Using theatre and translation as pedagogical tools


My aim is to provide a concrete and replicable demonstration of how theatre and translation can be used as a pedagogical means and ends; in other words, how two aspects of an undergraduate teaching programme are not merely objects of knowledge in themselves, but also provide skills and practices that can be used to enhance learning more generally. Here I share my experiences that began by engaging second year undergraduate students in developing learning resources that could potentially be used by secondary school teachers to prepare classes on Spanish classical drama.

Goals / Purpose

The question of how to make theatre accessible and meaningful is central to much of my research, pedagogical and outreach work. Hence, for example, I am always looking for imaginative ways of engaging our students with the challenges of the Spanish Golden Age, the period between the fifteenth and seventeenth century when the country occupied a major place on the world stage both culturally and politically. This is one of the most creative periods in European letters (Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote is often considered the first novel, whilst Lope de Vega is known, with some justification, as the Spanish Shakespeare), but its difficulty, more perceived than real, has led to it disappearing from many UK undergraduate courses and secondary school curricula in Spain. 

Implementation / Activity

Following the award of a University Student Education Fellowship in 2015, I designed a new assignment on the Level 2 Spanish Theatre and Literature module I co-ordinate (see SPPO2690 Spanish Literature and Theatre, LeedsforLife website) whereby students, at the end of the course, had to create a teaching resource for Spanish secondary school teachers to teach a work from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. An exercise of this kind requires not only a comprehensive understanding of specific texts, but also reflection on how they might be made meaningful to teenagers in the present day. To facilitate with this task, I invited Dr Noelia Iglesias Iglesias, who combines her regular job of teaching in a Galician secondary school with co-ordinating the research days that form part of the Almeria Classical Theatre Festival, to talk to our students. In a very informative presentation (see attached Powerpoint in the Learn more section, below), she provided details of the current school curriculum, the challenges teachers and students face, and some ideas on how to bring the classics alive in the present-day. This was particularly useful for our students not just in relation to this specific task but also because many of them take up British Council language assistantships during their year abroad in Spanish-speaking countries (see Teaching English as a language assistant in Spain, British Council website). The first cohort of students to undertake this project graduate this summer. Having gone on to write a Final Year Project on gender and the Golden-Age, Hayley O’Kell has been awarded a Cowdray scholarship to carry out a Masters by Research at Leeds to develop this work further. At the annual conference of the Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland (AHGBI) in 2017, I gave a paper on this new assessment exercise. A lively discussion about the challenges of keeping classical literature alive in British Universities and Spanish secondary schools ensued, so much so that one of the attendees set about organising a conference at Manchester Metropolitan University (Teaching the Old through the New: approaches to teaching Spanish Golden Age texts in the 21st century, Manchester School of Art website), which they hope will form the basis for an edited volume on the Spanish Golden Age and pedagogy.  

Reflections and lessons learnt

In order to make the Level 2 Spanish Literature and Theatre Module more accessible and to highlight the influence and contemporary relevance of Golden Age texts to students, we have adopted a reverse chronology by which we begin with José Luis Alonso de Santos, Spain’s most successful living dramatist and former director of the Spanish National Classical Theatre Company. Shortly after being appointed at Leeds, I began teaching his play Bajarse al moro/Going Down to Morocco for the first time. Its popularity with students inspired me to prepare a dual-language edition, which I hoped would be of interest in both university and secondary-school classrooms. My edition with Liverpool University Press (Going Down to Morroco, Liverpool University Press website) has, I am glad to say, been put to good use by teachers with a Spanish-language production by Mill Hill School winning the 2017 London Spanish Theatre Competition. More broadly, engagement with external stakeholders will, I hope, help me to develop exciting initiatives on theatre and translation over the coming years. Capitalising upon the fact that, in 2016, I became the first non-Hispanic academic to be inducted into the Spanish Academy of Stage Arts (website), an incoming Marie Curie funded post-doctoral researcher, María Bastianes, will collaborate with them and the Spanish Theatre Company on London’s South Bank (Cervantes Theatre website) to promote Hispanic theatres amongst our students, schools and the wider community.   

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Casebook author

Duncan WheelerProfessor Duncan Wheeler, Chair of Spanish Studies, Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures 

Interests: I am particularly interested in providing concrete examples of how theatre and translation can be used as a pedagogical means and ends; in other words, how two key aspects of an undergraduate degree programme in modern languages are not merely objects of knowledge in themselves, but also provide skills and practices that can be used to enhance learning more generally.