Taking Shakespeare to the French.
When I was asked if I wanted to give 24 French children their first experience of learning Shakespeare at Kings Norton Girls School, my first response was a very excited yes! But when the reality sunk in this responsibility is huge, I felt like it had to be perfect or they were at risk of returning to France and maintaining their existence without Shakespeare in their lives (their alternative being Harry Potter…but enough said about that.)
I decided that with only an hour out of their trip to do this, I wanted to use active methods, and as the RSC puts it make them “stand up for Shakespeare.” Inspired by this summer’s “Worlds Together” conference and a recent CPD training session provided through Queensbridge School, I created a workshop which included the basics from iambic pentameter to walking the text, and then focussed on Othello, a play they had barely heard of let alone read. Unfortunately this was the case for the entire canon, where one or two children had heard of Romeo and Juliet but that was virtually the extent of the Shakespeare knowledge of these children.
We stamped out pentameter and walked the text – something that they responded to very well, and also used the RSC inspired story whoosh to teach the basic story to the play, something that with a little persuasion they were very keen to interact with and volunteer to participate in. The beauty of using this was that it virtually removed the language barrier. Through not having to speak or remember large chunks of text they were able to decipher the elements of English that they understood from my reading and acted it out with real enthusiasm enlightening the other children to the events of the play.
Something they really enjoyed was jumping between the text, and situations familiar to them. For this I gave them a section of the text where Othello is demanding the handkerchief from Desdemona. First I gave them the text itself and allowed them to play with it in pairs making their own decisions about how it felt to them, having never read Shakespeare before this was interesting but following the whoosh and the individual activities students were able to get to grips with the text well. Of course having barely read any Shakespeare before, some children understood more quickly than others. To overcome this I got them to put away their scripts and create the scene themselves, where Othello was to maintain his demand for the handkerchief and Desdemona was to create any excuses she could imagine to get out of the situation. Each child got the opportunity to play each role and therefore understand what it felt like to be in that position. I then asked them to return to the text and see if it felt any different. Instantly there was a sea of performances that were far stronger, where through their new found understanding children began to really interact with the texts placing actions and emphasis on certain words or phrases, and even adding movement and emotion.
Overall they all reported that they enjoyed the session, and when quizzed about their learning they were able to give accurate responses from what they had learned. The teacher, Madame Afforti, took away copies of the resources used in the session to replicate this style of learning Shakespeare with other students back at the school in France. She has also expressed an interest in developing projects of this type.