We all know the importance of reading for our students’ futures and life chances. As such, we recently reviewed our literacy policy at Firth Park Academy, a Sheffield inner-city comprehensive rated as ‘Good’ by Ofsted. Our charismatic principal, Dean Jones, wanted our new system to be engaging, relevant and simple to use. This article looks at the process and the next steps, as we look to continually improve our provision.
Step 1: Build a team
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.
What are the biggest obstacles that people face when it comes to studying Shakespeare? If you ask a group of students most of them are likely to come up with the same answer – the language. It’s old. Archaic, even. They don’t understand it. A group of teachers are likely to give a different response – teaching rhythm is no fun. They’re bored of teaching iambic pentameter. Students don’t see the point. However, neither of these problems needs to be a barrier and both can be approached using interesting and engaging techniques.
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.
As a child, I was actively encouraged to read. I’d spend evenings going to bed reading about the Mary Lennox, the isolated and closed off child sent to live in a remote manor on the desolate moors of Yorkshire, or about Carrie, the evacuee who embarks on a new adventure to Wales to escape the bombing of London. The skill of the authors hooked me into reading further about their experiences. I felt myself being transported into the fresh valleys of Wales, where Carrie would spend time weighing out rationed items in the shop, and experienced the difference in social classes in Victorian England alongside their understanding of medical ailments.
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).
What is the main ingredient that makes a great lesson? I’m not talking in the realms of inspectorate rhetoric. We all know as professionals that we need our pupils to make progress in each lesson, and we are not oblivious to this fact. I mean those lessons that you regale other teachers with because you have a real sense of pride in what occurred. The ones where all the pupils were switched on, and the learning flowed as smooth as Frank Sinatra-branded honey!