TEFLSPEAK-G and the Idea of Encouraging Improvised Speech in the EFL Classroom (10)


posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

As described in the preceding posts, task-based improvisational enactments consist of scripted and unscripted communicative sequences: a) an opening part which functions as a scripted lead-in intended to ‘break the ice’ and to reduce speaking inhibitions, b) an unscripted middle part leaving enough space for a wide range of spontaneous ideas and interpretations, topics and improvised peer-to-peer exchanges, and c) a scripted final-part with which the improvised dialogue can be brought to an end once the participants feel that they cannot or do not want to go any further (in order to avoid embarrassment and speaking anxiety resulting from possible communicative breakdowns; this is the so-called ‘communicative emergency exit’ which is usually missing in traditional role-plays and simulations).

Each enactment is followed by teacher-guided or teacher-supported whole-class reflection. Here, the focus is not primarily on communicative problems and linguistic deficits, but on communicative success and on expanding the learners’ participatory repertoire in the target language. Explicit error correction is, of course, not neglected, but it is integrated in a way that is not threatening to the learners’ willingness to speak English. This then serves as a basis for subsequent enactments becoming increasingly more elaborate and flexible in terms of spontaneous target language use, as a number of classroom studies and scientific publications show (see, for instance, Kurtz 2001; Siebold 2004a (with DVD-/ROM video sequences), 2004b, 2006; Rossa 2007). From the teacher’s perspective, parts a) and c), i.e. the scripted communicative frame, can be and should be prepared in advance, whereas part b), the improvisational part in the middle, is unpredictable and emerges on the spot in the classroom. It is this part which requires teachers to distance themselves from what Sawyer has appositely referred to as educational “script-think” (2001: 36).

In this way, improvisation tasks seek to bring together two basic facets of authentic, natural, everyday communication in the EFL classroom: a) the predictability of socio-communicative scripts and behavioral patterns (unwritten scripts, socio-functional routines or event schemata) and b), the unpredictability of spontaneous ideas and topical shifts within a given socio-communicative framework.

All in all, improvisations are designed to bridge the (in some respects) artificial gap between acquisition and learning, direct and indirect, implicit and explicit foreign language instruction in secondary school EFL environments by providing a situated communicative infrastructure for classroom talk-in-interaction that is flexible enough to allow for systematic teacher-led instruction, mediation or support (scaffolding) as well as for more self-regulated, student-centered discovery learning, experimental target language use and, ultimately, the gradual emergence of communicative competence and performance in action-oriented, meaningful and challenging scenarios (see my previous post on Handlungsorientierung, i.e. on action-based / action-oriented foreign language learning and teaching on this blog).

For further illustration, here is another transcript of an improvisational enactment (9th grade learners of English at a secondary comprehensive school in Germany). Learners are sitting in a circle. (T = teacher; L = learner).

[…]
T: Ok, let me throw the dice now. Oops, that was an accident .. em .. I can’t see it from here. It’s behind that chair now. Yvonne .. Can you help? Can you see it?
L13: Yes .. em .. it’s fifteen.
T: Right .. thank you .. Who has got fifteen? Mario? Good .. Let’s give Mario a nice round of applause… Come on everybody… Clap your hands! … Applause … Yvonne, why don’t you throw the dice now?
L13: Me? Do I really have to, Herr Schneider?
T: Where’s the problem? Come on … go ahead.
L13: OK. Six.
T: Who has got six? Dennis? Fine, now we can begin.
Ls: … Applause
T: Oh yes. Sorry … right .. let’s .. em… let’s clap our hands for Dennis and .. em .. Mario. Mario and Dennis … Are you ready? .. OK, quiet please … go ahead.
L6: Em … Just a moment please. We must find out who begins first. .. 15 seconds. We are ready .. we meet us in a youth club, OK?
T: OK you two .. so you’re in a youth club now … go ahead. And the others .. listen please!

Scripted part of the exchange, the lead-in (on OHT):
L15: “Hi [Dennis]!”
L6: “[Mario!] What a surprise! I didn’t expect to see you here today.”
L15: “Well, after last night I just had to come.”
L6: “Why?”

Unscripted, improvised, spontaneously created, and as such unpredictable part of the exchange:
L15: Well I don’t know .. em .. how I can tell you this .. em .. Meike was in the ‘Sound Garden’ (a local disco) yesterday.
L6: Meike?
L15: Yes, Meike .. you remember? Your girl-friend.
L6: Em .. But I don’t have a girl-friend.
L15: Never mind, now you have one and her name is Meike.
L6: OK OK .. 5 seconds.. Meike .. em .. my new girl-friend. .. 10 seconds… alone. Em … Was she alone in the ‘Sound Garden’?
L15: At first.
L6: And later?
L15: Later she wasn’t alone. (Outburst of laughter in class).
L6: Yes … I understand .. em .. but what did you saw? What was she doing? Tell me.
L15: Em .. well .. em .. I saw her .. em .. with Christian .. em .. and he kissed her.
L6: HE? (pointing at the ‘real’ Christian in the classroom)
L15: Yes … he.
L6: So YOU kiss MY girl-friend? (addressing Christian to include him in the improvisation)
L3: No, it wasn’t me, wirklich nicht [German] (honestly).

Scripted / ‘emergency’ exit (on OHT):
L15: “Well .. I can see you want to be left alone. I think I better go now.”
L6: “OK .. thanks for letting me know.”
L15: “See you then .. [take care].”
L6: “Bye.”
Ls: …. Applause
[…]

Follow-up / classroom discussion:
T: Now before we listen to Mario and Dennis again… before we listen .. em .. to the cassette .. let me first ask you what you think about their .. em .. conversation .. 3 seconds .. Let’s collect … yes … let’s collect your first impressions .. 10 seconds .. Yes, Simone?
L1: I think it was very funny.
T: Oh really? Can you say why?
L1: Because Dennis play so cool .. em .. when he was angry about Christian .. em .. after Christian have kissed his girl-friend Meike.
T: Mmh .. OK.. what about the others? What do YOU think of the conversation?
L13: Dennis was good but Mario not.
T: Mario wasn’t? Why not?
L13: Because Mario is the best friend of Dennis .. em .. so he .. em .. I think he… em .. he must not tell Dennis about Christian and Meike.
T: You mean he shouldn’t have told him?
L13: Yes .. it’s not fair. He is not a reporter.
Ls: … mumbling …
T: OK .. calm down please. We can’t go on if you all speak at the same time. Isabell .. you wanted to say something?
L7: Hey, hör doch mal auf [German] (stop that) Tim. I want to say something!
T: Tim! Come on! Stop teasing her!
L7: I think Mario and Dennis are good friends .. and good friends have no .. äh .. Geheimnisse [German]?
T: Secrets. (writes it on the board).
L7: Yes .. and Mario wouldn’t be .. ehrlich [German]?
T: Honest.
L7: Mario… he .. he wouldn’t be .. What was the word?
T: Honest. (writes it on the board)
L7: He wouldn’t be honest if he doesn’t tell his best friend.
T: So you think that friends should always be honest to each other?
L7: Yes.
T: Mmh .. in Isa’s opinion honesty … Ehrlichkeit .. honesty (writes it on the board) is very important .. you should always be honest to your friends .. do you all agree? .. No? … 3 seconds … Who doesn’t?
[…]

This was followed by a brief ‘focus on form‘-sequence which culminated in a contextualized target language exercise, based on L7: He wouldn’t be honest if he doesn’t tell his best friend. After that, a new improvisation sequence was initiated.

Kurtz, Jürgen (2001). Improvisierendes Sprechen im Fremdsprachenunterricht. Tübingen: Narr.

Rossa, Henning (2007). Improvisationen als interaktive Lernarrangements: Anwendung eines Konzepts zur Förderung spontansprachlicher Handlungskompetenz in der Zielsprache Englisch dargestellt auf der Grundlage eigener Unterrichtserfahrungen in einem Grundkurs der Jahrgangsstufe 11 des Gymnasiums. (2. Staatsarbeit). Available online, click to read here

Sawyer, R. Keith (2001). Creating Conversations. Improvisation in Everyday Discourse. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton, 2001.

Siebold, Jörg (Hrsg.) (2004a). Let’s Talk: Lehrtechniken. Vom gebundenen zum freien Sprechen. Berlin: Cornelsen. [mit DVD-Videodokumentation].

Siebold, Jörg (2004b), “Interaktion und Sprachproduktion in improvisierten Schülergesprächen.” In: Deringer, Ludwig (Hrsg.). Innovative Fremdsprachendidaktik. Kolloquium zu Ehren von Wolfgang Butzkamm. Aachen British and American Studies. Frankfurt am Main: Lang, 149-166.

Siebold, Jörg (2006), “Unter der Lupe: Improvisierte Gespräche in einer 6. Realschulklasse.” In: Praxis Fremdsprachenunterricht, 4, 27-32.

More to come. Stay tuned.

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