Introducing Shakespeare Early: Why, When, and How to Teach Shakespeare to Elementary and Middle School Students
Collins, Michael J.
In America's education system where many students have below average reading levels and high-test scores have become the priority, teaching Shakespeare in schools is becoming more challenging. Studies show that a majority of high school students, despite creative teaching methods, see his works as irrelevant, difficult, and boring. This paper examines whether introducing Shakespeare early in small doses throughout elementary and middle schools, in his original language using performance-based methods, can be part of a larger scaffolding effort to improve student perception and long-term appreciation of Shakespeare. The paper considers why Shakespeare is relevant, when Shakespeare should be introduced, and how to effectively introduce him to young students.Various qualitative methods are used in this paper. This includes informal interviews of teachers, a site visit to observe a third grade class, a review of current research on performance-based teaching, and a literature review on linguistic and reading development among children. Practitioners who teach Shakespeare were interviewed to determine students' authentic experience of learning from a performance-based teaching approach and how best to teach Shakespeare at different grades. Scholars at the Folger Shakespeare Library who have conducted research on Shakespeare in American schools were consulted on their findings. Also, current and historical patterns of Shakespeare's place in the curriculum in the United Kingdom were used to offer a comparative analysis. Readers will note that the author, henceforth referred to as "I", will include observations from personal experience and statements of generally accepted practices.Results obtained from the research provide compelling evidence of Shakespeare's relevance in our current curriculum based on his cultural and linguistic influence. Teaching Shakespeare early yields numerous advantages such as: increased student confidence, expanded literary abilities, lower levels of anxiety when more complex literature is introduced later, and a life-long appreciation of high quality literature. Research presented about children's language development support the claim that 3rd-8th graders not only have the capacity to understand Shakespeare at an introductory level, but that this early time in their development is actually ideal to expose them to Shakespeare's rich language and universal stories. Using drama in the classroom with condensed versions of the plays and age appropriate activities are useful when introducing students to Shakespeare's original language. Performance-based teaching methods were proven as one of the most effective ways to capture the attention of young students.
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