DISPLAYING ITEMS BY TAG: ENGLISH

Teaching Shakespeare can be at once exhilarating and terrifying; inspirational and life-threateningly tedious. I like to think that the contradictions here echo, or at least nod, to the emotional rollercoaster that was early modern drama. When speaking to students – Secondary school and university – a common stumbling block is invariably language. Besides the archaic vocabulary – ‘hautboy’, ‘nonce’, ‘tun-dish’ and ‘fardel’ come to mind – there’s also the syntax, the distinctly Christian rhetoric, and seemingly endless concerns about marriage and death. For pupils in Secondary school these subject matters, compounded by unintuitive phrasing and words, can be a categorical turn-off.

There seems to be, at the moment, a glut of superheroes on our TVs and in our films. If it isn’t Batman fighting Superman, it is a group of different heroes getting together to fight an evil alien. It might seem that the works of one playwright hundreds of years ago bares no relations to our current obsession with people wearing Lycra, swishing about with their capes and saving the world. Most, if not all children, can tell you who Iron Man, Superman or Spider-Man is. But, little do they know, that the comic book heroes owe Shakespeare a huge nod, if not a cape. So when exploring or teaching a Shakespeare play to students it is helpful to have these ideas in mind.

In order to celebrate Shakespeare 400 week, Cheshire-based company Printerland have created an infographic to share their 75 favourite Bard-coined terms. Including the likes of “mimic”, “arouse”, “puking” and “hob-nob”, the display illustrates the powerful impact Stratford’s finest had on the English language as we know it, while revealing where these words were first used.

2016 marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death and a celebration of 400 years of his creative and cultural legacy. For some, Shakespeare can be seen as inaccessible - many of us have memories of reading plays such as Hamlet or Henry V around the classroom, possibly with little effort being made to untangle the meaning behind the words or the context in which the plays were written. For many teenagers today, Shakespeare is a playwright you are taught only to be examined on.

What does it mean to be literate in the 21st century? I think about this question a lot. Being fully literate in today’s world is about so much more than being able to simply use new tools. It’s being part of what edtech expert Henry Jenkins (University of Southern California) calls “a participatory culture” (think of YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook for example—and how all these venues encourage us to participate).

Ludlow Junior School is a medium-sized school with an above-average proportion of disadvantaged pupils. Focused on raising literacy levels, staff introduced various strategies including TA-led intervention groups and restructuring the library to introduce Accelerated Reader. However, the resource that generates the most excitement in the classroom, and which all the pupils want to talk about, is ebook website Fiction Express.

When the changes to GCSEs were announced, English teachers across the land were bereft. George and Lennie had been “canned”. Like Candy’s dog, they had been cast aside and denounced as useless. What would we do now? The frustration felt was not so much that years of experience teaching this great book would be lost, but that hundreds of young people wouldn’t get to know George, Lennie and the other characters on the ranch.

“Thinker”, “Hero”, “Avenger”, “Pioneer”, “Lover”, “Gossip”, and “Fool” are all words that remind us of types of characters in movies, plays, books, and perhaps our own lives. These one-word character descriptions immediately paint vivid portraits in the reader’s mind and can be a useful way for pupils, age 8+, to bring characters to life.

Let us get one thing straight - you are not alone. In the words of John Donne, “No man is an island”, and this statement quite rightly includes the busy role of a literacy coordinator. This may not always seem like the case. You may feel a little like Dick Van Dyke’s one man band from Mary Poppins, but remember: you are repeatedly highlighting and drawing people’s attention to an aspect of education that is not only essential to teaching and learning, but to the personal development of students that your colleagues have the opportunity to develop as individuals on a daily basis.

 

Last year, I was approached to see if I would be prepared to lead a new subject in my school. I say ‘new’ in the loosest of terms, as it was Latin I was asked to teach! Being a geeky linguist, and having studied the History of the Spanish Language at university, I did get a little excited at first, but then was overcome by a cloud of hesitation – how would my students take to a language that is no longer spoken? How would they see the relevance to their current studies? And what skills would it provide them for today’s world?

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