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By Michael Whistler on November 6, 2017

Would you rather be the king of the 'sharp Athenian law,' or have the magic power of the Lord of the Fairies?"...and then 35 bilingual fifth graders start to shout out their answers.

That was the scene at Shirley Rominger Intermediate School in Winters in late October where the world of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was opened up for the elementary students in an hourlong workshop by Conor Short, a teacher/artist in residence from Globe Education, Shakespeare's Globe, in London. Short is a Globe Education practitioner.

The American Center for Teaching Shakespeare in the Classroom, or ACTS, a new center housed in the UC Davis School of Education, is partnering with Shakespeare’s Globe, Globe Education Program, sharing transformative teaching practices and approaches to the unique texts and humanity of Shakespeare. They hope to expand the program with future in-class instruction in the School of Education.

Students “live their way to comprehension”

That day, Short was working with a developmental bilingual education cohort, a program where English language learners are taught in their home language, and given increasingly greater challenges as instruction in the home language decreases over time.  The fifth graders at Rominger created their own forest of Athens, imagining what might be in the forest where Shakespeare’s lovers take refuge. The forest they crafted on this  particular day included trees growing poisonous green donuts.  Because of these play-filled , inventive techniques, the young students engaged and argued like the lovers in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’The barriers to reading and understanding Shakespeare moved off the page, and students were ‘living’ their way into comprehension.

This workshop was not merely a teaching tool for the students at the school — it was a teaching demonstration. While the fifth graders tromped through their imagined space, students from UC Davis School of Education watched Short work with the students remotely via web. After watching this workshop, the teaching credential candidates worked with School of Education faculty and Short to understand how to use these Globe education practices for opening up Shakespeare to students in classrooms of their own.

Credential students
Credential students review techniques under the Grand Canopy roof of the Manetti Shrem museum.

Involving these tools in the beginning of a teacher’s career is a key vision of UC Davis credential/MA faculty Michele Fortes, Pauline Holmes and Rebecca Rosa. 

ACTS  works to support these innovative faculty.

As part of the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum’s vision to connect the museum with innovative arts education across UC Davis, these UC Davis students and faculty met during the week in the museum’s Art Studio space, spilling out into the open air patios of the Grand Canopy roof. Globe education practitioner Short led workshops in applying these creative, arts-centered approaches to teaching Shakespeare for classes in Multiple Subjects, Social Sciences, and English Language Arts. The credential candidates — who had watched the creation of an Athenian forest in Winters earlier in the week — learned to create imagined spaces for their own classrooms.

The airy Arts Studio space accommodated more than 100 UC Davis School of Education students with the added benefit of introducing people to the museum and its collections.

“I am coming back,” said a UC Davis student. “And … I am bringing my family here as well.”

Michael Whistler is the managing director of the American Center for Teaching Shakespeare in the Classroom, UC Davis School of Education