The Art of Foreign Language Teaching

Book written by Peter Putzker and published in 2007
Containing research on the use of clowning workshops in the training of language teachers.
(470 pages)

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Click here to read a review of the book from Mario Rinvolucri

Extract from the book

The initial hypothesis upon which this empirical study was based can be formulated as follows:

The clowning and improvisation courses which Vivian Gladwell has conducted in the context of in-service teacher development for Steiner School language teachers have had significant effects on their personal and professional development. Such development may have included an enhanced openness and attentiveness, a heightened sense of empathy, a higher degree of presence and increased improvisational skills. At the same time, these courses have also played an important role in helping teachers to learn to address their own uncertainties, anxieties and mistakes in a more constructive and creative manner. It is postulated that this development may have occurred both in short-term as well as in long-term contexts.

From what the participants wrote, it becomes apparent that from the first session on, Gladwell seemed to be able to create an atmosphere which enabled all the participants to enter into unfamiliar and challenging exercises. The extensive warm-ups at the beginning of every session had very specific and vital functions: before the actual clowning and improvisations began, there was generally an hour of such preliminary exercises and games. Many participants specifically commented on them:

It was an extraordinary experience for me and I don’t quite know where to start. First of all I really, really enjoyed the exercises we did at the beginning of each session. They helped me to let go of some of my inhibitions towards others and to become more free to relate. This in itself was a very beautiful and liberating experience for me. It culminated in one of the last exercises we did where we were moving to this beautiful slow music of Vivaldi, our eyes closed and ‘kept safe’ by our “guardian angels”. It was a most beautiful feeling, almost like floating in space, at the same time feeling completely safe and cared for. I could have continued this exercise for a lot longer. B.U. English Week 2005 (f)

The warm-up phases in his course showed me possibilities of practicing a different way of being with others and getting close to them. This reminded me of playful activities during my childhood and youth, in which fun, imagination and trust played a big role: for example, allowing yourself to be guided with your eyes closed, making contact with other participants through non-verbal actions, role-play, playfully massaging each other etc. L.A. English Week 2001 (f)

It was nice to fool around and learn to trust each other with all those exercises of being blind-folded etc. Vivian took great care to make it clear for us, that he does not want us to prepare any schemes or plans for performing. That was very odd. Just stepping onto nothing, onto emptiness. V.S. Baltic Seminar (f)

Some participants specifically mentioned the decisive role that Gladwell had for them at the beginning of the work:

But from the very first minute of Vivian’s presence one had the feeling of being accompanied by a good spirit. So all the exercises we did – although they required us to overcome certain inner obstacles – were a step on the way to free oneself from hesitation and inner burdens. L.B. English Week 2004 (f)

At first I felt awkward having to participate in this, but I started anyway, as it was a regular element of the summer course. After the first session I felt quite all right and in the end I was really enthusiastic about it. I must say Vivian did very well and made us all feel very comfortable in the group and in doing these strange things we had to do. I would never have believed someone could make me play a square or a toy sword or whatever, but in the right setting I was able to do so. C. B. English Fortnight 2000 (f)

I found it remarkable how quickly Vivian managed to create an atmosphere for all the participants in which one not only felt well, but also safe enough to try things out that one wouldn’t normally trust oneself to do. For me as a person and a teacher it was an extraordinary valuable experience to see how one can wholly captivate an “audience” when one is fully present. [vollkommen bei sich]. M.B. English Week 2005 (f)



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