Each year, in September, I introduce the works of William Shakespeare to my fourth graders with William Shakespeare and the Globe by Aliki and Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children, edited by Edith Nesbit.
Selections from these books enable me to build background for students about Shakespeare. Students are fascinated by the fact that Shakespeare is still popular despite how old his stories are. We discuss connections to our lives as readers AND writers and to what life was like for Shakespeare as a writer. We talk about similarities and differences between writing today and writing when Shakepeare was alive. We jump right into two of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, Macbeth and Hamlet, by reading aloud Bruce Coville’s picture books. The conversations are very interesting and thought provoking, definitley “talk worthy.”
Then I introduce my “Shakespeare basket,” to students which has many different resources for students which includes other picture books by Coville and collections from the Stratford Zoo, and Graphic Planet, to name just a few. Interested students are able to do an author study of Shakespeare using a variety of texts.
Remote learning has presented a unique set of challenges in many ways for teachers. After the initial shock of the “stay at home order,” and the realization that I may not actually see my students again this year, I began to wonder how I was going to be able to get books into the hands of my readers. With my beloved Shakespeare basket at school, how would I continue to foster a love of the bard’s work without actually putting books into students’ hands? There are many resources online for students to access the works but I was trying to decide which resources would be the most accessible for my students. Quietly, I acknowledged that one of the best ways to interact with Shakespeare’s work is to HEAR it. Not only was Shakespeare a playwright, he was also a poet. My students have heard the plays but they have not heard me read any of Shakespeare’s sonnets! I wanted to make them aware of this, especially during National Poetry Month.
I was delighted to discover that Sir Patrick Stewart, award winning actor, director and producer, had solved this dilemma for all of us. I can think of no better way to introduce Shakespeare as a poet then by directing my students to Sir Patrick Stewart’s Twitter account. Daily, while the current “stay at home” orders are in effect, not only in the US but in the UK as well, he reads aloud one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Yet he doesn’t just read the sonnets, he DELIVERS them, as Shakespeare intended! A few brief moments a day is all it takes to be transformed by the words of Shakespeare as a poet, delivered in a masterful way that will make the listener yearn for more. My fourth graders may struggle with the vocabulary, or not completely understand the meaning of the sonnet, but they have the opportunity to experience Shakespeare in a new way. Many students will recognize Sterwart as Professor X from the X Men franchise, or as the beloved Captain Picard from Star Trek, the Next Generation. They will delight in hearing him recite the poems of an author they have come to know and love. Finding “new ways,” to keep students reading and interacting with literature is one of the main challenges to remote learning. I am so excited and thankful for this “new way.” Readers, in the words of Captain Picard, “Engage.”