Using Radio Dramas in the GED Class
by Cathy Coleman
In a radio drama from the 1940's called "Sorry Wrong Number," a woman who is
confined to bed due to disabilities overhears a phone conversation plotting
someone's murder. This drama was the subject of a series of activities that I
did with my Pre-GED class at the Worcester Adult Learning Center. I have this
radio drama on an audiotape, which I bought as a Christmas present for my
parents one year. It is part of a series of tapes with broadcasts from the radio
serial "Suspense Theatre."
One of the things we used to discuss a lot in class was the concept (and the
techniques of) "active reading." We discussed how helpful it is to use your
background knowledge to help you comprehend when you read, to picture the story
in your head as if you were creating a movie in your mind, to predict what might
happen next, to keep yourself "in" the story. These were skills that many of my
students struggled with. They often talked to me about how hard it was to
"concentrate on the story" or to "remember things as I read."
"Active reading " was a term I came into contact with in my time in
education, but prior to that, the term I was more familiar with was "active
listening." Active listening a term that is used quite frequently within the
context of psychology and counseling jobs ,which was the focus of much of the
work I did prior to teaching. Was there a connection between the skills used in
active reading and active listening? Active listening involves somewhat similar
techniques for the purpose of staying "in" the conversation and concentrating on
the other person. Active listening is something that goes on when people listen
to radio dramas, too.
I love radio dramas. I'm not old enough to have heard this particular one
when it was originally broadcast, but I am old enough to have fond memories of
falling asleep as a ten or eleven year old listening to "Mystery Theatre with
E.G. Marshall" which was broadcast each night on WTAG radio in Worcester in the
mid-70's. One of my students remembered listening to "Mystery Theatre" during
that same time period, and I had one student in my class who was 74 and
remembers the "real days of radio," as he put it, but the majority of the class
had never heard a radio drama.
When I brought up the idea, the group seemed interested, so I brought the
tape in and we listened to it together-in the dark-to set a good mood for the
story. I paused the tape at various parts and asked how they pictured the scene.
What did they think the woman looked like? What gave them that impression? Where
did the action take place? Where did they think the husband was? What did they
think might happen next?
Their answers were great. Without exception they were able to picture fairly
vividly the scene in which the action took place. Based on their different
backgrounds and experiences, their "mind movies" were slightly different (which
everyone found interesting as well), but they all took into account important
clues in the dialogue in the drama.
"Hmmm," I said to the group, "Does this remind you of anything that we have
talked about before?" They laughed and responded with something to the effect of
"yeah, yeah, yeah, active reading, movies in your head. Blah,blah, blah." We all
laughed, and I thought to myself that this drama proves the point better than
anything I have said all year does!
They also predicted quite accurately the outcome of the story (which I won't
give away for those of you who might not know it.) Students who often had
trouble with questions that required inferential thinking did quite well making
them while listening to "Sorry Wrong Number." Another thing we talked about was
mood and tone. What was the mood of the drama? How did we figure out the mood?
How would that have been the same or different if we had read the same story
instead of listening to it?
A really interesting part of our discussion centered on the setting of the
story in terms of the time period. The vocabulary in some cases was rather
difficult-sometimes as a result of the way changes in language reflect changes
in culture. For example, the woman in the story is referred to as "an invalid."
Here was a term unfamiliar to most of the group, especially when used in that
context. We broke the word down using prefixes and roots-in - valid. With two
students in the class with physical disabilities, this was a particularly p
owerful conversation. How was this particular disabled woman portrayed ? We
could have spent even more time with that discussion. How does language
influence culture and vice versa? What terms are OK to use and why? My two
students were sure they didn't want to be referred to as "invalids," but how did
they feel about "disabled?" "Differently-abled?" "Physically challenged?"
Language, freedom of speech, and issues of hate speech and diversity-tough but
important issues-began to arise. In retrospect, I wish we had done even more
with exploring these issues and pursued them as writing topics.
Having Philip in class, who was 74 at the time and had a wealth of knowledge
about World War II and that time period, made for an even more interesting
discussion. Philip could discuss why the "bad guy" had a Russian accent. One of
the students talked about how all the "bad guys" in the movies they had seen
were African American. We moved into a discussion, sometimes heated, that
examined how various people are portrayed in the media.
What does all this media literacy stuff have to do with the GED test? Or with
learning English or with learning to read and write?"
It is my belief that using various forms of media is one of many ways to
teach critical thinking skills that our learners need in the workplace, in their
communities, in their families, and yes... in the GED. "We must prepare young
people for living in a world of powerful images, words and sounds." (UNESCO,
1982) If this is true for young people, isn't it true for our adult students as
well? In our culture, powerful media images surround us all the time. And with
the Internet, digital TV, and other forms of sophisticated electronic
communication, the images are getting more powerful and more plentiful. If we
can use these images and media to our advantage as a teaching tool, why not do
Cathy Coleman is the Practitioner Inquiry Coordinator for SABES. Ms
Coleman is an Associate Coordinator at the SABES
Central Regional Support Center.
She can be reached at 617-482-9485 or by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was originally published by SABES/World Education, Boston,
Supplement to: Bright Ideas, Vol. 8,
No. 4 (Spring 1999)
Posted on SABES Web site: April 1999
Bright Ideas is a quarterly newsletter that provides a place to share
innovative practices, new resources, information and hot topics within the field
of adult education. It is published by SABES, the System for Adult Basic
Education Support and funded by the federal Adult Education Act (S.353),
administered by the Adult and Community Learning Services (ACLS) Unit of the Massachusetts Department of Education.