~by Barbara Cobb
When I was starting my work on Shakespeare in the schools, I asked a cognitive psychologist with whom I collaborate, “at what age do children have the greatest facility with different dialects, like Shakespeare’s early modern English?” Her response surprised me just a little: “around the age of 9,” she said, “and this facility declines fairly rapidly as they turn into adolescents and young adults.”
We are doing our students a disservice when we withhold Shakespeare and early modern English from them until our students are in high school. Out here in western Kentucky, teachers, teacher education students, and university professors are working together to bring Shakespeare to kids in grades 3-12 – to keep Shakespeare in our students’ mouths and brains all through their formative years.
We have a group of students who have done two-week Shakespeare units in 3rd, 4th, and 6th grades, and we are planning units for their 7th and 8th grade years as well. Our theory is that, when these students encounter Shakespeare as part of their high school core curriculum, they will be Shakespeare Beasts — and their teachers will be thrilled!
Barbara is an Associate Professor of English at Murray State University and Associate Chair and Education Coordinator for the Murray Shakespeare Festival. The Festival’s Shakespeare in the Schools outreach initiatives, combined with its week-long event each February, bring Shakespeare to over 1500 students grades 3-12 each year. Barbara earned a Ph.D. from Rutgers University, and is the author of “Playing With Poetry’s Rhythm: Taking the Intimidation out of Scansion,” English Journal 96.1 (2006), among other publications.
Barbara is also one of the Folger’s presenters for the 2011 Elementary Education Conference – open to any teacher of elementary students. More information and registration is available in the link above.