Friday, February 26, 2010

Power of Role Play in Teaching/Learning & Second Language Learning

Facilitative Role Play (FRP)– An Amplifying Instructional Ingredient for Literacy and Learning in Classroom, Clinic and Pullout Situations

Anthony V. Manzo & Ula Manzo

California State University- Fullerton

Julie Jackson Albee

Hannibal-LaGrange College

Hannibal, Missouri

Often times “discovery” is seeing something that many have seen, but viewing it differently. This seems to be the case with Facilitative Role Play (FRP), a clearly Amplifying Instructional Ingredient (Manzo and Manzo, in press), as compared with an end-to end instructional method. FRP can be included in many aspects of literacy and learning, from the level of academic therapy to more robust classroom–based means of improving comprehension, inquiry and most particularly the tedium of rapid word recognition training (more on this ahead). The first author re-discovered and used this principle in a reading clinic some years ago. He called it Antithetical Role Play, since circumstances at that time suggested that he should have a student try to enact and try to learn in a more empowered role that was the near inverse of the one he had lapsed into.

The theory was based on two suppositions: We tend to be more aware of our opposite state than of slighter variations; and that instructional progress (especially in this particular case)was and is not likely until the student has a more positive disposition and buys into the educational objectives set out. At a motivational level, pretendingseemed a self-directing way to induce and sustain such a sense in a personally challenging situation. The elements and potential of such pretending were clinically supported in the pullout case called “David” (See Figure I). Case reporting is enjoying a considerable revival since it can challenge burrs and anomalies in larger group generated numbers, as well as reveal strategic values at the level of the individual learner (Manzo, Manzo and Albee, 2004). Recently we have come to fully realize that the idea of using pretending as a mind set during an educational experience or lesson has existed and draws inferred validation from a variety of other literacy-based teaching methods. Nonetheless, it has gone relatively unnoticed since it lacked a distinctive name, and therefore has been far less likely to win parts in our instructional planning, scripts and plays. In a sense, much of what we will do here is little more than what Albert Einstein recommended when he noted in effect that the “best way to advance any phenomenon was to give it a name.”


Figure I

“David” – Initial Rediscovery of Facilitative Role Play

Case Report : A twelve year old boy, "David" was said to be brain damaged, developmentally disabled and unable to read a lick. After several frustrating weeks of remedial/corrective reading instruction, it was decided that the least of David’s problems was the fact that he could not read. Manifesting a full array of odd behaviors, including strange, worm-like movements said to be involuntary and related to his neurological impairment, David was a picture of distress. The role play treatment devised had David assume the role of a West Point cadet, his tutor that of a lieutenant-instructor, and other clinicians who were willing to play along enacted roles of military personnel. David became immersed in a military atmosphere. He marched to his tutoring room accompanied by cadence calls from the instructor. He stood inspection and suffered the type of “tough-love” verbal banter that is typical of military shaping. All communication was directed to David in the form of commands, and all commands had to be carried out in accordance with military precision and form. Within one hour David brought many of his apparently involuntary motor movements came under a rather remarkable level of intentional control, and more tellingly, he began to learn and to think according to a disciplined military regimen during instruction.. David was prepared to accept this role by a combination of open discussion of his disheveled appearance along with expression of the fact that he looked mightily like a then recruitment poster for the armed services in his basic physical features: crew cut hair, square jaw, sharp blue eyes. Before initiating the role play, David and the first author studied and discussed cadet behavior.

Several factors combine as a possible explanation for the potency of this therapy. First, antithetical role play forces the breaking up of inappropriate behaviors in brain habituated and sub-cortical (nerve and muscular) areas in which they also reside, and apparently much more quickly than by traditional behavior modification,; to which pretendingseems to offer a considerable boost. Second, since the instructor and all other clinic personnel also assumed similar roles, a conducive and supportive environment reinforced David’s new way of presenting himself. Third, teaching and learning were conducted when David was in his “empowered” and hence more enabled role. Finally, David could try new behaviors as the “Empowered David,” that would have been too far a stretch for “Disabled David” (Manzo, 1977).________________________________________________________________________

Children’s Play

Children’s play has been a focus of study for generations. There is a rich history of play therapy outlined by Virginia Axeline in 1946, and psychodrama therapy discussed by J.L. Moreno in 1947. It seems to be coming again into consideration as a means of promoting literacy and academic learning (Korat, Bahar, Snapir, 2002; Saraho and Spodek, 1998). However easy and inviting play is as a means of teaching without appearing to teach, it is not easily done. It requires considerable thought and planning on the part of the teacher. It is not merely a form of incidental learning, but Intentional Incidental Learning, another ingredient/character that would make for more interesting instructional scripts by wider name recognition.

Pretending – Acting so, Can make it so!

Facilitative Role Play (FRP) is based on a simple idea. It parallels many of the critical features of powerful teaching and learning: observing; careful reading and listening; emulating; openness to critiquing; and internal reflecting and rehearsing. The goal of FRP is to get pupils of all ages acting-out competent, socially poised, expert readers, writers and thinkers, so that they will more carefully note language and think about what skillful others do, and both openly accept coaching, and ideally continue to coach themselves when the formal lesson is over. Drawing focused attention to a particular set of learning objectives and to the persons that best exemplify these is one of the frequently missing ingredients in activating the robust power of mental modeling, orcognitive apprenticeship learning (Manzo and Manzo, 2002). There really is not much point in providing exemplary models of anything if the students are not engaged in active attention to the values, concerns and “performance” of a potential model. Facilitative Pretending of most any strategically selected type seems to pique and fovus student attention and raise levels of personal performance in language and learning rather immediately. This technique is implicit in several reading/language arts methods and practices. These include several familiar and recent uses of this amplifying ingredient.

  1. Peer teaching, as when a relatively poor 5th grader is asked to teach a Kindergartner or first grader to read, and in the process the “teacher” considerably improves his own reading.
  2. In the ReQuest procedure (Manzo, 1969), a pioneering means of implementing mental modeling, where a student is urged to ask questions the way a teacher might, and does so with great skill as a result of paying closer attention to how teachers ask questions, and therefore too, to the material from which the questions are drawn, and even to the skillful ways in which they are answered.
  3. In Radio or Commentator Reading where children are asked to pretend that they are fluid and accomplished readers by repeatedly reading a section of text with a partner and at home with parental assistance until they feel comfortable enough to stand behind the class and read it as if they were a radio announcer.
  4. Pretend Reading, where children in emergent literacy situations hold books and make up stories while acting as if they are reading.
  5. Invented Spelling, when children who have not yet mastered the rules and patterns of phonetics act as if they can write whatever they can think and speak.
  6. With InQuest (Schmitt, 1988) where students play the role of reporters and must question their way to successful understanding of a story or non-fiction piece.
  7. With Talk-Through (Brozo and Simpson, 1999), where students are asked to read and re-read something and to practice talking it through until they feel prepared to do so before a class or group.
  8. In Readers’ Theatre (Worthy & Prater, 2002; Tyler & Chard, 2000), where students repeatedly read play scripts in preparation to perform the script in front of an audience (class members, younger classes, parents, etc.) without fear of forgetting lines and the time and hassle involved in costumes and scenery.
  9. And, again, more recently with Sociodramatic play (Korat, Bahar, Snapir, 2002) where teachers and adult voices step into the middle of child created plays to direct attention to literacy artifacts.

The essential power of such “role playing” methods seems to be in converting what students do most naturally – namely, emulating, playing, daydreaming and pretending - into thoughtful enactments of more competent models than they otherwise feel themselves capable of being outside of the creative dramatization. This, Vygotsky (1976), has noted, seems to be instrumental in having children internalize the external coaching of teachers and models of more competent peers. Facilitative Role Play tends to add a practice effect to tasks that students tend to attempt and master without requisite rehearsal. This type of crafted pretending can be especially valuable with weak readers who characteristically underestimate the need for re-reading, practice and reflection. It also increases student attention and focus where the teacher needs to have the class concentrate on basic quick response skills, but is challenged to come up with increasingly fresh ways to provide the extensive repetitions that such associative learning tends to require. While such drill-like teaching often is anathema to lovers of language, it has empirical validation that is difficult to shrug off: Michael Kirby (1989) showed rather convincingly that isolated word instruction resulted in word learning at twice the rate per minute of instruction than did one utilizing context, meaning and usage.

FRP Can Lighten The Tedium of Intensive Sight Word Instruction

Sight word training in most classrooms is rarely as extensive as it needs to be for most students. It is boring and tedious for teachers, and for quick learning students. Nonetheless, there is much that needs to be taught and learned is this way. While about 85 percent of the words in the English language are phonetically regular, these tend to have the lowest frequency of occurrence. The 80% with the highest frequency of occurrence become clipped and mangled by heavy oral usage and therefore rarely say precisely what they spell. There also is a little recognized form of severe reading disability, called dyseidetic-dyslexia that is characterized by very poor ability to easily recognize whole words. It occurs in this pure form in about 10% of severely disabled readers, and in combination with the more familiar decoding problem calleddysphonetic-dyslexia in about another 25% (Boder, 1977). This can challenge teachers’ imaginations for ways to keep an essentially a rote learning activity interesting and properly weighted as complemented with context, meaning and usage. Fortunately, where rapid word recognition, or automaticity training - the ultimate goal of mostlearning to read instruction – is concerned, little bits of distributed practice go a long way toward achieving this fluent level of responding . Importantly, Drill need not meanKill if it occurs with greater frequency for much smaller periods of time. A playful dose of facilitative pretending can meet the challenge of teaching and rehearsing rapid word recognition, and make it less tedious, and even lively, especially if provided in 5-7 minute increments three times a day, rather than massed for 15-20 minutes at one time. Here now is a legacy method assembled from over seventy-five years of research and field reports for teaching sight words (Manzo, Manzo and Albee, 2004) as infused with lively pretending . Test the difference in results yourself when you face the tedium of rapid word recognition training with and without Facilitative Pretending.

Say it like a Barbie* - A Facilitative Role Play Version of An Intensive Sight Word Paradigm

* Vici Cope, music teacher from Tustin, Ca, first suggested this pretend refrain from a campfire song.

The teacher holds up a flash card or writes a word on the chalkboard:

Teacher: See this word? The word is and. Everyone look at this word, and say it together.

Students: And

Teacher: That’s correct. Now say it five times while looking at it.

S’s: And, and, and, and, and

T: Good. Now say it louder.

S’s: And!

T: Come on, you can say it louder than that!

S’s: AND!

T: Okay, I have three other cards here ("again", "answer", "arrange"). When I show a card that is not “and,” say “No!” in a loud voice. But when you see “and,” say it in a whisper.

S’s: No!

S’s: No!

S’s: (whisper) "and"

T: Great. Look at it carefully, and when I remove it, close your eyes and try to picture the word under your eyelids. Do you see it? Good. Now say it in a whisper again.

S’s: and

T: Good. Now spell it.

S’s: A...N...D

T: Now pretend to write it in the air in front of you with your finger while saying each letter.

S’s: A...N...D

T: Good. Now describe the word. The way you would describe a new kid to a friend who hasn't seen him yet.

S1: It’s small.

S2: It has a witch’s hat in the beginning.

S3: It has a belly at the end.

T: What’s its name again?

S’s: AND!

T: Ok, now let’s PRETEND. Let’s say it like a Barbie...Good, now like a He-Man, now long and scary like a Ghost (This last pretend is most useful from the point of view of phonemic segmentation because it draws out the word and hence exposure to its letter sounds. The two prior pretends, however, seem to catch the imaginations of children who will continue in this playful manner in their private speech- self speech that is barely audible.)

The teacher ideally should encourage such post lesson learning by adding something like: Let’s search for “and’s” throughout the day and even after you go home tonight. We’ll ask you later if you found any in school and again tomorrow morning if you found any at home.

And in the morning, to reward such self-instruction – the real purpose of all teaching – the teacher should have on the board, Did you find any and’s last night?” You can expect to hear the answer to this question like a Barbie, or some other invented character. Over the next few lessons, ask if the student has seen an and. Up to three words a day usually can be taught in this general way. It is best to be sure that the target words do not look too much alike in this early learning phase. Words that are shown in context with the object word and that do look like the object word should not be stressed. These often will be learned incidentally, as the student sets about distinguishing these look-a-likes from a firm footing of words learned to 100% accuracy in flash recognition.

Facilitative Pretending Is a Legacy More than a Discovery

A little thought will reveal that Facilitative Role Play is validated by much of human experience, and has just been waiting to be named and made more accessible for a variety of instructional uses. If you will recall, Shakespeare, who seems to have captured much of human frailty as well as wisdom, had something to say about this in As You Like It:

All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely Players;
They have their Exits and their Entrances, And one man in his time playes many parts…

It will be interesting to see how many new parts are written for Facilitative Role Play, or Facilitative Pretending should this formerly bit player wins a marquee name.


Axeline, V.M.(1946) Play Therapy. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Boder, E. (1970). Developmental dyslexia: A new diagnostic approach based on identification of three subtypes. Journal of School Health, 40, 289-290.

Brozo, W.G., & Simpson, M.L. (1999). Readers, teachers, learners: Expanding literacy beyond the content areas, (pp. 65-66). Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.

Flynn, J.M., Deering, W., Foldstein, M, & Rahbar, M.H. (2001). Electrophysiological correlates of dyslexic subtypes. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 25, 133-141.

Kirby, M (1989) Teaching Sight Word Vocabulary with and without context before silent reading. A field test of the “ focus of attention” hypothesis. Journal of Reading Behavior, 21 (30, 261-278.

Korat,.O., Bahar,.E, Snapir, M. (2002). Sociodramatic play as opportunity for literacy development: The teacher's role. The Reading Teacher 56(4), 386-393.

Manzo, A. V. (1969). The ReQuest procedure. Journal of Reading, 13, 123-126

Manzo, A., Manzo, U & Albee, J.J. (2004) Reading Assessment for Diagnostic-Prescriptive Teaching. Belmont: CA., Thomson/Wadsworth Publishers.

Manzo, A. (1977). Dyslexia as specific psychoneurosis. Journal of Reading Behavior,19(3), 305-308.

Manzo, A. and Manzo, U. Amplifying Instructional Ingredients from Head ChefsThinking Classroom; International Journal Publication of the International Reading Association

Manzo, A. and Manzo, U. (2002) Mental Modeling In (Ed. B. Guzzetti):Literacy in America: An Encyclopedia of History, theory and practice Santa Barbara: California, ABC CLIO publisher

Moreno, J. L., (1947) The Theatre of Spontaneity: An Introduction to Psychodrama. New York: Beacon House

Rinehart, S. D. (1999). “Don’t think for a minute that I’m getting up there”: Opportunities for Readers’ Theatre in a tutorial for children with reading problems.Journal of Reading Psychology, 29, 71-89.

Saracho, O. N., & Spodek, B. (1998). Preschool children's cognitive play: A factor analysis. International Journal of Early Childhood Education, 3, 67-76.
Tyler, B., & Chard, D.J. (2000). Using Readers’ Theatre to foster fluency in struggling readers: A twist on the repeated reading strategy. Reading and Writing Quarterly, 16,163-168.

Worthy, J., & Prater, K. (2002). “I thought about it all night:” Readers Theatre for reading fluency and motivation. The Reading Teacher, 56(3), 294-298.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1976). Play and its role in the mental development of the child, In J. Bruner, A. Jolly & K. Sylva (Eds.) Play - Its role in development and evolution, (537-554). New York: Basic Books.

No comments:

Post a Comment