Joe Winston and Miles Tandy take playful approaches to ‘The Comedy of Errors’ with 4 to 11 year olds, at WORLDS TOGETHER – a conference hosted by the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Tate Modern Gallery, in collaboration with the British Museum and the National Theatre, London, 6th – 8th September, 2012.
We, a dozen Conference delegates, are the 4 to 11 year olds, embarking on a 3 hour workshop with Joe Winston, Professor of Arts Education at Warwick University, and Miles Tandy, an RSC Education Lead Practitioner. ‘There are no right answers’, says Miles, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t discover what works best, what takes us most excitingly into the mysterious virtual reality we are exploring together – the world of Shakespeare’s play. It just means that everyone’s personal experiments and contributions will be received without censure, so we are free to let our minds and imaginations work. Released from the temptation to judge and compare what our colleagues are doing and saying, the class moves along easily with a shared sense of purpose and full concentration on all the things we are being invited to do. We enjoy our own efforts and we also enjoy what the whole class is doing – as, importantly, Joe and Miles seem to as well. I know, from the first minute, that this is going to be active learning for us all, not teaching by demonstration, using a few of us to participate or illustrate, while the rest watch and, perhaps, start to daydream or tune out. And, as all teachers who work as ‘animateurs’ know, in a class in which all are active and motivated, energy does not spill out into disruption or distraction: it is constantly drawn back into the group, where it seems to build and intensify as the work goes on, so that, by the end of the session, we all have a sense of having deepened our experience, of having travelled, and of having reached conclusions. We are really ‘on to’ a lot of things about this play – its language, its characters and predicaments, its unique world. We do not have to pretend we are 4 to 11 year olds: we have processed, entirely in our own adult, ‘experienced’ ways, the same activities that Joe and Miles would have provided for a class of young children.
So what were the things we actually did that took us into Shakespeare’s Ephesus, a town ‘full of cozenage’, peopled by ‘nimble jugglers…dark-working sorcerers… soul-killing witches…disguisèd cheaters…prating mountebanks, and many such libertines of sin’? How did we get into the story of the merchant Egeon and his long-lost wife, who, many years earlier had given birth to the identical Antipholus twins, each served by one of the identical Dromio twins, the whole family separated in a terrible storm at sea, when the children were infants? What did we do to experience loss, confusion, danger, comedy? First came activities to ‘meet and mix’, with collective ‘freedom of the space’ established, so we moved easily, ‘going’ and ‘stopping’ on command and ‘showing’, when asked, adjectives such as ‘happy’ and ‘fearful’ and images such as ‘twins’ and ‘shipwrecks’. Joe and Miles had chosen a ‘way in’ appropriate for 4-11 year olds (for us too), through emotions and feelings which were already ours, from our own lives, but which very soon were acting as vectors taking us seamlessly into Shakepeares’s story and, vitally, his language. Soon we would be exploring themes such as twinning and confusion (playing ‘catch yourself out’ games to break habitual mind-body connexions) and, using tableaux, the events of the ‘back story’ to the play. Part of me, as teacher, was noting the skilful adaptation of a range of drama activities, so that tried and tested active pedagogy could be marshalled to transport us, our minds, bodies and imaginations alert and responsive, into the particular world of this play, The Comedy of Errors. For example, there were games requiring the whole group to collaborate (such as speaking phrases or lines from the text to ‘save’ those about to be banished) and activities such as ‘Word Carpet’, which involved everyone in contributing to the creation of a store of words and phrases (written by all of us on slips of paper), to be used in an imaginative ‘guided tour’ (carried out, simultaneously, in pairs) of the mysterious town of Ephesus.
You can learn more about the techniques, structure and activities of the workshop in Beginning Shakespeare 4-11 (Joe Winston and Miles Tandy, London, David Fulton, 2012), for what we did was based on an example from Joe and Miles’s excellent book – but to finish, I want to return to the personal experience of doing the workshop. I always find it refreshing and revealing – and often rather sobering too – to take part in the sort of activities we expect our students to carry out. Teacherly authority suspended and the course of events unknown and outside my control, I am now just one of the group, eager to make something with that group, but, perhaps, a little apprehensive. How will I do, will I look foolish… but that doesn’t matter, does it?
We are a few minutes into the workshop. Complete the sentence, Miles says, beginning: ‘I am confused…’ We go round in turn. Everyone speaks, pretty much on cue. Some answers are funny, everyone seems to have a ready response. I find that I do not. I watch the powder trail fizz towards me and realise I am really engaged by the question and that it will not be long before I must answer. It’s my turn and I pause, not knowing quite what to say. I am confused by the question – not because I don’t understand it, but because there’s something hidden I want to articulate, but ‘I’ve lost the key’. I find myself saying, lamely, ‘ I’m confused by irreconcilables’. So dry and theoretical, so unappealingly lacking in the concrete or illustrative! Is that it? Isn’t confusion always about that? I know that I love truth games – there’s a kind of therapeutic excitement in searching for something about yourself that you only half know (or only half admit), but I’m also very conscious that this is just a quick circle game, so I must speak and quickly let go of the words I have, somewhat to my own surprise, just spoken. But much further back in my mind, there is something else resonating – the first time I had to make a choice in class, along with the other 5-year olds, the ‘Infants’, as we were called, on our first day at the Village School. We had all been given cardboard boxes in which to keep our pencils and note-books. Then the teacher said ‘now, all of you, come up to the table at the front and choose a picture’. There was a rush to choose. I sat at my desk and watched, wondering what the other children were doing. Then I became aware of Miss Bullard standing above me. ‘You haven’t chosen a picture. Come with me and choose.’ I loved birds and there was a picture of a Green Woodpecker left. I chose that, something connected with my own world prior to this strange school-room, and she helped me to paste it onto my box. It is good, I think, for us, as teachers, to find ourselves back where are students are – some inhibited within their group, some nervous about contributing, some bemused by the need to make snap decisions and choices. This is why the ‘drama way’ is so important, for not only can it provide the most open and stimulating of learning environments – it can also be the most reassuring, the most secure. I know that I am in one of those learning environments now – it will be challenging, but it will be safe and it will build confidence. ‘Come with me and choose.’
Back to Joe and Miles: soon, in groups of 3 or 4, we are making images, speaking lines we have been given from the play. Then we all add another image and another, building up representations of the story. At first our group only just completes its image and its actions before it is time to show the result, but as we get used to working together we become more confident. Finally, all the groups combine to run all the little scenes in sequence, without pause or introduction. This is very much how I like to work – everyone as both audience and actors. We have created a piece of living theatre for our own delight – and, of course, instruction. Joe is pleased with us. ‘We could take this performance outside into the Turbine Hall now,’ he says, ‘and people would look at it and enjoy it.’ We are proud of ourselves. Once again I reflect on the experience of making choices to deadlines, this time in a group, and also what has been going on in my own mind during this exercise: how, perhaps, I mentally resist quick solutions, because I want to reflect and explore new ideas, but, conversely, how I also have a store of drama teacher’s ‘quick fixes’. I am wary of these. I hate the idea of coming forward too quickly or too strongly, of imposing my view. I hang back, interested in what others have to say, but conscious that I want our group to produce something that is good, that works well. As always, I am fascinated by the matter of how we debate, and make choices, with others, and how, as teachers, we set up learning situations which involve complex group dynamics. When the workshop moves on to the next exercise, creating the strange town, I forget all these thoughts, for now, off the text, we are invited to devise tricks and incidents that might beguile a visiting stranger. I love seeing what we all get up to and I feel blessedly free to add to the entertainment myself. Joe adds in our ‘word carpet’ and we all, I think, have a very good time. What is more, we would be capable, I know, of discussing all the work in terms of insights gained about Shakespeare’s play.
There are other activities I could describe (like Joe’s masterly story-telling, using his ‘Whoosh!’ technique, which makes lovely, fluid use of the class, while allowing the teacher’s knowledge and skill full rein, to become available to all), but when I think back for a final defining image, I find I am sneeking a sideways look at our teachers. They look amused and pleased, for their ‘playful approaches’ to The Comedy of Errors have shown (it is written all over our faces) just how effectively profit can be mixed with pleasure in the active classroom.
On 28th June, Oxford Brookes University will be hosting a one-day Symposium, exploring ‘how creative teaching and learning fits with, or doesn’t fit with, formal learning structures at school and university’. BSA trustee Paul Prescott, of the RSC/University of Warwick ‘Teaching Shakespeare’ partnership, will be giving one of the two keynote lectures. The Symposium is free – and there are still places available! Please click on the link to Unlearning Shakespeare in our ‘Recent Posts’ for more details.
To help me prepare for the workshop I am giving at the Oxford Symposium, I met with a group of practising teachers, who were at the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, for a week in early April, as part of their work for the MA in Shakespeare and Education. What would they have to say, from their current classroom experience, about the usefulness and efficiency of active approaches to teaching Shakespeare? The workshop I have planned for the Oxford Symposium is concerned with three issues that I took from the MA group’s comments on their own, widely differing, working situations.
(i) The first issue gave me the subject for the workshop – how to set about reading the text. This is not as obvious as it sounds: commentaries, study guides, the provision of notes, all appear to give ‘right answers’ that may be learned – perhaps, even, without much recourse to the text itself. But isn’t the most secure learning, and the learning that has the most lasting educational value, built on students’ personal experience of reading the text for themselves? In the words of Tom Barlow, in his first teaching post in the East End of London: ‘Ultimately, the challenge is that, to some degree or other, the text does still have to be read in class – and part of my job is to stop the kids from switching off when this happens.’ (About 70% of Tom’s students are black, of African origin. The remainder are almost entirely white, mostly of Irish origin. He says that they are generally responsive and motivated but come from families where reading is not highly prized; there are high aspirations amongst the students to go onto higher education).
We want our students to be able to read independently, experiencing that internal animation that accomplished readers enjoy in private reading, but we can probably all agree with Tom Barlow that ‘the text still does have to be read in class’. We shall test the idea that active approaches to ‘reading in class’ can not only take the class through the text in an engaged way, removing, through dramatic involvement, the option to ‘switch off’ – they can also help students in their development as confident, independent readers. We’ll examine the claim that those who have experienced (personally and collectively, in the classroom, through drama) something of the life and force of the unmediated text itself, are well-positioned to recreate the experience for themselves again, in private reading.
As our time will be limited to one hour for the workshop and discussion on 28th June, the practical activities will deal only with ‘basic reading techniques’- the first level of encounter with the printed words, rather than with more demanding exercises to do with experiment and interpretation. I’ll report on the workshop exercises, in my next blog.
(ii) The second important issue that emerged from the MA group’s comments is the matter of ‘English or Drama?’ for, in spite of extensive areas of overlap and common ground in the profiles and practice of individual teachers, the two subjects have somewhat different aims, methodologies and assessment concerns, not to speak of teaching spaces and student expectations. Richard Smith, who teaches Drama at Friends’ School, Saffron Walden, a Quaker school for 11-18 year-olds, comments: ‘The English Department’s approach is very different to mine and very static, I feel…Creative Methods are essential and the only way to work for me. Interestingly students deem the work they do with Shakespeare in Drama, different to the work they do in English at my school.’ English teachers frequently speak of their enthusiasm for ‘creative’ or ‘active’ methods, but also of the difficulties of developing their own practice. Tom Barlow comments on this: ‘Since an Inset Day six years ago with the RSC I have applied creative methods to my teaching of literature, and Shakespeare in particular, but despite acquiring the RSC’s Shakespeare Toolkit, I have definitely felt the need for more training. I wish, for example, that as a PGCE student I had been given some drama training. A one-day inset is not enough – these methods (at least in my practice) need to be more deeply entrenched and reinforced over time’. How do we, as teachers, cope with curricular divisions and the inevitable insecurities associated with the feeling, or the demand, that we should change our pedagogy? And to what extent, putting teacher mediation to one side, can a student’s primary experience of the text, whether in the English classroom or the Drama studio, be a personal possession, alive and coherent in their imagination?
(iii) The third issue for the workshop concerns the appropriateness and efficiency of active methods. ‘Efficiency’ will be a central reference point for our discussions, for creative pedagogy must be able to demonstrate its efficiency as preparation for the assessment tasks faced by our students, as well as for the long-term development of their skills and abilities. Our students must ‘think while they dance’ – the reference is to Kate Mcluskie’s essay in Skip Shand’s collection of essays, Teaching Shakespeare (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009). And the criterion of ‘appropriateness’ means thinking carefully about suitability and exercising judgement, rather than wheeling out a game or activity, just because it is lively. For Susie Crozier, currently working in a Medium Secure Unit for Pyschiatric Young Offenders, all of whom are on the Autism Spectrum, with some being severely Aspergers, as well as having a diagnosed psychiatric condition, students ‘don’t all react to lessons in the same way: some love Drama and getting up in the classroom, others prefer to sit and write, hence my comment about restrictions…My GCSE group are aware they’ll be using Drama to explore Romeo and Juliet. Methods I favour tend to be thought-tracking or thought talk (which for my pupils is a way into teaching empathy), still image, chair thermometer. I won’t be doing anything with sound, because I do teach some schizophrenic pupils…’
Two of the Shakespeare Institute MA group work predominantly with students for whom English is a foreign language. Some of their oral assessment involves the speaking of commentaries on Shakespearian passages. Active methods of approaching this work, involving the internalisation of the text through dramatization in role, should certainly be able to prove their worth and efficiency. Piers Smettem teaches at MEF International School, Istanbul, Turkey. For the International Baccalaureate Diploma, Piers says, students have to produce oral commentaries on a 40 line passage, which may be from a Shakespeare play. Active methods that focus on language can allow students to appreciate how language operates within a strictly defined context (the forty line passage), and how it relates to the text as a whole (in terms of character, plot and theme, for example). And Melissa Kwok, who prepares 13 to 18 year-olds for the International Baccalaureate, at the School of the Arts Singapore (SOTA), reports that her last term’s Year 4 students, in their pre-IB work, ‘ were assessed, via an individual oral presentation on a given 50 – 60 line passage from Macbeth. They were expected to do a detailed language and thematic analysis of the piece. This was to prepare them for their oral assessments in the IB years. Othello, the IB text, will be assessed in an Individual Oral Commentary. The students will be given an unknown passage, a short time to prepare an oral commentary, and will then be asked to deliver their commentary on the spot.
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In the workshop at Oxford Brookes, participants will be encouraged to report on their own teaching. Here are a few more reflections from three of the Shakespeare Institute MA group – first those of Melissa Kwok: ‘I often wonder what can be counted as a creative activity. I see it as involving lots of activity and movement. At times, I do really think that I’m quite a boring teacher. I go into class, whip out a passage from the text, explain away at vocabulary, and get the students to identify devices and theme. But, when I can, I do get the students to play with the lines. I remind them that it’s not about sounding “Shakespearean”, but to just have the experience of saying the lines out loud of themselves. I often get my students into groups to dramatise the lines. At other times, I ask them to be directors and to direct classmates who are playing characters. I must say that now as I write this – it really doesn’t sound all that creative. On the other hand, I know that I have very open discussions about the text. I suppose that in that way, I’m allowing my students to create and discover ideas. AND I’m really excited about what I learnt and refreshed at the course up in Stratford. It’s really gotten me excited about teaching Shakespeare with the open-space method that the RSC uses. I like the idea of approaching the text as a playscript and experience. I wish I now had a Shakespearean class to teach! However, I’ve been doing Strindberg’s Miss Julie with my Year 5s now, and just today, I got them to walk the lines, changing directions as they came to punctuation marks. We also played the drama game when one student had to struggle against two who were holding them back at the shoulders whilst saying specific lines. I must say that the kids had a blast, and they did really discover Jean’s frustration and Miss Julie’s sense of entrapment!’
Tom Barlow writes: ‘These (active) methods are sporadic and my aim is to create more of a culture in my classrooms that uses active approaches… I am a big believer in the efficacy of dramatic/active methods but do not feel that I can take children to the drama studio every week. Physical space is a problem – the moving of chairs/tables in a small classroom creates its own logistical problems. I think, however, that active approaches can be incorporated and the pay-off for some chaos in re-arranging chairs/tables is worth it (as long as I have the energy). I’m very interested in developing more bite-sized approaches to active methods, which can be incorporated into lessons more organically without the need always to clear a huge space. As someone who was ultimately swayed from studying English literature at university due to uninspiring teaching methods, I am a big advocate of active/dramatic methods. When I use these, I see the impact almost immediately quite simply because the children seem to be more engaged. They are seeing that Shakespeare is much more than a dull text to be read. They become motivated and excited about his plays.’
And Piers Smetton writes: The creative methods that I have used are dependent on age and what is required in terms of assessment. With classes from 11 – 14 I have been able to use some drama-based exercises. When doing The Taming of the Shrew with an advanced International Baccalaureate literature group, various drama-based activities were used, such as different interpretations of Kate’s final speech. We have also used some active methods to an extent in Much Ado About Nothing for an IGCSE class (Cambridge University’s International General Certificate of Secondary). There was much, however, that was not very creatively set up, as I have relatively little experience in acting or using drama in the classroom. In middle school classes, a variety of active or creative methods are used, including drama activities that focus on character and language – I’ve used the Cambridge School Shakespeare series for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet. I have added other creative tasks, particularly based around empathic and creative writing.
The Worlds Together Conference is being held from 6-8 September at Tate Modern. Please note that the deadline for submitting abstracts is 31 March.
CALL FOR ABSTRACTS
Worlds Together: an international conference exploring the value of Shakespeare and the arts in young people’s lives.
September 6 – 8, 2012, at Tate Modern on London’s Southbank
Worlds Together is a collaborative conference between Tate Modern, the British Museum, the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). It draws together different disciplines in order to ask what is at stake for children’s cultural lives today. The conference will engage a range of professionals to explore what pioneers in arts education set out to achieve, what current practice has developed, and what change will most benefit the cultural lives of young people tomorrow. It brings the worlds of arts education together across time, place and practice.
Worlds Together is part of the Unilever Series: turbinegeneration, an international, online educational partnership produced by Tate, and the World Shakespeare Festival, a celebration of Shakespeare as the world’s playwright, produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company for the London 2012 festival. The conference is hosted in the Tate Modern’s new Oil Tanks (opening in 2012) and Clore Learning Centre.
The three-day event provides a space for educators, artists and cultural professionals from all over the world to debate important issues, explore new practices and exchange ideas. Delegate options will be organised into two related programmes. One strand specifically explores the world-wide influence of Shakespeare in education; the other a broader view of the contemporary arts education landscape.
Tate Gallery and the RSC invite the submission of abstracts for twenty minute presentations as part of either strand of programming.
In relation to the Shakespeare strand, we are interested in case studies of effective ways of working with Shakespeare and young people, particularly in international and diverse cultural contexts. These should respond to one the following questions:
◦ What place should Shakespeare have in a contemporary curriculum?
◦ What relevance does Shakespeare have in the lives of young people today?
◦ How can we use different art forms and new technologies to illuminate and explore young people’s responses to Shakespeare?
In relation to the broader contemporary arts education strand, we invite proposals that address the following four questions and which focus on emergent practice and provocations. We are interested in the presentation of new ideas and theoretical perspectives that invite new conversations:
◦ What place should the arts have in a contemporary curriculum?
◦ How can we make the most of the opportunities offered by new and emerging technologies?
◦ What roles do artists play in learning settings?
◦ In what ways are social and participatory practices important for children and young people?
250 word abstracts should be submitted by 31st March 2012. If an abstract is accepted for the conference, a full draft paper may be requested for submission by 30th June 2012, if appropriate. Abstracts should be in Word, WordPerfect, or RTF formats with the following information and in this order: a) author(s), b) affiliation, c) email address, d) title of abstract, e) body of abstract, f) up to 10 keywords. E-mails should be entitled: Worlds Together Abstract Submission and addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org for Shakespeare in education and email@example.com for broader contemporary arts education.
A limited number of bursaries to attend the conference are available for contributors from outside the UK. Concessions on the ticket price may be available for UK contributors. Further details of bursaries and concessions will follow the submission of a successful abstract. The standard conference fee is £395, which includes: lunch and refreshments; free entry to the British Museum exhibition, Shakespeare: Staging the World; plus tickets to exhibitions and events at Tate where available.
Confirmed contributors include: Shirley Brice Heath, James Shapiro, Cicely Berry, Jonothan Neelands, Carla Rinaldi, Estelle Morris, Steve Seidel, Michael Morpurgo.
Full details of the Shakespeare programme will be available from 29th February 2012 at:
 The World Shakespeare Festival is a celebration of Shakespeare as the world’s playwright, produced by the RSC, in an unprecedented collaboration with leading UK and international arts organisations, and with Globe to Globe, a major international programme produced by Shakespeare’s Globe. It runs from 23 April to 9 September 2012.
A symposium on the theme of Unlearning Shakespeare, is to take place at Oxford Brookes University on 28 June. Please see below for full information.
Harcourt Hill Campus, Oxford Brookes University
Thursday 28 June 2012
Symposium Description and Call for Papers & Attendees
An intensive one-day symposium to explore how creative teaching and learning fits with (or doesn’t fit with) formal learning structures at school and university. The focus of the symposium is on the relationship between institutional structures of thought and practice in learning and the positive turbulence or system stresses caused by injection of or experimentation with innovative approaches. Participants will include academics and teachers as well as anyone with an interest in how creativity functions in respect to institutional learning. The conveners are based at Oxford Brookes University and the University of Sydney and so the symposium will include UK and Australian dimensions.
‘Institutional structures of thought and practice’ include such things as: curriculum, syllabus and rationale; discipline or degree scope, skills and content; learning stages, areas, milestones and pathways; practices and physical spaces of teaching and learning; forms and genres of student demonstration of learning; examination and assessment regimes, bands, standards and guidelines of achievement; inherited, tacit, expected and conventional habits of thought and practice; and desired, projected and created graduate attributes.
‘Innovative approaches’ indicates novel ways of teaching and learning within or against institutional structures that may cause a reappraisal, critique or transformation of those structures.
Unlearning Shakespeare explores, via a focus on Shakespeare pedagogy at school and university, what teaching and learning actually are, where practicality meets imagined ideals, and what might be changed or best left alone. It considers the nexus between system and asystem, between formula and creativity, between educator and student, and between Shakespeare and the study of Shakespeare. The symposium welcomes theoretical and policy papers as well as reflections on practical experience.
The format will be a dual stream of short papers clustered by topic area and with discussion times following. We also invite proposals for workshop sessions.
Registration and Submission of Abstracts
Registration is by emailing the following information to the conveners by 30 March 2012:
- Your name, affiliation and contact details including email address,
- Your intention to attend without presenting a paper, OR,
- Your intention to attend and present a 15-minute paper (please supply a paper title and abstract of between 50-100 words).
The symposium is free (no charge). Delegates will be able to make use of the on-campus refectory during breaks and lunch. Details of accommodation options available on request.
Contact the Conveners
Jane Coles, School of Education, Oxford Brookes University. firstname.lastname@example.org
Liam Semler, Department English, University of Sydney. email@example.com