Home' Teacher : March 2011 Contents 36 TEACHER MARCH 2011
stressed-out Year 12s, self-conscious Year
9s and Nintendo Wii-obsessed Year 5s.
Steve Littleton from Marist College Ash-
grove in Brisbane saw the same thing in an
energetic masterclass for his students.
'I felt that the boys, while initially reti-
cent, grew in confidence throughout the
class,' he said.
'It was interesting that the one boy
who said Shakespeare was boring at the
beginning of the class was the one answer-
ing all the questions at the end.'
Active storytelling forms the cornerstone
of Bell Shakespeare's student masterclasses.
We are not initially concerned with the intri-
cacies of the language. Yes, it is beautiful,
and many wonderful gems lie waiting to be
discovered; but that will come later. Active
storytelling creates a shared experience for
the class, allows them to be irreverent with
an 'intimidating' text, laugh at themselves
and the characters, and start adapting and
interpreting the play before they even realise
that's what they're doing.
Using professional artists to run master-
classes has a number of distinct advantages:
they are used to energetic performance
and have an infectious enthusiasm
they know how to capture and hold the
attention of a group
they have a theatrical rather than an aca-
demic perspective on the plays, and
they don't take themselves too seriously.
Most important of all, they open up
pathways to creative learning that support
and enhance curriculum teaching in the
Presenting multiple interpretations of the
same scene shows students that there is no
'right' way of performing Shakespeare, or
indeed any play. The script is merely a blue-
print from which countless different perfor-
mances can be built. Having an actor who
has performed those scenes subsequently
leading a class in finding their own inter-
pretations is invaluable.
Jennifer Davies from Mudgee High
School, northwest of Sydney, had this to say
about a performance of Hamlet Intensive at
her school in 2010:
'I particularly valued the different read-
ings of Hamlet's meeting with Gertrude in
her closet. I think that really showed stu-
dents how changing the emphasis of a few
lines combined with tone and body lan-
guage can affect how you view the [scene].'
One of the biggest obstacles to studying
Shakespeare is overcoming the intimidat-
ing weight of history. So many people have
said so many things about this playwright.
What could I possibly add? A participatory
incu rsion helps to break down that barrier by
empowering students to find their own voice,
build confidence and put their own stamp on
these great plays. Later, when they come to
writing essays or answering exam questions,
vivid memories of their own discoveries and
those of their classmates will guide them to
write clear, confident and original arguments.
Beyond the curriculum, it is clear that
students' self-esteem, motivation, self-aware-
ness and critical thinking are enhanced by
participatory learning. 'The long-term bene-
fits of creative drama -- benefits like thinking
on one's feet, problem-solving and collabora-
tion skills, a sense of presence, empathy, the
ability to delay gratification, and the ability
to put creative ideas into action -- are often
held up as essential qualities for success in
the world,' wrote Professor Patricia Pinciotti
of East Stroudsburg University, Pennsylva-
nia. 'They are equally important in the board
room, on the assembly line, or in the home.'
A recent study by the Australian Council
for Educational Research and Professor
Robyn Ewing of the University of Sydney
also shows a clear link between participa-
tion in the creative arts and enhanced out-
comes across all other areas of learning.
Making the most of an incursion
There are a number of steps teachers can
take to maximise the impact an incursion
has on their students.
Tailor the incursion. Make sure you speak
with the provider a few weeks before they
are due to arrive at you r school. Explain
to them the specific needs of your stu-
Beyond the curriculum,
it is clear that students'
self-awareness and critical
thinking are enhanced by
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