Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

"I must be cruel only to be kind." (Hamlet, 3.4.199)

I attended a conference in New York recently on teaching Shakespeare where teachers reported on the outcomes of  using performance-based teaching techniques with their students.  They reported that students made pretty significant academic gains based on the work they were doing in class.  However, the teachers also reported that the teachers their students had the following year did not use the same methods and, as a result, the students became rebellious.  The students were bored and not engaged in their learning in the same way they were the previous year. The students were cautioned by their former teachers to remain calm and not be disrespectful toward their current teachers.  This advice upset me, and I mentioned it to a colleague who attended the conference with me.  He agreed with the advice the teachers gave to their former students.  He cited the need for students not to be disrespectful.  I think he’s wrong.  It’s not disrespectful for students to tell teachers that they want to be engaged in their learning, and performance-based teaching engages students in ways that non-performance based teaching does not.  I’m not advocating that students should turn over desks and chairs in their classrooms, but they should be encouraged to talk with their teachers and express their disappointment about the way instruction is being delivered in their classroom. What do you think?


  • You’re right, of course, but you’re also perhaps a tad too idealistic about how this would play out in the real world. It’s a rare teacher who would be ready/willing/able to throw out her lesson plan in midstream.

  • Oh, gosh, you’re probably right about a teacher not throwing out the lesson plan. I didn’t really think he/she would/should, but he/she should be willing to adjust the plan to include some performance-based instruction. And, then, revise the plan for the next time the play is taught. I don’t think that’s unreasonable, and it’s a good compromise for the students and the teacher.

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