‘How did it help me to understand the play? Experiencing it for myself’ – Teaching Shakespeare at an all-boys comprehensive, post 3

Posted January 31st, 2013 by Kate and filed in Pedagogy, Teaching approaches and techniques

Hello again, and happy 2013!


Here is the (very belated) follow-up post to the work on Macbeth my class did at the end of last year.

They answered the questions about the method of teaching, and how they felt the process enabled them to understand the text. Here are the results:


81% said that they felt either a 4 or 5 out 5 for confidence in their understanding of the play.


The scores for which parts of the teaching helped the most, filming, drama, and making the presentation had equal votes (27%). The combination of all exercises scored the highest (40%) and writing, unsurprisingly, trailed behind with just 7% (figures rounded).


In response to the final questions, many compared the active, creative and collaborative approach being a change from their usual English lessons:


‘other lessons are more boring because there will be less drama’

‘we don’t (usually) film’

‘we would learn it from reading from the book’


They also commented on the usefulness of group work:


‘we collaborate ideas’

‘Other’s judgement helped make my work better’

‘[working in groups] encouraged me to do better’


And on the overall process, even though at first a confusing change from their regular lesson, one student concluded that:


‘it was a better approach to teach us’


(This student is now class pet, along with the kid who said ‘our lessons are fun and interesting’).


From all of the comments on drama, film, and making things creatively, one child summed up that they thought the process was helpful because he was:


‘Experiencing it for myself’

I feel this articulates what all of the activities undertaken were aiming to give the students chance to do with the text; experiencing it in multiple ways similar to the way those making productions for the Renaissance stage would have – visually, vocally, bodily, in writing, in film, in drama, in groups, individually… There was a chance for everyone to use their strength in learning to access the play, and to own it – independently and collaboratively. They all got their predicted grades or above for the assessment, which is a sort of by-product of their understanding. I feel this was because they were allowed to explore lots of different ways of seeing and interpreting the same thing, and were helped along in this process by their mates. They were allowed to combine their strengths and to choose the terms on which they learnt. In this sense the process becomes less about Shakespeare, but about teaching kids how to learn – Shakespeare instead becomes a powerful tool in this process because of its adaptability to various media. Through seeing something in lots of different ways, the students made their own way to the meaning of the words through experiencing them.


This term for their reading assessment, they haven’t been allowed so much freedom. I now feel I’ve killed my favourite novel of all time for them with the repetition of ‘don’t forget your P-E-A boys!’ This is the technique of Point-Evidence-Analysis/ Explanation for essay writing, for those blissfully unfamiliar with what it means to pea/pee in English. They’re always complaining about the lack of film and drama, ‘when will this boring book ever end!’, ‘I don’t get the words!’, etc. However, for a written assessment that requires the knowledge of words intensely, it is difficult to justify drama and filming because they don’t directly train in written analysis…


Next week we’re beginning creative writing on Bob Dylan’s ‘Hurricane’, and filming news reports on Rubin Carter’s conviction and trial. Hopefully this will make up for weeks of reading and written analysis.