A mixed approach of technological and performance-based teaching methods when teaching Shakespeare

If both performance and technology-based teaching approaches have so many benefits, why are there teachers still not using them? There are likely a few reasons why not all teachers are taking advantage of these approaches. Some of them may not utilize technology because it is off-putting, considering the generational gap and how quickly technological platforms change. They may not be trained in the newest social media platform or video-based website. They may fear students spending class-time using social media in ways that do not contribute to learning. Teachers may not use performance-based approach because of the added time it takes for students to perform, as compared to simply reading at home. Students may feel hesitant to speak aloud or to allow themselves to be vulnerable enough to perform a scene or even a speaking part in front of the class. Whatever the case, there are teachers who seem hesitant to employ these kinds of methods.

Usage of a combination of technological and performance-based teaching methods would not only overcome many of these potential drawbacks, but it would also allow for more benefits beyond what either method could reach alone, encouraging students to develop creative projects that explore cultural context, themes, dramatic situations, and characters in Shakespeare’s plays.

A project for implementing this idea would be to ask students to design and film theatrical previews for one of Shakespeare’s plays. These previews are intended to capture an important thematic or dramatic element of the play, as well as sell the play to classmates or to an Elizabethan audience. This activity encourages students to consider Shakespeare’s plays in terms of modern entertainment and that doing so proves to be an effective engagement tool. Likewise, projects such as this one create opportunities for students to collaborate as diverse learners and contribute their unique gifts to the completion of a final product.

Another method of combining the technological and the performance-based approach when teaching Shakespeare is to use student-generated film projects to engage students in close reading and interpretation of Shakespeare’s plays; students write, design, direct, perform, film and edit culturally relevant adaptations of scenes, and present them to their peers and on the online setting. The proposed plan for implementing this idea would be as follows: first, a group of students would either choose or be assigned a scene from the Shakespeare play being read in class. The students would then produce and film their own acting of this scene, while interpreting the text to portray their characters through a certain lens. The students would post this scene on social media, and would be required to comment on other groups’ posts before class. During class, the teacher would show the scenes, allowing the class to discuss elements of production and interpretation, especially between similar scenes. This proposed plan would compel students to understand and interpret the scene, develop speaking, listening, and presentation skills, and improve their moral values.

A first step would be for students to interpret Shakespeare’s text to be able to act as specific characters. For example, a teacher could consider a case study concerning Edmund, the complex character from King Lear. Edmund’s motivations can be interpreted in several ways, so students have the responsibility to portray Edmund in a production of a scene from King Lear; they would have to read Edmund through one of these lenses. One interpretation that students might take is to view Edmund as obsessed and insecure about his place in his family and his society, which drives his motive to overthrow his brother and his father. The students’ choices in dress, behaviour, and Edmund’s relationships with other characters would be directly influenced through their reading. By finding and interpreting important interpretations within the text, this student, or group of students, would more fully understand and interpret the play as a whole.

At the same time, other students would be free to interpret the play differently. While this student may find evidence for Edmund’s insecurity and psychological distress, another student may find the opposite to be true: that Edmund is inherently confidently evil and that his motives grow out of his own selfishness rather than out of a psychological response to his own insecurities.  Students would portray their own interpretations of this scene, post their own productions of it on a social media platform, and the class would be able to watch both. The class could then discuss the character of Edmund, and if the different interpretations are justified by the text itself. This approach would not only encourage students to justify character decisions through the text, but it would also stimulate class to find if these justifications were valid.

Besides providing students with an opportunity and assignment to interpret the scene they are assigned, this proposed plan would also teach students important skills, including speaking and listening skills and the ability to fully take part in discussion, providing arguments and examples.  By having online discussions about each specific scene, students would be able to collaborate using their ideas about the validity of interpretations and the importance of spoken drama. Through class discussions about scenes in relation to one another, students would learn how to better speak and listen in a personal, collaborative way. This project would also help students to develop presentation skills. Each group of students would introduce their project in front of the class before watching it, allowing them to practice public speaking skills. This strategic use of digital media may be a transition point for shy students to develop public speaking skills without having to individually stand in front of the class.

In addition to the skills already mentioned, the ones usually developed in English classes, students using this method would also grow in their abilities to appropriately contribute to an online discussion. In contemporary society, cyber bullying is becoming an ever-more increasing threat. By containing student submissions to class-approved websites and by restricting anonymity, teachers would be able to closely monitor the comments made online and teach students when comments are approaching bullying or are otherwise inappropriate. This project would hopefully instil within students a desire to positively contribute to other videos, posts, and submissions online. As the students continue to life beyond high school, knowing appropriate Internet behaviour will become increasingly crucial to their development and the future relationships.

There are plenty of other reasons this would be effective; among these are memorization, validation, and creativity. This proposed plan would encourage students to more fully express themselves creatively but it also requires them to memorize lines of Shakespeare, which is an important skill for students to develop. Furthermore, by having students post positive comments about one another’s videos, students would receive validation for their efforts by sources other than the teacher, which could be very important to student self-esteem and self-worth. This is important, since peer-related validation can often mean more than teacher-related validation, especially during these teenage years.

However, these productions both show the importance of students seeing Shakespeare’s works as plays rather than texts, memorizing and understanding the words, and interpreting his words through specific creative acting and production methods. Teachers have promoted both performance and technology integration for years. Performance engages students by allowing them to collaborate, interpret, create, and present to the class. Technology allows students to more fully connect learning to their daily lives. Through a synthesis of these two methods, students not only receive a synthesis of these benefits, but also develop skills in speaking, listening, and discussing; grow in their abilities to be positively contributing members of the online community; and enhance self-esteem through peer-presented validating comments. These skills and abilities will aid students in life beyond high school, while also promoting a positive experience with Shakespeare. Shakespeare education is a foundation of the modern classroom. Students deserve the best chance to enjoy his plays through a combination of these effective and engaging teaching approaches.


prof. Aida-Simona Rotaru

Liceul Tehnologic Al. Ioan Cuza, Slobozia (Ialomiţa) , România
Profil iTeach: iteach.ro/profesor/aida.rotaru

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