SkypeRead is an experimental project designed for remote, cross-border teams that use English as a working language.
The team meets in a Skype group video call and does a read-through of a movie script. Each participant plays a number of characters in the movie, and a professional language coach (that’s me!) acts as the moderator.
The aim is to recreate the emotional elements of a real-life read-through – professional actors often report feeling a “first day at school” mixture of excitement and fear – and to use these for improving English-language communication skills and teamwork.
It’s one of the early stages in the process of making a movie. The actors — together with other key personnel such as directors, writers and producers — sit down around a large table and, very simply, read through the script. It’s sometimes called a table read.
Photo from The Official Selena Gomez Twitter Page – @selenagomez
I asked Eddie Jemison, the actor best known for his roles in Ocean’s 11, 12 and 13, about the team-building element of read-throughs. “I think they’re really helpful,” he said. “It makes everyone realize they are all pulling for the same cause. It gives the experience shape and purpose. Without a read-through everyone is just guessing at how all the parts fit together. Plus, it’s fun and every one feels more a part of a team. And teamwork is always better than the sum of the work of individuals.”
How does a read-through help non-native English-speakers?
Movies use the kind of language you find when you go out of the classroom and into the real world, as I explain below.
Also, a Hollywood-style read-through can be a highly effective team-building exercise, as the following article highlights.
- Link: “Cross-border business teams and the entertainment arena”, an article about SkypeRead on Business Review Europe
We’ve achieved some fascinating results! At the end of last year we ran a pilot programme involving non-native English-speakers from 18 different countries. I presented the results at the 2013 Kansai ELT Expo (which was held at Konan University CUBE in Osaka, Japan). Below is a 5-minute version of my presentation “Is doing a read-through of a movie good for non-native English-speakers?” (click here for a transcript).
More recently, at the 2014 National Convention of the Association for Teaching English through Movies (which took place in August at Fukuoka Jo Gakuin University), two colleagues from the University of Shiga Prefecture (USP) and I presented results from a three-month investigation into doing movie read-throughs. This cross-border study involved students from USP and three other universities: Kwangwoon University in Korea, Hong Kong Baptist University, and the Universitat Politècnica de València in Spain. (A joint paper on this study is coming soon!)
SkypeRead uses a number of ideas from neuroELT, a new field that explores the links between neuroscience and English-language teaching. (I was programme co-chair for the FAB5 International NeuroELT Conference held in Kitakyushu in July 2014.)
One of these ideas is emotion drives learning. Emotion is a fundamental part of how the brain processes information (see, for example, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and Matthias Faeth’s chapter on emotion in Mind, Brain, and Education: Neuroscience Implications for the Classroom (2010)). The pressure and drama of doing a movie read-through creates a unique environment for learning and development.
Another key idea is collaboration boosts levels of cognition. Humans are social animals, and a movie read-through is a highly collaborative, interactive experience. As Sandra Johnson puts it in The Neuroscience of Adult Learning: New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education (2006), “Social cognitive neuroscience affirms that over aeons our brains have developed physical mechanisms that enable us to learn by social interaction.”
- Link: “3 things that happen to your brain when you go to the movies” – from the introduction to a presentation I gave at the at the 6th International Symposium on Digital Technologies in Foreign Language Learning (Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto)
SkypeRead can be particularly helpful for remote teams, because the read-through can be done virtually (in a Skype group call). For groups of people who work remotely, doing team-building virtually isn’t just about saving time and money — it’s about emphasising the fact that remote working can be equally or more effective than face-to-face working.
As Marcus Hildebrandt and his colleagues explained in Closeness at a Distance: Leading Virtual Groups to High Performance (2013), for remote teams it is important to signal that “virtuality is the reality wherein a group will work.”
There are some more links related to SkypeRead, cross-border teams, movie read-throughs and neuroELT here.