Using art to engage adults with low levels of English in reading: An action research project

University of Sydney
Publication Type:
Journal Article
University of Sydney Papers in TESOL, 2016, 11, pp. 131-150
Issue Date:
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Art has been shown to engage students in reading while also supporting them to gain meaning. However, most of the research in using art in the English language classroom has focused on its use with young learners. This may point to the perception of art as frivolous and not applicable to rigorous academic learning with adults at university. Using an Action Research project conducted with the writer’s own classes at a university English language centre in Australia, this assumption is questioned and another proposition put forward: that art can inspire engagement, develop clarity through using visual representation, and enable students to cocreate knowledge. The Action Research project detailed in this paper asks how creating puppets and performing puppet role plays can encourage students to engage with class readers through discussing data gathered from four different classes. Findings suggest that when students are positioned as creative subjects they are more able to gain the significance of language, and thus deepen their engagement with texts in English. Art has the potential to transform students’ attitude to learning, encouraging them to form new relationships with the subject, language, each other, and themselves, rather than just learn new facts. This paper concludes by recommending that further studies in the use of art in adult learning environments consider how important attributes of art can be harnessed while still enabling classes to meet strict learning outcomes. Although the benefits of art are numerous, it can be left off university curriculum because of its emergent and abstract qualities. If art is to be viewed as more than a mere adjunct to real learning then research must clarify how art can be experimental and exact, abstract and concrete.
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