Embodying languages using theatrical masks

In this blog we narrate an A/R/Tographic process in which artists, researchers and teachers engage in a living inquiry around the use of theatrical masks in an English language course. By developing a sensory and emotional awareness of the central role of the body in all interactions, students can increase their ability to communicate more authentically and empathically in intercultural contexts.
The course ran four times between 2017 and 2019 for engineering students at the Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, and benefited from a grant for pedagogical innovation from IDEA, an initiative for excellence in innovative teaching projects (IDEFI) on the Paris Est University campus, labelled Investment for the Future and headed by the ANR (National Agency for Research).
This educational approach is founded in the neuro-phenomenological paradigm of enaction, (Varela), and aims to incorporate recent research in cognitive neuroscience highlighting the relationships between motricity, emotion and language.
The aims of this course are:
To develop kinesthetic and sensory awareness of self and other in order to develop non-verbal and verbal language plasticity and self-confidence.
To increase awareness of the emotional mechanisms inherent in interactions; awareness of the importance of the body, gestures and attitudes (emotional intelligence)
To develop the ability to react with more ease to unpredictable and disruptive situations through improvisation work in English (adapting and taking risks within a set framework)
To develop collective creativity through improvising in English (the ability to allow a creative whole to emerge which is greater than the sum of its parts).
To develop empathy. Mask work implies a change of perspective and generates kinesthetic and emotional empathy. It prepares students for interactions within an intercultural framework requiring the mobilization of a complex skill set
To develop metacognitive skills. The use of group discussions and reflection on the work and the learning process as well as the exercises of micro-phenomenological writing and explicitation interviews pave the way for a better understanding of self and others (intersubjectivity).

In the notebook we will describe the research project and its theoretical framework as well as the reasons behind choosing theatrical masks. We will present the key stages of such a process, and what forms of assessment we used for the thirteen-week course. We will give a detailed description of every stage, showing the progression through selected examples of significant activities. The notebook will be illustrated with photos from the workshops.

It is aimed at other teachers, practitioners and researchers interested in this approach, who would like to adapt some of the tools and resources for their projects in secondary, higher or continuing education programs.

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