I’m probably going to stir up some controversy with this post, but I’m reading The Happiness Project and one of the mantras the author, Gretchen Rubin, continually mentions is “Be Gretchen” so I’m “being Jamie” with this blog post.

As an English teacher, something I’ve been wondering for a long time is why do we teach so much Shakespeare? And, why does it seem like the focus is on decoding the language rather than deeper thinking about the characters, motivations and themes? Don’t get me wrong, I quite enjoy Shakespeare. I think Hamlet is one sick and twisted character and the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet gets me every time, but I know that not many of my students enjoy Shakespeare the way I do yet they are subjected to it almost if not every year in many high schools.

Why aren’t we allowing students to spend more time reading what they consider to be engaging? I know it’s more work on our part but I think the pay off would be much higher and we would likely find some really interesting reading material based on our students’ individual passions. Also, why does reading have to be a play or novel? Why couldn’t it be blogs or online magazines like Zite or even just news articles? I’ve learned so much in the last month alone from accessing Zite on a daily basis and I can see numerous possibilities for such a service in the classroom environment.

In conclusion, I guess where this questioning comes from is that I believe the English classroom has the potential for personalization that some other more content driven disciplines may not and I feel like we are doing our students (and ourselves) a disservice by not exploring these ideas.

What do you think?

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12 thoughts on “Why Shakespeare?

  1. What an interesting post! I happen to be a Grade 1/2 teacher that loves Shakespeare. For that matter, I love reading, and I love reading many different genres too. My favourite books range from Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby to Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage to just about any James Patterson and Mary Higgins Clark book. The writing varies for sure. I had many fantastic teachers in elementary school and high school, and I think that by them exposing me to many different authors and genres, I became the reader that I am now. I think it would be wonderful if your English program could allow for more diversity of text types and genres. Getting the time to really discuss the characters and themes in Shakespeare’s plays would be great too. I think that balance is important, and I think that it says a lot about you as a teacher for wanting to give your students the texts that interest them. You really care about your students, and you really want to do all that you can to get them interested in English. Your students are lucky to have you as their teacher!

    Aviva

    1. Aviva,

      I absolutely agree with exposing our students to variety! There is so much interesting literature out there that I think we can provide a truly rich learning environment in an English classroom!

      Thanks again for your support! You are always so positive and it’s so awesome!

  2. I agree Jamie. Students don’t need four years of Shakespeare. But they do need to engage in reading so therefore they need material that will engage them.

  3. If students don’t read Shakespeare in high school, where will they? If they are only used to reading what is easy for them, how will they learn to cope with harder texts? If teachers aren’t excited by what the class is studying what chance do the kids have?

    Research from the Colorado Institute of Learning shows that students meet expectations when we don’t expect anything of them.

    For a less than serious take on education go to http://graniteandchalk,wordpress.com

    1. Quillman,

      Do they need to read Shakespeare at all? There is so much rich literature out there that I don’t think it’s necessary in every year of English class. I think many students will read harder texts if we open give them options that broaden their horizons. I teach grade twelve University level English and I’m quite impressed with the novels my students are reading in their free time as they are thought provoking and challenging.

      I completely agree with you that teachers need to be excited by what the class is studying and I try to infuse my enjoyment of Shakespeare into my lessons, but I know there are students in my class who can’t stand his plays even with my enthusiasm and differentiated instruction.

      I’m not sure what you mean with the expectations comment. I have very high expectations of my students and I think you can still have high expectations even if they are reading their own material. It just takes some creativity on our part.

      Jamie

  4. The expectations comment is a quote from Granite and Chalk.

    I wonder though who would be left liking Shakespeare if they didn’t have to read it in high school. And as for reading it every year, it takes time to learn a foreign language. Part of the problem is that Shakespeare is theatre yet we spend most of our time reading him.

    I agree that there is a lot out there that is not being read and should be. When I compare what I read in high school to what my children read it is almost shocking. There’s nothing from the nineteenth century; there’s very little from Canada (I’m writing from Ontario). The chief reason for selecting a novel is budgetary. They read what is already in the book room.

    Having taught for almost 30 years, I am struck with the little students like reading at all. Anything hard is quickly put down. It is a crisis and during crises we quickly do things we regret later. Spend less time on the Bard if you must, but let’s not bid him farewell just yet.

    Jim

    1. Hi Jim,

      I agree that we definitely need more variety in the English classroom and unfortunately I agree that much of it does boil down to the almighty dollar.

      I also agree that the problem with Shakespeare is that we read it instead of view it, but I think it tends to be too much of a focus in high school. I also teach in Ontario and would love to see more Canadian literature as well as non fiction.

      I don’t plan on throwing out the Bard anytime soon- rather I would just like to see less of him 😉

      Jamie

  5. Shakespeare is where we come from, and no one has beat his stories yet. Somethings we all oughta know…. When I teach kids who have too much trouble with the language, we watch it instead. Great stories are great stories. But we also have independent reading time in class and out–and they choose what they read. So now they also bring me new books to read all the time, so there is real give and take.
    This year in Brit Lit, we are voting on a couple of choices for the class novel, so they are part of choosing that too. Shakespeare has gone better this year because 1) I’m reading their books, so it is only far to read mine, 2) choice has become the rule, and 3) they feel more confident in their own judgments about Shakespeare et al.

    1. Leslie,

      I love that you have give and take in your class! I think we as teachers need to spend more time reading what our students are reading as it can give us great insights into their lives!

      I also agree that Shakespeare’s plays are great stories at heart and I hope that students would choose to engage in his texts for the enjoyment that is his writing.

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