Grayrigg CE School - Start Small Think Big

The right teacher...

In the Oaks we are currently exploring Shakespeare. Some people hear the name Shakespeare and groan, others become excited - I am one of those people who gets excited. Not because I am more literate than those who groan or because I am a teacher. No, it’s because I had the right teacher. The teacher to whom I refer is Miss Dunn, my dance teacher. I guess she was never limited by which Shakespearean adventure she could use as she never had to follow a GCSE curriculum, but she is most definitely the person who helped me to understand and love Shakespeare. When I was ten – I played the part of Puck in the ballet of Midsummer Night’s Dream and had to read the beautiful monologue from the end of the play. She took the time to help me understand (so I could act appropriately as I delivered my lines). So by the time I was introduced to Shakespeare at secondary school, I was maybe at a slight advantage to many of my peers.

However in year nine I had my first “school experience” of Shakespeare. As I was in one of the top sets we studied Julius Caesar which, at the age of 14, definitely made me groan! I hated it. My friends in lower sets were doing either Midsummer Night’s Dream (which I already knew and loved) and friends in the middle sets covered Romeo and Juliet (which made sense as we were learning about West Side Story in music), the problem was we never really understood the play, we just analysed the words on the page, did the odd read through (much of which made little or no sense).

In Year 11 we studied Macbeth, the teacher who taught me then recognised I had a love of theatre, so he challenged me to write an essay about how I would stage the play. I remember him suggesting to two (reluctant) boys that they could suggest how they would film it as a horror movie. You see, he looked at us as individuals. He wasn’t a soft fluffy teacher and to be honest I’m not sure I appreciated how good he was until I became a teacher myself but to introduce us to the Shakespeare play that we would have to use in our GCSE exam, he found ways to help us engage with it before we analysed and broke it down. He recognised that each of us is unique as our thumb prints and he went the extra mile to make sure we could all engage with the text. It would be interesting to see how his results compared with that of other teachers who taught from the text book!

When planning to do Shakespeare with my own class, I hummed and ahhed a great deal over whether or not Midsummer Night’s Dream was too obvious a choice, maybe we should try something less obvious, maybe The Tempest or As You Like It. However I love Midsummer Night’s Dream. I do plan to move onto my other favourite, Twelfth Night, before allowing the children to pick which Shakespeare they want to read. We first used Puck’s speech (the one I read when I was 10) and tried to work out what the play was about. We didn’t do a literal translation we just worked together to discuss it, gradually jig-sawing together that the play might have only been a dream and that Puck had obviously been up to mischief as he was being incredibly apologetic. The whole notion of Puck is always one the children love - a mischievous little elf with magic at his disposal (who wouldn’t want to be in his shoes for the day). We then read a very abridged and story like version of the play, so we understood the story before playing around with the beautiful Shakespearean language. I also shared some of the more famous quotes e.g. the course of true love never did run smooth. Children were surprised how familiar they already were with some Shakespearean phrases.

We are now taking our learning into the woodland for our own Midsummer Night’s Dream. The children have scripted it so the younger children in school will be able to follow it and we plan to make a movie in the beautiful local woodland. The children are working with our resident artist to design stage, make up, wings and costumes. Of course nature will form our back drop.

This year the Royal Shakespeare Company are celebrating 400 years since the death of the great playwright, but today his stories are still alive and loved - but they’ll only be loved if they are taught in the right way, in a way that is accessible to the children with whom we work. You should never pick up a book (or a piece of a child’s work) and go straight in by breaking it down in to sentences or grammatical units or even spellings. First every book, play, novel or piece of writing handed in to be marked should be read as a whole, as a complete piece - this is how they were meant to be read, to be enjoyed and loved. Nobody writes anything so that it can be analysed for grammatical accuracy. I’m not saying grammatical accuracy isn’t important, it is what makes a piece of writing easy to follow, but if we are going to inspire our children to read and write first and foremost we should inspire them to enjoy and experience a wide range of texts, enjoying them for what they are. Midsummer Night’s Dream is a hilarious riot of love, mischief, a man turned into a donkey and complete madness! If it’s taught at the right level what child wouldn’t enjoy a story with a main character called Bottom!

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