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Theater of the Oppressed as a Pedagogical Method for Engagement and Conscientização in a Chicana/o Studies Classroom

  • Author(s): Gutierrez, Michael;
  • Advisor(s): McLaren, Peter;
  • et al.

This qualitative study explores the potential of Augusto Boal's Theater of the Oppressed as a pedagogical approach to promote student engagement and what Paulo Freire terms conscientização (conscientization) within a lower-division Chicana/o Studies university classroom. The Theater of the Oppressed is a set of highly interactive games, exercises, and techniques designed to engage participants in a "problem-posing" dialogue. Despite the Theater of the Oppressed's fundamentally pedagogical nature and its growing popularity in the U.S., it is very rarely used inside non-theater classrooms. In this study, the Theater of the Oppressed exercises were not used to teach about the Theater of the Oppressed but rather were incorporated as part of a larger Freirean classroom approach to provide an opportunity for students to engage with the course material in a variety of ways. The activities were used for a total of two weeks out of the 16 week semester. This study shows the results of that intervention as evidenced through an online survey, students' writings, and interviews.

The data revealed that students in this environment exhibited a high level of engagement in the course largely due to the pedagogical approach of the professor and relatability of the course overall. Evidence was also found that the course was promoting shifts in conscientization for some students. The data strongly suggests that the Theater of the Oppressed served to broaden the types of engagement and participation already happening in the classroom by providing students with new ways to engage with the content and opportunities for face-to-face interactions. The Theater of the Oppressed promoted critical engagement through enjoyable student-to-student interactions, by highlighting the relatability of student experiences, by promoting the exchange and valuing of others' ideas, and by helping students see in new ways.

As evidenced by students' comments, this study demonstrated the power of an engaging, relevant, responsive, and critical pedagogy in action. Moreover, it showed the Theater of the Oppressed can be a potentially valuable tool to supplement the pedagogical repertoire of teachers concerned with promoting dialogical encounters which could in turn develop a deepening critical consciousness.

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