Ken Wilson is a teacher trainer as well as the author of over 30 ELT materials including the course book Smart Choice and a compilation of drama activities entitled Drama and Improvisation. He has extensive experience with the English Teaching Theatre as a performer, writer, and artistic director and has written countless plays, radio, and TV programmes. Ken will be attending his fourth JALT national conference this October where he will be giving talks on improvisation and communication. He joined us for a short interview to talk about drama and improvisation in the ELT classroom as well as what he expects from this year’s conference.
1. What do you think is the greatest challenge ELT teachers face in the near future? How can they prepare to overcome that challenge?
For me, it all comes down to technology. I think the biggest challenge is the correct, sensible and useful employment of technology in the ELT classroom, and I think it’s a different thing for new teachers and for more experienced teachers.
When I was in Japan last time, I noted that – as in most countries – some teachers are a little bit uncertain about the use of technology. Some of them feel that the publishers are introducing the use of technology at quite a fast rate. What I would say to those teachers is that there are some terrific advantages to technology, but what you’ve been doing yourself successfully over the last five, ten, twenty years is equally valuable. And as an experienced teacher, you shouldn’t feel any pressure from anybody to use technology. Just remember that what you’ve been doing successfully up until now is still valuable – technology is just there to help you with it.
For new teachers who are being trained with technology, it might look like Christmas. All these techno toys look so fantastic, but you should remember that at the end of the day, the classroom is first and foremost about the relationship between you and the student. The technology is there to help your students, but you‘re the person there who is teaching. Don’t put the technology between you and your students. My worry about new teachers who get really excited about technology – who walk into a classroom, switch something on, ask people to use something on their tablets – is that they are losing an important aspect of their relationship with their students. Students still need to know that they’re relating to a person and the technology is there to help that relationship, not become a barrier to it.
2. One of your presentations for the JALT conference this year is titled “Can improvised activities work in Japanese classrooms?” Can you give us a teaser of what you will be talking about?
About three or four years ago, I wrote a book called Drama and Improvisation and the reason I finally got around to writing this book was that I had been doing activities in the classroom that were really, really simple and they involved very basic language, but they still involved improvisation activities. Drama must be used in a way that is accessible for low-level students, and that uses activities that work for all levels of students from elementary to advanced levels. When I wrote Drama and Improvisation, the series editor Alan Maley told me “All these activities are really simple! They’re all elementary.” I said, “I know, but the fact is I’ve done them with advanced students and they find the intellectual requirement quite interesting and quite a challenge even though the basic language is quite simple.”
Over the past twenty years or so, I’ve seen drama workshops at conferences, where I found myself thinking, that’s a sensational activity but it only works with somebody who speaks a lot of English already. A lot of people who give drama workshops will say that drama is essential because students need to take flight, use their imagination etc. etc. which is great if you have the language to do it, but most of the students can’t do this because they don’t have that framework.