Using Tableau Theatre in the Integrated Reading and Writing Classroom

PIC of Both Tami and Kristie

Tamara Harper Shetron and Kristie O’Donnell Lussier

Tamara Harper Shetron is a fourth year doctoral student in developmental education with a focus on literacy, learning supports, and postsecondary education for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She has a back ground in music and theatre, and brings an interdisciplinary approach to her teaching and research.

Kristie is in her fourth and final year of doctoral study at Texas State. Her teaching and research focus on integrated reading and writing, educational experiences of linguistically diverse students, and sociocultural aspects of teaching and learning. Kristie loves to travel and plans to see every continent someday. 

This article describes the process and results of a research experiment using tableau theatre with an integrated reading and writing class in the Spring of 2016.  Tableau is an instructional technique in which  students physically recreate ‘frozen statues’ of a literary event from their reading.  Our research goal was to find out if this contextualized learning experience would enhance motivation, engagement, and learning through the use of total body engagement (Asher, 1969), which stimulates brain activity, a prerequisite for learning (Hinton, Fischer, & Glennon, 2012; Rinne, Gregory, Yarmonlinskaya, & Hardiman, 2011; Toshalis & Nakkula, 2012), and currently one of the top needs in the Developmental Education (DE) classroom (Saxon, Martirosyan, Wentworth, & Boylan, 2015).

First, we introduced the tableau concept using a scene we thought students would be familiar with, a job interview.  Next, having established the conceptual dynamics and reflective learning postures, the IRW students then transitioned to using tableau techniques with scenes from their reading, “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson.  We distributed copies of the story with the final paragraphs removed and taped under each student’s desk with the name of a different character from the story assigned to each.  Students were instructed to finish reading the story from the perspective of that character.  Next, using these randomly assigned characters, we created tableaus of the final dramatic stoning scene.  We created additional replications of the scene rotating through character assignments obtained through a mock lottery similar to that in the story.  Having grown accustomed to the task through the initial activity, students became highly engaged, and offered very little resistance to the activity.

The final portion of the experiment was to analyze student’s written responses to the activity.  Overall, student responses demonstrated a deep understanding of the story and an ability to understand the multiple perspectives of characters.  Two students responses in particular showed a depth of personal  engagement with the text far above what we had expected.  They were inventive, creative, and while remaining true to the original story, wove in themes of agency, democratic decision making and power redistribution, and even Christ/substitutionary death.

“Tessie Hutchinson was stoned to death, or so they thought,” “She laid there so life-less…she gained strength and limped away to safety..she has been working out to get stronger and faster,” “ Tessie planned to hurt everyone who was apart [sic] of her stoning,” “She was like a [sic] invincible woman.”

In a second student’s rendition, the town votes to end the lottery, but in an unexpected shift, votes to hold one last lottery, immortalizing Tessie as the final ‘winner.’  This highly descriptive emotional roller coaster ride is then given an unexpected twist when Tessie’s husband offers to die in her place.  This student showed in-depth engagement with the story and its characters, and also added philosophical thoughts about the lottery “For every rock, no matter the shape or size that hits their loved one, a fraction of his or her soul leaves their body.”

This sample of our research demonstrates that, indeed, tableau theatre can be a very engaging and motivating instructional technique for an Integrated Reading and Writing class.

References

Asher, J. J. (1969). The Total Physical Response Approach to Second Language Learning*. The modern language journal, 53(1), 3-17.

Hinton, C., Fischer, K.W., & Glennon, C. (2012). Mind, brain, and education. Teaching and learning in the era of the common core: An introduction to the project and the nine research papers in the Students at the Center series. Retrieved from www.studentsatthecenter.org.

Rinne, L., Gregory, E., Yarmonlinskaya, J., & Hardiman, M. (2011). Why arts integration improves long-term retention of content.  Mind, Brain, and Education, 5(2), 89-96.

Saxon, D.P., Martirosyan, N.M., Wentworth, R.A., & Boylan, H.R. (2015).  NADE members respond: Developmental education research agenda: Survey of field professionals, part 2. Journal of Developmental Education, 38(3), 32-34.

Toshalis, E. & Nakkula, M.J. (2012). Motivation, engagement, and student voice. Teaching and learning in the ear of the common core: An introduction to the project and the nine research papers in the Students at the Center series.  Retrieved from www.studentsatthecenter.org