This year marks the 400th anniversary of the famed poet and playwright William Shakespeare’s death. Nevertheless, the legacy of his work continues to live on stage, screens and in literature classrooms throughout the world.
University of Houston assistant professor of Education, Laura Turchi, and George Washington University English professor Ayanna Thompson have co-authored the book Teaching Shakespeare with Purpose: A Student-Centered Approach. Turchi and Thompson were both working in the English department at Arizona State University, when they noticed their graduate students were experiencing the same challenges with finding contemporary teaching methods on Shakespeare for secondary school students. This book is brimful with curriculum ideas and resources for teachers to connect students to Shakespeare’s plays within 21st century settings.
Today, schools are looking for opportunities to give students the ability to learn off-the-page. Turchi is currently working with teachers at Fort Bend Independent School District to pilot a web-based app called Wordplay Shakespeare in English courses throughout the district. Through the app developed by The New Book press, students gain an interactive understanding of the poet’s plays. Wordplay Shakespeare works online or on a tablet. It displays the text of the play in one column and opens a second column for students to view the performance. The app also contains an option for students to read a modern English translation of the play. Turchi is working with University of Houston Ph.D. students, who are also English Language Arts teachers, to research this pioneering project. “So far, it’s really promising in terms of what it makes possible for more kids to learn and understand. It also means it’s not the teacher controlling how fast they’re moving through the play (within boundaries); it’s the kids,” says Turchi.
Teaching Shakespeare with Purpose: A Student-Centered Approach includes topics on how to incorporate cultural studies on race, gender and identity, as well as help students identify basic literary tropes, rhetoric and history. The text also links social media and the classroom by having students use Twitter and Facebook to fully utilize the 21st century understanding of the play to create multimodal projects.
The book demonstrates how to approach Shakespeare’s works as vehicles for collaborative exploration as well as develop frames for discovery. Turchi says, “We’re promoting an ambitious teaching of Shakespeare that is not just for the smart kids for whom it’s easy, but it’s for your English language learners; it’s for your kid who thinks he or she can’t do it. It’s ambitious in the sense of reaching more kids and making connections to who they are as humans.”