Georghia Ellinas, Secondary National Strategy regional adviser, describes an initiative that allows pupils to enjoy a Shakespeare play in their own time and space

Teachers of English know that if they can draw their pupils into the world of a play by Shakespeare they will have secured their interest for life. Demystifying the challenges that many pupils (and some teachers) see in studying Shakespeare as well as making teaching and learning an enjoyable experience has been the drive behind the secondary national strategy’s work with The Globe Education team. As part of this a recording of The Globe Education’s special performance of Much Ado About Nothing at The Globe Theatre in London has been developed into an MP3 audio file. This has been designed to help secondary school pupils up and down the country to experience, perhaps for the first time, the unique feel of a live performance of this Shakespearian comedy even if they can’t visit the theatre.

Professional programmes

The work has been commissioned by the national strategies, who provide professional programmes for early years practitioners, primary and secondary heads, school teachers and managers. The audio file can be downloaded free of charge from the internet and in convenient bite-size chunks for use on an MP3 player or computer and listened to as many times as students want. It’s already proving very popular with over 12,500 downloads recorded in its first month online. The Globe was able to stage the play thanks to the generosity of Deutsche Bank. This is a unique collaboration between the Secondary National Strategy, The Globe Education team and Deutsche Bank, which exemplifies how collaboration between the public sector, an arts organisation and a commercial company, can work for the benefit of thousands of young people across the country. It means that they can enjoy Shakespeare’s play in their own time, in their own space and by using familiar and popular technology.

Providing insights

The play is the most popular of the three Key Stage 3 texts currently in the National Curriculum tests. The audio file encourages students to engage with Shakespeare’s words as they are acted, enabling them to enjoy many of the benefits of a live performance. In addition, interviews with the director and the four actors playing the main characters provide insights into how they prepared for the production and how Shakespeare’s language shaped their views of their character’s motivation and feelings. Pupils have found these interviews very helpful in extending their understanding of the complex relationships and themes in the play. Launching the MP3 audio file, the director of the Secondary National Strategy, Peter Walker, said: ‘This is all about pupils being able to enjoy and achieve. We wanted an audio file because we were aware that there would a significant number of pupils, particularly those in rural areas, who would not have access to seeing a professional production of the play and that if they did see a film version it would be in precious class time. The MP3 file allows them to download the play and listen to it when they want and as many times as they want.’ The MP3 file is available from the Standards website, where there is now a dedicated area called ‘Improving the teaching of Shakespeare’. It stores Secondary National Strategy resources designed to support teachers improve teaching and learning across both key stages as well as having materials specifically written to help prepare pupils for the 2007 National Curriculum tests.

Increasing accessibility to all

Care has been taken to consider the full range of abilities across the secondary phase and to provide exciting resources that will engage pupils’ interest in a number of Shakespeare’s plays and which will develop key reading skills for pupils of all abilities. These demonstrate and support teaching approaches, to make studying Shakespeare both enjoyable and accessible to secondary pupils, including those who are operating below national expectations for their age. It is particularly important for pupils to experience a progressively challenging and interesting encounter with the plays’ themes, characters and drama and with Shakespeare’s language. Pupils’ understanding of Shakespeare is currently assessed through their written responses at Key Stage 3 and while there is the opportunity to use speaking and listening outcomes to assess Shakespeare at Key Stage 4, the majority of teachers rely on a written essay to do this. The website contains a range of other resources to support the teaching of writing in response to Shakespeare, including the influential training materials on improving writing.

All the resources mentioned in this article can be accessed at: www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/secondary/keystage3/subjects/english/shakespeare

Category: