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Middle Schoolers Embrace Collaborative Spirit

Middle Schoolers Embrace Collaborative Spirit
Corinna Crafton

How can you possibly read Shakespeare with Middle Schoolers? They’re so young and immature.

I have heard that comment and others like it for years.

Middle Schoolers Embrace Collaborative Spirit

How can you possibly read Shakespeare with Middle Schoolers? They’re so young and immature.

I have heard that comment and others like it for years. Well-intentioned folks, who know little about working with middle school students, assume it is impossible for young adolescents to understand Shakespeare’s language let alone his nuanced use of metaphor and imagery. 

What I know is that middle school students are adept at taking on the challenge of dramatic interpretation. They are natural performers and innately curious about how language works and why a pun is so much fun! They get it. 

Underestimating tweens is something that gets under their skin...and mine. We know they are truly capable of engaging fully with the language of William Shakespeare. For them, language is a puzzle to figure out, a riddle to solve, a challenge to be met. When I survey students after their Shakespeare performances, they remark on what a special experience it is to do live theater. Further, they appreciate the challenge and feel proud when they have met it. As one student put it this year in her evaluation of the experience, “I never thought I would understand all those ‘thee’, ‘thou’, ‘thines’ but I do and I like it, and I like how everyone in class liked it too and got excited about performing the play.” 

They recognize also how important it is to work as part of a team to produce a strong performance. We should all be very proud of the collaborative spirit that pervades the middle school student body. They are a resourceful group, supportive of each other and eager to take on the next project or performance. 

I am often asked how we can assess non-cognitive and character skills: How do you know if students are being resilient? How do you measure their creativity? One measure is by performance – Shakespeare, concert, speech, debate. These activities are all mechanisms by which we can see critical character traits in development. Children are excited by the prospect of performing for a live audience. Doing so with peers helps to foster collaboration and empathy and tends to lessen performance anxiety, for all know they are in it together. During our rehearsals for the recent Shakespeare Festival, we would encounter scenes that felt especially difficult. Through encouragement, practice, and teamwork, students worked together to struggle through. By the final week of rehearsals, one could hear children telling each other during such moments not to give up, for “The show must go on!” They were right, and it did.