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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Dramatic Impact: An exploration of the relationship between drama and affect in foreign language Spanish

  • Author(s): Schindewolf, Ariel
  • Advisor(s): Miglio, Viola G
  • Gries, Stefan T
  • et al.


Guiding students in the development of their oral communication skills is one of the most important parts of a foreign language course. However, the success in achieving this goal can be impeded or assisted by a student's affective state (i.e. anxiety or confidence) when speaking. One possible way to produce a more positive affective state is to use drama and performative activities (e.g. plays, role-plays, skits, improvisational exercises, etc.). Conflicting views have been presented as to whether drama and performative activities trigger anxiety or reduce it since performance-based activities have been claimed to do both. Yet, the students' affective states traditionally have not been measured in terms of how they changed but rather how they were related or not to course grades and/or linguistic performance, leaving a gap in the previous research on how affect itself shifts over the period of a course, particularly one that requires students to perform in front of one another. This study analyzed the relationship between students' affective states (i.e. speaking-anxiety and speaking-confidence) and doing drama and performative activities in order to address the dearth of evidence-based research on affective change. A mixed-methods approach enabled the analysis of different perspectives of the relationship between both explicit and implicit attitudes towards speaking-anxiety and speaking-confidence and the participation in drama and performative activities over the duration of the course and not just at a singular point. This approach, involving the use of closed- and open-response questionnaires, participant interviews, and classroom observations, allowed for a more complete analysis of the multidimensional affective state construct than a self-report survey alone would permit. Fourteen students, enrolled in a third-year level Advanced Grammar and Composition course of foreign language Spanish at a large public university in the United States, completed surveys on their explicit and implicit feelings about speaking in Spanish and their attitudes towards drama and performative activities. The questionnaires were completed both at the beginning and at the end of the course in order to examine and compare the changes that had occurred. Follow-up interviews were also conducted with volunteer participants. Daily classroom observations were used to further explain and understand the findings. The study revealed that in general participants, despite not being self-selected to choose this type of pedagogy, had a positive affective relationship with drama and performative activities in that both quantitative and qualitative results showed a majority of students citing increased speaking-confidence, decreased speaking-anxiety and increased positive attitudes towards using drama and performative activities. Although two students felt increased speaking-anxiety and decreased implicit speaking-confidence, they also felt increased explicit speaking confidence. This showed that as is to be expected, on an individual level some variation occurred. Speaking and doing drama and performative activities became more connected activities in the minds of the participants as shown in a comparison of a pre and post cluster analysis. These results showed that there was a change in affective state after a drama/PA course and that affective states should be measured on multiple occasions. These positive results seemed to be most closely related to the nature of the course, which gave a direct purpose to group activities and led to closeness between the students. The group bonding and rehearsal/task repetition, facilitated increased comfort and confidence when speaking. The results of the study contribute to an understanding of the dynamic nature of speaking-anxiety, speaking-confidence, and attitudes towards using affectively challenging pedagogical tools in a foreign language class. Practical suggestions for pedagogy and future research were also identified.

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