A big part of teaching a complex work of literature is directly confronting the battlements that students have erected around themselves. Many students have had bad experiences with Shakespeare, having been made to read it too young, too independently, too fast or as a static old text on the page, not a living play. Many students raise the white flag before the broil has even begins. “Why can’t he just say it?” “Why do we have to read that old English?” Anyone who has taught Shakespeare’s plays has heard some version of these refrains. For many students, “present fears are less than horrible imaginings” for real.
Teaching Shakespeare to catalyze deep thinking and authentic student engagement does require us to be resourceful: to be guide, psychologist, theater director, and scholar among other things. In 2015, we have a whole new set of tools at our disposal – tools that help the students meet Shakespeare where they are, not where we teachers are. Google Docs is not just a great way to share, edit, and teach writing, but it can be used in Wiki-like fashion as a nexus for various tasks and as a simple way of tackling complex content. I am interested in the ways that new, easy-to-use technologies facilitate a whole new relationship to a literary text and a whole new student experience with the Bard (or James Joyce, W.B Yeats, Chaucer, Virginia Woolf – name your daunting writer).
Our challenge as we move deeper into the 21st century is not to negate or relax the invigorating rigor of reading Shakespeare but to find new ways to engage and excite students in that intense learning experience. My presentation this year spoke to ways we can use a range of technological tools to help students journey through a Shakespeare play in teams. They collaborate and create a media portfolio of google docs, voice recordings set to images, and filmed performances (in this case a spoken word “jazz reading” of an important passage).
I want to thank all of those attended my “Teaming Up on Shakespeare” session at the 2015 CAIS. Enjoy the slides to the presentation, a short student voice recording with images, and a google doc of the project assignment sheet (in progress).
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Chair, Department of English
Convent of the Sacred Heart Greenwich