The Remote Theatre Finalists 2019

This year there were far more plays submitted than last year and the standard was incredibly high. The huge, international panel of 77 judges have finally reached a very difficult decision and it is as follows :-

There were 180 plays submitted for the competition: 40 performed by younger girls, 20 by younger boys and mixed, 20 by older girls from the West Bank, 80 by older girls from Gaza, and 20 by older boys and mixed. Each of these groups is represented in the final by 10% of the total number of submissions for their category.  They are listed alphabetically in each category below.

Younger girls 

I can smell herGaza Elementary Girls ‘B’ School

I will wait until they open the gateBeach Elem. Co-ed School (C)

The Living Song –  Beit Hanoun Elm. Co-ed “D” School 

The story of a homelandAl Madina Al Munawara Girls School, Rafah

 

Younger boys and mixed 

Hands UpAl Aqsa Elementary School B

The Lord of Show – Tel- Al sultan Elementary school

 

Older girls – West Bank

Hope – Hajjah Girls Secondary School, Qalqilia

Success Story  – Japanese Girls School, Aqqaba

 

Older Girls – Gaza

A Stranger Within – Al Rimal Prep Girls School A

Don’t Look Back – New Khan Younis Prep Girls School

Hand in Hand – Abasan Prep Girls School

It’s Your Choice – Beach Prep Girls School C

One World Different Stories – Al Rimal Prep Girls School B

The Play of the Play – Al Fukhari Prep. Girls School

The Shadow Girl –  Asma Prep Girls B School

The Sky is your Limit – Al Madina Al Monawara Prep Girls

 

Older boys and mixed

I can – Mae’n prep boys school

Othman the Honest –  Khan Younis prep boys school

 

On behalf of the judges, the trustees of the Hands Up Project, and all the HUP volunteers around the world, we would like to express our warmest congratulations to all the finalists. All of these plays will be awarded with trophies and will be invited to perform their plays in the West Bank over the next year. One of these plays will be invited to perform at the HUP conference in the UK in April, but this decision will be made later.

Because of the huge number of entries and the very high standard, inevitably some excellent plays have not made it to the final. We would like to also congratulate every single child, teacher and school in Palestine who took part for your creative ideas, your hard work and your commitment to improve your English through making remote theatre. We will be providing detailed feedback to every play over the next month.

 

 

 

Telling our story to the world…

Why do we learn foreign languages? Well, one good reason, perhaps the single most important one, is so that we might more easily be able to tell our story and our stories to the world. And this is important of course because ultimately we want people to understand us, to know who we are and how we live. This point was really brought home to me as the 180 plays started to come in for this year’s remote theatre competition for Palestinian children.

The vast majority of the plays arrived during the last two days before the deadline (many in the last few hours!), and we suddenly needed to find a much larger panel of judges than last year. We were lucky to be able to amass a team of 77 people in 23 different countries around the world; teachers of English, drama teachers, educational drama specialists, actors, storytellers, playwrights, directors, authors and university lecturers and students. They are people who write plays and act in them or direct them, but also people who just appreciate good theatre.

So massive congratulations to every single student, teacher and school in Palestine who took part in the competition by submitting a play. You are all winners! Together you have already told your stories of what it is to be a young person in Palestine to the judges, and these stories will be told again to many, many more people around the world when the videos eventually go public on our youtube channel. Here are some general comments from a few of the judges about the experience of watching your plays. They’d like me to pass them on to you all.

“Thanks again for letting me have the opportunity to look at another tranche of videos. As I’m sure you do, I get quite emotionally overcome watching these brilliant, talented young people and thinking of the danger and deprivation that they have to endure. Quite apart from anything else, I think these films need to be shown to an international audience so people can see what it means to be a child in Palestine”

“That was difficult… so much talent, strong messages, deeply portrayed emotions, imaginative use of costume and scenery, well framed action, strong symbolism, sensitive use of music, passion and belief, taking on and tackling ‘big issues’, expressing mature themes with feelings. It’s quite overwhelming to see young people looking at such deep issues and finding ways of expressing them with heart and soul. Power to you all! Thank you for opening many windows in my life…”

“Once again thank you for asking me to watch these short plays, and for reminding me how powerful drama and telling stories in different ways can be.  It was wonderful to see such a range, and I do so wish I could show them to my own students, and even do this kind of thing where I work. What a stunning level of English these young people have!”

“Thanks very much for inviting us to take part in judging these very powerful plays. A real privilege – we were very moved. Please tell all the young actors and their teachers how much we enjoyed seeing them down here on the other side of the world!”

“I’m so glad to see so many talented young children and also happy to know that they had the opportunity to learn through making a play, to reflect upon their own reality, to interact with each other and through the camera, to use their creativity and imagination. Congratulations to you all!!!”

“Thank you to all the young people for the immense privilege of watching and judging their plays. One criteria for assessing theatre is does the play help us understand the experience of being human. Well together they all do this, tremendously”

We will also be providing specific feedback, based on the judges comments by email to every single play, but please bear with us on this. With 180 plays it’s going to take a while, but we’ll do it as quickly as we can.

I would also like to personally thank and congratulate all participants too for throwing yourselves into, what I believe is, the first Remote Theatre competition to take place anywhere in the world. Doing the competition as Remote Theatre (one take only with a fixed camera position, and no editing) has levelled the playing field a little bit because it means that the actors have to depend much more on their abilities to use English and on their acting skills, rather than on the techniques of the film maker. It’s more challenging but better for English language development, and I’m so pleased to see that you’ve risen to the challenge very well with creativity, commitment and sheer hard work.

Another reason for doing the competition in this way is so that you have some ready made remote theatre pieces which can be performed through zoom at schools, or in theatres, or at conferences around the world. And we will do everything we can to enable this to happen as much as possible, because then, if you perform your plays with clarity and from the heart, and you do it in a way that helps us to see that it could be us in your story, then what may happen is that your story becomes our story. And this really is what our work in the Hands Up Project is all about.

Tomorrow on this blog we will be announcing the names of the 18 plays which have been chosen by the judges as the finalists in this year’s competition.

zaheya - eye contact

A video exchange with Japan?

A few days ago I received an email from Masako Moriwaki,  a teacher of English in Japan.

Masako used to teach English in Brazil and when she was there we arranged several live link ups between her Brazilian teenage students and students of a similar age in Gaza. One of these sessions were coordinated through Zoom by Filip, a long term HUP volunteer, who lives in Serbia. You can read about Filip’s experience of this link up here.

Masako’s studnets went on to do lots of project based learning around the Hands Up Project, and organised several fund raising events including a Palestinian food evening, and a Haloween party. You can read about this here.

Now Masako is interested in linking her younger learners in Japan with children of a similar age in Palestine. By way of an introduction, here are some videos that the Japanese children have already made – about drama, about cookery and and about karate. When the new semester starts in Palestine how about helping your students make some similar videos to send to them. This could also lead to doing a live link up with the children there.  Please let us know if you’d like to be involved and we can start organising it.

 

 

 

 

From Lima with love..

As a writer of English language teaching materials, I like it when a teacher comes up to me at a conference and tells me that they’ve tried out an activity in one of my books and that it worked really well. It’s particularly fulfilling when I discover that actually they’ve adapted the activity quite a bit to suit their own teaching context, as this means that they haven’t just blindly followed the instructions but have really taken it to heart.

One of the reasons for deciding to publish 30 of the plays from last year’s competition in a book was because we wanted the authors of those plays – the Palestinian young people who created them – to have a similarly satisfying experience. I’m really pleased that the plays are now being performed in various different contexts around the world. For me this is the ultimate acknowledgement of their work and of the power of drama to make connections between people.

In mid-October I received the following email from a lecturer at IPMN (Instituto Pedagógico Nacional Monterrico) a university in Lima Peru.

Dear Nick,

I had the pleasure to be present in one of your presentations in Peru, sponsored by  the British Council   (IATEFL – Peru) 2018. There, you encouraged us to be part of this project and perform some of the plays made by Palestinian young people with our students. Thrilled by the idea of doing something different with my students and – at the same time – making them aware of current issues that the world suffers, I invited them to use their English and go beyond what we normally do in our classes. They gladly accepted and I would like to know how we can participate making the videos you mentioned. I have 22 students willing to be part of Hands up project. I am looking forward to hearing from you.
Xiuxa Ruiz.

I immediately sent Xiuxa a copy of the book for her students to choose some plays to work with, and we’ve been communicating through email ever since. I really like the way they’ve used this as a project, not only to learn the lines of the play, but also to learn about the context in which the plays were written.

On Tuesday evening Xiuxa sent me links to videos of their own interpretations of the five plays that they chose to work with and here they are. They’ve remained true to the original script wherever possible but also adapted them to suit the context where appropriate. Great job everyone and special thanks to Xiuxa for making it happen!

Sa’sa’ and Ma’ma’

Pottery and Rain

Little hypocrites

The fighter

I have a dream

If anyone around the world would like to do something similar with your students then copies of ‘Toothbrush and other plays’ can be ordered here. 

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Rehearsing the Palestinian plays in Peru

 

Lemon and Mint

What happened when a group of Palestinian lemon farmers in Gaza met a group of Syrian mint farmers in Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan? The result is a piece of remote theatre (as well as a delicious drink).

Congratulations to everyone involved in this – all the girls for learning their lines and throwing themselves into their performances so well and everyone involved in preparing all the props, and in painting the brilliant backgrounds. Special thanks to the teachers – Ala’a in Zaatari and Amal in Gaza – for devoting so much of their free time to helping the students bring the script to life as a piece of remote theatre. This is no mean feat of course when working within the constraints of a weak and unreliable internet connection in both locations. If you would like to try using this script with your own students it is available for free download here.

Drama and Task Based Learning

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This week’s post is from Jane Willis who is a keen supporter of the Hands Up project. She wrote her first post here,  Meaning focused activities   in 2017. In March 2018, she came to Palestine for the ‘1st Annual PALTAG International Conference Roadshow’  organised by The British Council, where she very much enjoyed meeting teachers, trainers  and students and watching plays produced for the first drama competition.

 

Nick tells me that lots of young people in Palestine are very busy creating, rehearsing and getting ready to perform their plays for this year’s Remote Theatre Competition. That is good news because drama activities are fun and can really bring English to life, not just for the lucky students chosen as actors, but also for the whole school.

In my last blog, I emphasised the need to make time in lessons for students to speak freely – to express their own meanings, not just speaking  to practise grammar. I gave examples of tasks that could be done in class to promote free spontaneous interaction.  Many of you wrote interesting follow-up comments.  Nihaya Anaya , Shirin and Rida Thabet all had good ideas for maximising students’ talking time, and Karaman suggested  drama as one way of helping  students to use language for communication.

There is however a danger in ‘doing drama’ –  I worry about equality of opportunity.  Is it not usually the best English speakers who are chosen to act the main parts?   And, as they rehearse, they get even more chances to improve their already good English!    But what about all the other English learners in your school?  Especially those who are weaker at English, less motivated, or who are too shy to speak in class. Surely they could really benefit from the extra opportunities for interacting in English afforded by the process of creating a play?

I want to ask you 3 questions:  1. Is it the teacher’s job to write the script for the play? 2.  How many children in each class are, or could be, actively involved in the process of creating a piece of theatre?  3. How could a task-based approach give all learners opportunities to use their English?

A task, in the language teaching sense, is a meaning-focussed activity where teachers and learners use English freely to communicate with each other for real, to achieve a goal.  Having a clear goal gives the interaction a purpose, and a clear end point.  Achieving the goal brings a feel of satisfaction and success.  Creating a play could involve a whole sequence of tasks with different goals.

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To get every student involved, tasks can be done initially in pairs or small groups in each class.  Then each pair or group can prepare to tell the class what they have done, explaining their ideas or opinions, telling their story, enacting their script.  The teacher and class together can then produce a final draft incorporating the best ideas.  (See my 2017 blog for how to handle the task cycle of Task, Planning and Reporting.  I also suggest roles for group members to ensure they speak as much English as possible.)

So how can we use tasks to involve all learners in preparing a piece of theatre??

There are many stages in the process of creating, planning and rehearsing a play leading up to the final performance which is filmed.  In fact some of you may be half way through this process by now.  But each stage has a goal, and this goal can be turned into a meaning focussed task to get learners talking freely.  So here are some ideas.  Select and adapt, according to the stage you are at.

Early stages:  Creating the ideas and characters.

Pairs or groups in your class or drama club could be asked to:

  • choose a topic or a story for a play.  They then summarise their idea to other groups and say why it is appropriate for an international audience. Teacher can lead a class discussion on their opinions then students vote on the best one, or two, or even three plays, giving reasons for their choice.
  • describe the characters for their play and decide exactly what each character will do.
  • finalise the personalities of the characters, and how they could be made dramatic. Tell another group. Put your ideas together, refine them, and tell the class.
  • refine and flesh out the story for your play; tell the class and compare stories. Decide on the best ideas. Teachers can help learners to incorporate them in a new draft.
  • describe the setting(s) for each scene and narrate what happens in each scene. Share ideas with another group, and incorporate the best ideas into your scenes.

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Middle stages:  trying scenes out to finalise the script and  the cast

Casting – choosing the best actors – can happen during this stage.  Also choose understudies, who will play the part if the main actor is ill.  For examples, several groups or classes can create their own version of the play, act it out and the teacher might pick one or two actors from each group or class.  Here are some ideas for pair or group work.

  • Groups improvise each scene, then plan a draft script, and act it out (using the script).Then other groups and the teacher watch and comment on their performance.
  • Groups evaluate a draft script from a different group, then write a list of 2 things they liked about it and 2 ways to improve it. Teacher helps with language queries.
  • Groups revise their draft scripts in the light of the feedback and share again.
  • Teacher can discuss and decide with the whole class the best ideas for the final script, and groups act out scenes in front of the class and ask for feed-back.
  • Groups help the actors and their understudies – to learn their parts by heart.

Final stages:  rehearsing, refining and performing

Once the actors and understudies are chosen, their classes can still be involved in decision-making.  Before the final filming, the play can be performed to other classes to get audience feed-back.  Small groups can

  • decide and draw the costumes each character could wear for the final performance. Decide who, in the class, will make or obtain each costume.  Tell your teacher in English. Class decides on final costumes and groups refine their drawings, labelling the clothes.
  • write a list of things the actors will need on stage (these are called ‘props’) and who in the class will provide them for each scene and decide a deadline date for collecting them.
  • decide on the final title for the play, and prepare a large written version (with name of class or school), for audiences to read.
  • design and display posters to advertise the play to put up round the school.
  • Invite parents to a final pre-filming performance? Groups write and distribute the invitations.
  • Classes in the school can watch dress-rehearsals and small groups can evaluate them with specific criteria in mind: e.g. entrances and exits,  timings, clarity of expression. Then each group gives their advice to the actors.
  • Groups can watch the final video and write an introduction to the play, or a short review, for new audiences to read.

So  in the process of planning, rehearsing and performing a play,  a series of Task-based cycles can give all learners opportunities to speak spontaneously in small groups and then more formally when reporting and sharing their ideas  with the whole class.  They will gain confidence in speaking freely and develop communication skills necessary both for drama and for subsequent real-world interactions.

I am sure that many of you are already involving the whole school and using this kind of interactive approach (you may not realise you are doing TBL!) Please write your ideas in the comments below!

And a final task for your learners: ask each student to reflect on their part in the drama process and evaluate their personal learning, writing 3 things they liked about taking part, and 2 suggestions for next time.

By the way, my answers to the questions I asked above would be 1. Not necessarily. 2.  all of them, 3.  through the use of task cycles – see the second part of https://handsupproject.org/2017/02/23/meaning-focused-activities/

I wish you much enjoyment and satisfaction in your drama activities. And to those taking part in the competition this year, the best of luck!  I look forward to seeing the videos of your plays.

Jane Willis

Dramatic Drilling

I’ve often had my doubts about  the value of choral drilling in language teaching. I’ve observed so many classes around the world (and taught many of them myself!) where students are supposed to be replicating a model from the teacher in a choral drilling exercise. In reality however, most learners aren’t even getting close to the model and even if they are I wonder whether there is actually any learning going on. As far as I see it the main problems with drilling as as follows :-

  1. If the teacher is just drilling individual words or short chunks there isn’t really any requirement to process the language at all. Learners don’t need to temporarily store the language items in working memory in order to repeat, and can simply use echoic memory to do so. Therefore the cognitive challenge, and consequently the learning, may be very limited.
  2. Items to be drilled are often completely devoid of context. Why is the utterance being said? Is it a response to something? This information is important to make drilled items more meaningful to learners.
  3. In a large class when everyone is repeating at the same time, how can the teacher or, more importantly the learners themselves, even hear whether they are saying the utterance accurately? This means that some learners can get away with doing nothing, or even pretend to say something just to keep the teacher happy.
  4. Unless there is an explicit focus on how to make particular sounds, or connected speech or stress patterns etc, can learners even notice these features by simply trying to imitate another person? Perhaps they just fall back on their own ways of saying things.
  5. The way that we say things affects meaning greatly and yet most drilling doesn’t really have a focus on meaning at all. It is purely an exercise in parroting.
  6. We use our whole bodies when we speak – not just our mouths – and yet physicalisation and gesture is rarely incorporated into drilling exercises.
  7. If utterances are intelligible then there isn’t really much of an incentive for learners to make their pronunciation more accurate and or or more fluent. It’s perhaps only when breakdowns in communication occur that learners see a need to address pronunciation issues.  Drilling, because it’s basically non-communicative, doesn’t provide affordances for this to happen.

On the other hand, the central idea behind drilling – that of encouraging learners to process and reproduce a stretch of spoken language after a model from a more advanced speaker -may be a very useful element of good teaching and learning. It’s something which happens naturally in interaction between parents and children within L1, and it certainly happens to me a lot when I’m talking to people who are more advanced speakers of the languages I’m learning. As a language learner I value this a lot.

Many teachers in Palestine are currently helping their learners to rehearse their lines for their plays for this year’s competition. The kind of drilling which occurs here, with the teacher giving one-on-one models to each learner of their lines may avoid some of the problems with choral drilling that I’ve mentioned above.  In the video below you can see this happening as Lina, in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, rehearses her lines for the play ‘Lemon and mint’. The big difference for me is that she’s repeating after me not just because I’m telling her to, but in order to get the best possible performance in the play. This type of drilling is fully contextualised, meaningful, physicalised and, above all, personalised to the needs of an individual.