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Research shows

Theater a better teacher than movies

New York Teacher

Students who are taken to see a live theater production derive educational benefits that are not gotten from seeing a story told on film, according to new research in the journal Educational Researcher. 

Researchers Jay P. Greene, Heidi H. Erickson, Angela R. Watson and Molly I. Beck, all from the University of Arkansas, randomly assigned 1,500 adolescents, half of whom were from low-income families, to one of three groups: those who went on a field trip to a theater; those who viewed a film of the same or different story as the play; and those who saw neither a play or a movie. To assess theater’s impact, all the students completed three questionnaires measuring their interest in learning about the perspectives of others, their tolerance for different viewpoints and their knowledge of story plot and vocabulary. 

The results showed that students experience an increase in their tolerance for different viewpoints as well as greater understanding of plot lines and new vocabulary words when they see a play. This result held after controlling for demographic and other student differences as well as across various kinds of productions, such as Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” to Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days.” There was also evidence that the live theater experience increased students’ interest in learning about the perspectives of others, however this result was not as robust as the others. 

While seeing a movie also increased understanding of a story’s plot and new vocabulary words, the effect was one-third the size of the impact of live theater. The movie had no effect on the study’s other measures. These results held even when the film was an award-winning movie and the play was an amateur production.

The researchers say a play may have a greater impact because we react more intensely to human beings acting out a story in front of us.

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