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Neurodidactics of Performing Arts: The Impact of Drama Teaching on Second Language Acquisition

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - NPA (Neurodidactics of Performing Arts: The Impact of Drama Teaching on Second Language Acquisition)

Reporting period: 2015-06-22 to 2017-06-21

"Since the 1990s, Educational Neuroscience has become an emerging field of research which studies cognitive brain functions (thinking, memory, attention, emotions) and interfaces with the educational environment with the aim of improving teaching and learning. In parallel, ""Drama Teaching"", a creative teaching methodology based on drama and performing arts introduced in the 1970s, is now generating interest, especially in Foreign Language Learning. This research project will investigate aspects of cognition involved in the language learning process and it will analyze how Drama Teaching dynamics can impact language learning and proficiency. In order to define Drama Teaching as a methodology which involves the brain-mind-body dimension and fosters development of the learner as a whole person, a cognitive perspective will be adopted in relation to issues of a) embodied cognition and the action-memory relationship, b) role of emotions in learning, c) impact of context and experience on learning d) cross-cultural identity process, development and awareness. Theoretical scientific investigation will be conducted on cognitive aspects relevant to learning and performing arts, followed by the study and observation of Drama Teaching practices. Development of curriculum and course implementation based on drama teaching techniques will follow. Particular attention will be given to the assessment of learning results and proficiency levels, as well as to the cognitive and emotional factors which will be monitored throughout the course duration. The inter-disciplinary perspective adopted by this study is aimed at contributing to the theoretical discussion on innovative, interactive, holistic, creative Foreign Language teaching methodologies taking place at European and global level. The scope is to contribute to the multi-disciplinary inquiries of Educational Neuroscience by elaborating a neuroscientifically grounded theory of Drama Teaching which gives educators guidelines to expand the range of teaching possibilities in accordance with the principles of Learning/Teaching of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

Overall Objectives of the project for the first two years include four main areas:
1. Project management, aiming at the preparation of the pilot imaging experiment and at the incoming phase of secondment in a European institution;
2. Completion of all working packages, namely Drama Teaching, Performing Arts, Cognitive Neuroscience, Neuroimaging and Research Methods, Educational Psychology;
3. Elaboration of a syllabus for the Courses of Foreign Language (either Italian or English) based on Drama Teaching to study the cognitive factors involved;
4. Pilot neuro-imaging experiment on cerebral processes underlying the learning of a foreign language taught through drama techniques."
The researcher has completed the training Work Packages foreseen for the second year at the host organization in Sydney, namely Drama in Education Practice, Neuroscience of Performing Arts and Embodied Cognition, Research Methods and Educational Psychology. This part of the research has been conducted mainly through independent study and through partecipation at conferences, workshops, summer school and study days. Some of the skills acquired specifically during the second year of the outgoing phase of the projectinclude the management of the project and the presentation of ethics applications, since these operative phases became the essential steps towards the realization of main part of the project itself. The activities completed in the second year paved the way for the development of a curriculum and a course of Italian, first, and a course of English based on Drama Teaching, later in the year. Yet, as described in the “risks and mitigation” part of this report, the researcher has encountered some drawbacks and issues in the implementation of the courses, which resulted inthe impossibility of conducting the activities foreseen. There were substantial delays in the communication between offices due to the change of personnel in both academic organizations;the number of participants was not adequate for the experiment and the main variables (length of courses and training of teaching personnel) did not meet the requirements foreseen in the project to obtain qualitative research results. Simultaneously, issues regarding the direction of the imagingdepartment at the Brain and Mind Institute of the University of Sydney arose, so that no expert personnel was present at the time when the pilot experiment with imaging technology was to take place, therefore it was not implemented. Notwithstanding these setbacks, the researcher hasmanaged to mitigate the risks by modifying the variables foreseen for both the courses and the pilot experiment. She has proposed an alternative version of the courses to be implemented without the imaging part at the University of Sydney, for which an ethics application has been presented and is pending clearance. The actual implementation of the part of the experiment that requires imaging technology and expert supervision will take place at a European institution during the third year, thus aiming at the achievement of the objectives foreseen in the project.
Three main Work Packages were the focus of the second period: Drama Teaching, Research Methodology and Educational Psychology, please see part B for the details.

The research has been productive in terms of deliverables and networking.
Please see the report file attached pages 3&4 Summary table.
For the deliverables please see the continous report
For the second year, the researcher conducted her research on Performing Arts, Education and Neuroscience by employing research methods suited to the objective and the type of data, namely independent study, research through training; gathering, organizing, classifying data and resources; attendance and observation of drama teaching classes at schools and conferences; attendance and observation of performances through videos; attendance at seminars, conferences and workshops on Applied Theatre, Education, Neuroscience, Educational Neuroscience.
During the second year of the project, the researcher has taken part in many important international events on Education, Performing Arts and Neuroscience, which stress the actuality and topicality of her research. She was able to keep the contacts made during the first year and toexpand her networking to new countries and new institutions. In particular, she established collaborations with the Griffith University in Brisbane, Trinity College in Dublin and Greenwich College in London, the Univeristy of Lodz in Poland. These connections have resulted in the invitation to submit contributions in different editorial projects, for both academic dissemination and impact.

The contacts established with European academic institutions have been important in the process of mitigation of risks for the implementation of the courses and of the relative experiment.

As of today, three European Universities have been contacted and a proposal has been sent for conducting the experimentation as a “secondment”- or incoming phase- in these institutions, thus bringing the acquired knowledge back to the European area and sharing it with other important organizations.
table of summary results. please see the report for page 4 and other details