaching opens space for languages and identities, as well as more possibilities for shaping emotional and social aspects. Such settings, due to their inherent openness, also place higher demands (impulses, reactions) on teachers or other persons involved in project teaching.

What does this mean for educational practice?

Firstly, teachers should be encouraged and empowered to include heritage languages productively in their lessons, and should be permitted to choose themselves from the existing range of multilingual-didactic approaches and methods. Playful scenarios based on the principles of theatre-pedagogy can be especially valuable as they foster pupils’ performative competences via unrestricted artistic composition and expressions, meaning they develop courage to use their languages (German as well as the respective heritage language). Language biographical elements can also be incorporated in creative spaces. 

The results also clearly show that teachers require more training and support in dealing with heritage languages and multilingual-didactic approaches. Moreover, teachers should be encouraged to pay more attention to the language biographies of their students, without ascribing outside perspectives to them, in order to become aware of the (often hidden) languages that are present in classrooms.