The benefits of theatre field trips

Field trips to the theatre provide a number of educational benefits to pupils, according to research published in Educational Researcher. Jay P Greene and colleagues found that giving pupils the opportunity to take part in a field trip to see a live theatre performance produced an increase in tolerance as well as a greater understanding of the plot and vocabulary of those plays.

Schools in Arkansas in the US were assigned by lottery to receive free tickets to attend one of five live theatre performances over a two-year period. Grade 9 (Year 10) classes from participating schools were then randomly assigned to take part in theatre field trip or to serve as a control group and not take part in the field trips. In addition, for two of the five experiments, a second treatment group was added in which pupils were randomly assigned to watch a film version of the theatre play. The average age of pupils in the treatment and control groups was 14 years old.

The impact to pupils of the theatre field trip was measured on five outcomes: tolerance, social perspective taking (the ability to understand others’ feelings and perspectives), content knowledge, theatre consumption and theatre participation. Pupils in the theatre field trip treatment groups scored higher for levels of tolerance and social perspective taking (+0.14 and 0.16 of a standard deviation higher than the control group). Pupils’ content knowledge of the plot and vocabulary in the plays was also greater (by 0.15 of a standard deviation) than pupils in the control group.

However, watching a film did not produce benefits, and as the film-viewing group also left school for a field trip, the results suggest that the educational benefits to pupils come from the experience of watching live theatre, and not simply from leaving school for a field trip. Results also indicate that theatre field trips may encourage pupils to visit the theatre more often.

Source: The play’s the thing: experimentally examining the social and cognitive effects of school field trips to live theater performances (March 2018), Educational Researcher, Vol 47, Issue 4, pp. 246 – 254

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