Stand and Unfold Yourself. Report on the Shakespeare & Co. Summer Shakespeare Program

Seidel, S. (1999). Stand and Unfold Yourself. Report on the Shakespeare & Co. Summer Shakespeare Program. Chapter in E. Fiske (Ed.), Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning. Washington DC: Arts Education Partnership and President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, 79-90.

Abstract:

Shakespeare and Company is a classical professional theater engaged in producing plays, training actors, and teaching Shakespeare at the elementary, secondary, and undergraduate levels. In order to understand what high school student participants were learning in two programs, the researcher used an ethnographic research method to observe and investigate the programs and the principles, structures, and pedagogy at the foundation of the learning experiences. The Fall Festival of Shakespeare is an annual project that involves ten schools and reaches over four hundred students. The National Institute on Teaching Shakespeare is an annual month-long intensive institute for high school literature teachers to provide pedagogical practices for teaching Shakespeare in the classroom. Both programs use project-based learning approaches that provide authentic experiences, academic rigor, and applied learning opportunities. Through observations, interviews, and review of program documentation, the researcher found that drama provides an ideal setting for deeper learning experiences.

Key Findings:

Students developed greater understandings of Shakespeare plays through the practice of rehearsing, acting, and investigating various interpretations of the plays to bring them to life on stage. Many of the student participants reported that they used the active reading skills developed in the Shakespeare program in other academic areas such as math, physics, and other types of literature. Students gained knowledge and understanding of Shakespeare, Elizabethan era language, and strategies for approaching and reading Shakespeare’s plays. Students also gained acting skills, learned how to collaborate in creative communities, and learned how to connect their self-knowledge to social and intellectual development.

Significance of the Findings:

William Shakespeare’s plays are part of the high school curriculum for nearly every high school in America, though few high school students graduate with a deep understanding of Shakespeare and their own abilities to understand his writings. The Shakespeare and Company programs provide evidence that through rehearsal and drama performance, students develop a deeper understanding of Shakespeare and their abilities to engage in his plays. The research also suggests that strategies for understanding Shakespeare are helpful in understanding other types of text, from math problems to physics problems. The findings support claims that participating in drama-based literature experiences helps develop literacy skills.

Methodology:

The researcher followed both the Fall Festival of Shakespeare and the National Institute on Teaching Shakespeare programs for two years beginning in 1995. The Fall Festival of Shakespeare annually involves ten schools, 40 artist-teachers, and over 400 students. The National Institute on Teaching Shakespeare is a month-long institute for 20 high school literature teachers. The researcher collected data through program and student performance observations, student, teacher and program administrator interviews, and reviews of program documentation. The data were organized and culled into findings.

Limitations of the Research:

While this study thoroughly describes the characteristics of the program and what participants learned, it does not explore how these aspects map onto student academic achievement or artistic growth. The data provided as evidence for student achievement is anecdotal, and could be strengthened through the inclusion of pre-and post-test measures of literature skills and personal and social outcomes. Additionally, the study does not investigate to a similar extent a control group of students who do not receive the Shakespeare and Company’s programming, but who also must complete a standard Shakespeare curriculum unit.

Questions to Guide New Research:

What is the impact of understanding Shakespeare on students’ achievement in other literature areas? How do the skills learned in the Shakespeare and Company’s programs transfer to literature in general or other academic areas like math and science? Future research should look at specific student outcomes such as increased literacy skills or reading ability as a result of participation in the program, in order to draw more substantial correlational relationships between student achievement and the drama program.