Hot Seat

Patrick Vella

'Edutainment' is a word I have always despised but there's little doubt that bringing drama into an EFL lesson is never going to be a bad thing. Patrick Vella makes a living training teachers on how to use drama in their classroom and demand for his programs is growing fast.

Q

Welcome to the hot seat Patrick. Where do you come from?

A

Thank you for having me Phil. I come from Malta, and I'm living proof that this idyllic Mediterranean island country, that most people have never heard of, does actually exist.

Q

I've been there mate. I was there with my brother in 1985. We stayed at a terrible hotel in Buggiba but the island itself is very nice. It was a bit quiet on the nightlife front though. There wasn't a great deal for two young guys to do as I recall. Very hot as well. That place really sizzles in the summer (temperature-wise that is). Anyway, where did you study?

A

I was educated in England and got my Masters In Theatre Directing from Middlesex University before going on to complete my Masters in Education Studies at Loughborough University

Q

And after graduation, did you stay in the UK or go back home to Malta?

A

I went back home. I set up a company in Malta that delivered education through entertainment using drama. That's where it all started.

Q

This was eight years ago when you started the company. How have things gone since then?

A

In the eight years since inception, the company has flourished and we are inundated with requests from around the globe to come and deliver educational shows in far away places. Demand from China for our offerings has been insatiable and that led us to set up a company there over two years ago

Q

A China branch. Nice one. The Chinese have really taken to the concept of drama in the classroom?

A

We are currently using drama to help in the process of delivering English language Instruction in 24 schools in China. That number grows every month and we are now in the process of franchising our concept throughout Asia so as to satisfy the demand.

Q

Give us a definition of drama in education?

A

Quite simply drama derives from the ancient Greek world. It means “To Do” or “Action.” It involves skilled techniques dealing with how to deliver and share self and experiential knowledge with others. A variety of techniques are used to get the “class/audience” involved and engaged in the whole learning experience.

Q

And this is a benefit to the teacher?

A

Absolutely. Through drama, shared experience and coaching the instructor can allow the student the opportunity to make sense and reason out of what is being taught, with emotion. It creates a safe zone which helps to fight off shyness and allows people to gain in confidence as well as grow and trust more in themselves.

Q

I used to do drama in English classes at school. The teacher would make us walk around a big room as if the floor was made of treacle. Then we'd have to stand there and be a tree with our branches swaying in the breeze. I guess you can tell me what I gained from it?

A

You gained confidence and imagination and so many other things. There are many benefits, both for the student and the teacher. Quite often you find that students in Asia tend to be shy and somewhat inhibited when it comes to learning and communicating in English. A lot of that is because of cultural differences and you have to bear in mind that students often have little prior exposure to the “Western” world and way of thinking. From a “Western” teachers view point the task of teaching English, in an often unfamiliar environment t, adds its own set of challenges. What tends to happen is that you see and feel this imaginary wall between students and teachers. Sadly, this wall all to often remains a permanent fixture in and outside of the classroom setting.

Q

And drama in the classroom can break down this wall?

A

Something magical happens. The imaginary wall crumbles and is reduced to rubble, which turns to dust and blows away. The results speak for themselves. Drama is the stimulus that creates powerful changes in the involvement, interactivity and teamwork demonstrated by the students. Students become free of their inhibitions and become empowered and self confident when communicating in English. You can see marked improvement in their articulation, pronunciation and tonality skills. Most importantly, they have fun while learning, and quite often forget that they are learning because the experience is so enjoyable.

Q

This sounds like a great way for a teacher who has become a little jaded with teaching, to put a bit of 'ooomph' back into their lessons?

A

Certainly, and If I am being totally honest with you we have many requests from ESL/EFL teachers from around the world, who have seen or heard about our methodologies and are wanting to know how they can go about learning how to get trained so they can incorporate drama in their teaching.

All too often you see teachers who become demoralized because of the “wall”. They become stale and withdrawn themselves, and teaching becomes just a job. They lose their passion. Once they become schooled in the techniques of drama and how to incorporate them in their teaching they go through a rejuvenating metamorphosis. They become more dynamic, involved and effective. They too, like the students, have fun and they grow.

Q

What do parents and employers think of it all?

A

Iit goes without saying that the parents, employers and the schools are happier because they see tangible results. This translates into increased demand for our services so I take pride in knowing that we are improving the quality of the educational experience in a fun, meaningful and effective way.

Q

Now as I understand, you were looking to expand into Thailand and wanted to partner with a TEFL course provider. Have I got that right?

A

Not exactly. As I mentioned, the demand for our services has been so overwhelming, we were becoming constrained by our own success. That is why we started looking for a partner with an eye to franchising throughout Asia first and then the rest of the world. It was natural for us to seek out a partnership with a top tier TESOL/TEFL course provider but in reality completing this task proved very challenging. A lot of TESOL/TEFL course providers hold themselves out as being innovative and providing a fun educational learning experience, but without being disrespectful, we found that this was just lip service on behalf of the providers we interacted with.

Q

Right, so most of the TEFL course providers were not interested. How did you eventually find someone who was?

A

We are putting on an educational show in Nigeria later this year in conjunction with the Nigerian Ministry of Education and the Children’s foundation of Nigeria, a charitable foundation. During the planning process this lovely African lady, Tiva Walsey, who is such a worldly, bubbly and fun character, suggested we contact Philip Dunne at Island TEFL. She had done a TESOL/TEFL certification course with them in Thailand and thought Phil was the kind of guy who would be interested in a partnership.

Q

So you called up Phil Dunne and he said "yes please"?

A

Oh no. There was a period of due diligence. We did a lot of research on the TEFL course provider and then I decided there was no better way to test the water than go through their actual TEFL program.

Q

So let's cut long stories shorter. You've decided to partner with Phil and we've now got TEFL Drama dot com.

A

Yes, it's now being launched into the ESL/EFL markets in both Thailand and Korea and in those places we will be running 10-day and 3-day training courses

Q

Is Phil Dunne going to incorporate a drama section into the full-time TEFL course? I know the ability to use drama would be a useful string to a teacher's bow but isn't there already enough to learn on those intensive courses without overloading the participants?

A

I can't really say how much of the full-time TEFL course is given over to the drama module but that's why we are also offering the drama course as a stand-alone option.

Q

OK fair enough. I'm someone who always likes to 'clown around a bit' whether it was years ago when I taught conversation lessons or even nowadays, in a two-day seminar with a group of executives studying presentation skills. I do see the value of being an 'actor' in the training room. So when's the first Thailand course?

A

We are going to run a 3-day Drama for ESL/EFL training program on Friday 19th, Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st November at our TEFL training center in Phuket.

Q

I'm very much against turning these Hot Seat interviews into any sort of sales propaganda, but I love a bargain as much as the next man and well, you've got a nice promotional offer for ajarn readers. Shoot!

A

The normal cost of this 3-day program is 30,000 baht but we are offering this as an exclusive to ajarn.com readers for only 15,000. This includes 2 nights paid accommodation.

Q

Ok that sounds a very decent offer. Thanks for your time Patrick and I wish you good luck in getting more teachers to bring drama into their classes. Anything that makes lessons more fun for the students and helps them to learn faster has to be worthwhile. Any websites we can all look at?

A

For info about our operations in China and what we do there, you can go to http://www.curtainraiser.org and for what we are doing in Thailand you can go to http://www.tefldrama.com/

We've got some videos on the second website that teachers can look at and plenty of info about the drama course itself. If you want to contact us directly and maybe book a place on our 3-day program in Phuket, you can call Phil Dunne on +66 (0)847554968

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