Friday, November 20, 2015

Rethinking Shakespeare

I absolutely love to read and will read just about anything, and I mean anything. However, I have never, ever picked up a Shakespearean play and curled up on the couch to read it, EVER! I even invested in season tickets to the Shakespeare theatre one year, and I enjoyed every single play that was part of my season package, but I would never curl up on my couch to read a Shakespeare play, especially if it’s not written in modern day English.

Now, do I love Shakespeare's plays, I absolutely do. I love those universal themes and the fact that many of Shakespeare's quotes are referenced everywhere, and I pick up on them. However, I must admit that I know most of the quotes from seeing the plays, not from reading them.

For years, I loving taught Romeo and Juliet, modern language version of course, and no I have never asked my students to go and read it at home alone, because I know that I would not do it. We would read the play aloud, and I would explain what was going on, ask questions, and we would, together, analyze the many poetic devices that Shakespeare cleverly crafts into his writings. Based on the discussion and assessments, and not a whole bunch of multiple choice test, it was apparent that many of the students really enjoyed this play, got the themes and language, and would playfully quote “What’s in a name?” We would wrap that up and go on to something else.

Now, I bet there are many teachers, especially those teachers who feel like a book ain’t a good book if it wasn’t written by an old, dead White man, who teach Shakespeare's plays year after year, believing with their whole hearts, that rigor involves students reading Shakespeare's plays, on their own, annotating the entire Old English text, taking quizzes, and having very few discussions. I asked my students what happens when they are asked to read those great Shakespearean plays on their own, and many stated that this is when they stop reading and rely heavily on cliff notes to help them to painfully get through Shakespeare.

I’ve been thinking about the student who may not have parents who can help him/her navigate through those Shakespearean plays and the reluctant reader, and yes many students are reluctant readers, who may miss the opportunity to fall in love with reading because of the fear of Shakespeare and his plays. Could we capture many of the reluctant readers with literature that is wonderfully written, reflect on the world in which we are living in today, teach some of those universal themes that some of us teachers love to teach, and help the students to think critically. And, the bonus is that many of the writers of these wonderfully written text are actually living, and we can talk to them personally and listen to them talk about their books on YouTube videos.

Now, as for me and my classrooms, I am no longer teaching Shakespeare's plays, and it’s not that I do not value them, because I truly do. But, I want students to love reading as much as I do, I want them to have empathy for other people and cultures, I want to them to critically think about the world in which they live, and I just no longer know if Shakespeare and his plays are relevant for the child whom we teach today.

My people, holler.... I need to hear some other perspectives!

Rethinking Shakespeare!

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