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Classroom Acts: Performativity, Identity and the Emergence of New Communities in German Language Teaching

This one-day symposium, organised by Natalie Diebschlag and Daniela Dora, took place on 14 September at King's College London. The theme of the event was the link between physical performance and foreign language learning in their communicative, pragmatic and affective dimensions. It addressed teachers of German and other foreign languages in Higher Education but welcomed everyone interested in the pedagogical and cultural value of theatre and performativity. The symposium consisted of a mixture of workshops and theoretical and practical presentations on theatre techniques and other verbal and non-verbal forms of expression in modern foreign language teaching.


9:30-10:00: Arrival/Registration

10:00-11:00: Roundtable discussion with Prof Catherine Boyle (King's College London), Prof Manfred Schewe (University College Cork), Prof Anne Steiner 

11:15-12:30: Panel 1 – Performance and Cultural identities 

  • Maria Khan (University of Cambridge): “Performing Goethe’s Faust with Turkish-German Secondary school students in Berlin”
  • Lucy Jenkins (University of Cardiff): “Creativity, Global Identity and Mentoring for International Languages”
  • Birte Brudermann (Artist): “Show and Tell: “Who Is Cihan? - Approaches to Identities and Biographies through Performance”

12:30-13:30: Lunch

13:30-14:45: Panel 2 -- Performance in Foreign Language Teaching: Practical Approaches 

  • Ulrike Pavelka (FH Wiener Neustadt / University of Applied Sciences): “Role-play and improvisation in “Business English” for Robotics”
  • Helen Mayer and Ines Alonso-Garcia (London School of Economics and Political Sciences): “Beyond Language Learning: Interacting Through Improvisation in the Classroom”
  • Angelique Arts (King’s College London): “Puppets in the Classroom”

14:45-15:00: Break

15:00-16:00: Workshop 1 by Anne Steiner

16:00-16:30: Coffee break

16:30-17:30: Workshop 2 by Manfred Schewe

17:30-18:30: Closing remarks and wine reception


Keynote speakers were Prof Catherine Boyle from King’s College London, Prof Manfred Schewe from University College Cork and Prof Anne Steiner from University of Education Freiburg. The symposium started with a keynote roundtable where all keynote speakers presented their ideas on international/intercultural perspectives on performative language teaching and learning. A lively question and answer round that engaged the audience followed the short keynote presentations. Questions that were addressed were for example the possibilities and practical implications of implementing performative practices in the teaching processes at secondary schools as well as considerations of how performativity could play a larger role in the curriculum in HE.

The morning continued with Panel 1 which dealt with ‘Performance and Cultural identities’ and consisted of three papers. Maria Khan from the University of Cambridge presented her PhD research ‘Performing Goethe’s Faust with Turkish-German Secondary school students in Berlin’ in which she examines how individuals from Muslim backgrounds respond to Western literary culture. By taking a prototypical German text i.e. Goethe’s Faust (Part I), she studies how Turkish-German secondary school students engage with the text’s notions of German identity and modernity. Her research emphasizes the importance of performance-based teaching and literature-based education in increasingly complex discussions on Turkish-German integration in Germany. After this, Lucy Jenkins (University of Cardiff) presented on ‘Creativity, Global Identity and Mentoring for International Languages’. She gave insights in the MFL Student Mentoring Project at the University of Cardiff that brings together pupil mentees (aged 13-14) and university mentors for a certain period of time. The project aims to foster a mindset which questions social conventions and champions intercultural understanding and curiosity. Integrated are performance and creative activities which require mentees to create and play and to think about languages as intrinsic to the performative self. Panel 1 concluded with Birte Brudermann’s show and tell ‘Who is Cihan? Approaches to Identities and Biographies through Performance’ – a talk in which the artist portrayed her project on Cihan Brown – a stateless person in Austria who cannot be deported and doesn't tell anyone about his origins, upbringing or mother tongue. On the basis of this (non)identity, Brudermann conducted interviews with 25 young individuals to investigate questions of identity, i.e. name, parentage, mother tongue, ethnical background or gender. Brudermann talked about the project’s' procedure as well as (unexpected) aspects which emerged in the process and described different ways of approaching biographical work through performative methods. Finally, she explained the relevance of such projects to language learning.

Panel 2 dealt with the practical approaches to performance in foreign language teaching. The first presentation in this panel was given by Ulike Pavelka (FH Wiener Neustadt / University of Applied Sciences) entitled ‘Roleplay and improvisation in ‘Business English’ for Robotics’. Pavelka addressed issues when creating forms of assessment that imitate real-life challenges and involve techniques of role-play and improvisation for students of business English. Helen Mayer and Ines Alonso-Garcia from the London School of Economics and Political Sciences talked about their experiences with improvisation games in the language classroom in their presentation ‘Beyond Language Learning: Interacting Through Improvisation in the Classroom’. Symposium participants could try out several of these during the presentation. Angelique Arts from the Modern Language Centre of King’s College London provided the last presentation of panel 2: ‘Puppets in the Classroom’. She introduced her experience with the usage of finger and hand puppets in foreign language teaching from a practical and theoretical angle, presenting her study results while also giving delegates the chance to experience first-hand the benefits of puppets as speaking tools.

The rest of the afternoon programme consisted of two workshops led by two of the keynote speakers. Prof Anne Steiner (Freiburg) gave a workshop on ‘Performative approaches to contemporary German drama and theatre’. Delegates had the chance to experience Germanophone post-migratory theatre, how some performative methods can facilitate the engagement with these texts and offer a unique perspective on recent societal trends by negotiating contemporary discourses on migration, integration and identity. Workshop two was organised by Prof Manfred Schewe (Cork). In ‘About the Teacher as ‘Formmeister’ (Form Master) – An Introduction’ participants were given an opportunity to experience perFORMative approaches to the teaching of language, literature and culture, and to reflect on their experience. A brief reflection phase addressed ‘Performative Foreign Language Didactics’, especially the notion of the teacher as a ‘Formmeister’ (Form Master). What followed were practical collective improvisation performances by all participants on the topic of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The symposium concluded with a reflective note and a wine reception. The organisers thank all their sponsors for making this engaging and intellectually stimulating event possible!

This symposium was supported by the King's College London Modern Language Centre, the Language Acts and Worldmaking Small Grants scheme, the Scenario Project, and DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service).