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The Importance of Active Shakespeare

At the start of the academic year, Towers was awarded the accolade of becoming a Royal Shakespeare Company Associate School – with this new title we have embraced the opportunity to embed, within our Key Stage Three curriculum, active and shared approaches to the teaching of Shakespeare.

Through our study of Shakespeare, our English classroom has become a rehearsal room and our students transform into the actors. Together, the class deconstruct the works of Shakespeare through shared learning, exploration and discovery. In line with our school vision for a traditional education and academic rigour, the Active Shakespeare lessons challenge ALL students to become participants and readers, regardless of ability. Notably, you cannot be a passive learner when exploring Shakespeare’s language within collaborative study.

The benefits of studying Shakespeare this way are vast; students gain a deeper understanding of the text, which is open to interpretation; students are free to act openly and playfully with their language and bodies. Young children today have such regular access to multimedia and technology, that it is powerful to see a collective act of imagination, when bringing to life the world of the play. The class has a shared purpose and work through tasks to discuss, speculate and question some of the themes, ideas and perspectives within A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest and many more of Shakespeare’s plays. An improved level of critical thinking has arisen through this method of study as the students are intellectually challenged and no longer afraid to inquire. As engaged co-creators, students inhabit the world of the play, grappling with the themes and ideas. Outcomes from active lessons show an astounding level of personal interpretation; students are sophisticated in both oracy and written analytical responses.

Each term, I am impressed with the retention of knowledge that students gain from active study. To open my final Year 7 lesson last term, we began to play a simple knowledge checking activity. As a ball was thrown around the circle, students must accompany the catching of it with a reference to our play of study, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Beginning as a recalling of character names, the game quickly developed into a recital of some of the key speeches from the play. With miraculous fluency, these wonderful Year 7 students were able to passionately deliver lines from the play, some of which we had studied five weeks previously. As the competition heightened – don’t repeat something that has already been said or you will be out – students recalled more and more obscure and detailed lines. Not only that but they spoke them with gusto and confidence which well surpassed their years.

Our active programme extends beyond the classroom setting. Within our enrichment curriculum, a committed group of students meet weekly to rehearse and explore scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. Not only performing to their families at school, our students have recently, in collaboration with the Marlowe Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company, performed to the public as part of the Tempest: By the Sea production in the local community of Folkestone. An active approach to Shakespeare is bringing new cultural experiences to Towers School.

Soon, some of our students will be following in the footsteps of many celebrated actors, plying their multitudinous new skills on the stage of The Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Furthermore, we are excited to see these skills transfer across disciplines and into the social and personal repertoires of our young players. After all, ‘all the world’s a stage’.

Rex Gibson- Teaching Shakespeare: A Handbook for Teachers

The RSC Shakespeare Toolkit

Ayanna Thompson & Laura Turchi - Teaching Shakespeare with Purpose

Fiona Banks- Creative Shakespeare: The Globe Education Guide to Practical Shakespeare

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