Education Week - November 9, 2016 - 17
Teaching Shakespeare the
21st Century Way
What's it like to learn a 500-year-old play via modern technology?
> By Benjamin Herold
Mark Abramson for Education Week
ablet computers in hand, Albert Cavalluzzo's 10th grade students swipe
through the opening act of "Macbeth,"
turning digital pages with quick flicks
of fingertips on screens.
The famous William Shakespeare play was first published on paper nearly 500 years ago. But in English
classrooms across the country, such traditional texts
are now colliding with new technologies, leaving educators scrambling to figure out how to teach classic literature in the midst of a digital revolution.
"A lot of us are connected to certain books, and we're
hesitant to deviate from how we've always taught
them," said Cavalluzzo, a 20-year classroom veteran.
"We have to figure out how to make the technology
work for us, instead of against us," he said.
Over the past decade, America's classrooms have been
flooded with computers, tablets, software, platforms,
and apps. On the whole, the impact on teaching and
learning has been far more limited than proponents had
hoped. Often, the tools are used to ease administrative
burdens and drill students on basic skills, rather than
to create new, more powerful learning experiences.
When it comes to teaching a play such as "Macbeth," most teachers say the "what" and "why" remain largely unchanged: Whether using paperbacks
or iPads, their aim is still to help young readers decode Shakespeare's original language, wrestle with his
complicated themes and characters, and learn to ask big
questions about themselves and the world around them.
What's shifting, though, is how teachers pursue such
goals. New technologies mean both new challenges and
Here at Mineola High School, for example, many
of the teenagers say they'd rather read Shakespeare
in print-a preference at least partially backed by an
emerging body of research that suggests comprehension and the ability to dive deep into a text may suffer
when using screens. Expert teachers are frequently
irked by new digital tools that focus on the quantifiable aspects of literacy instruction, such as improving
students' reading levels, rather than on fostering a
love of great books.
And then there are more banal technology-related
hurdles, such as spotty Wi-Fi connections.
But from audio recordings to document cameras, teachers have long used classroom technologies to deepen students' engagement with classic literature. Social media,
YouTube, digital reading platforms, kid-friendly computer-programming languages-they're all just new ways
to make old texts come alive, educators across the country
told Education Week during a weekslong Twitter conversation that was part of the reporting for this story.
The beauty of Shakespeare is that his works remain vibrant and relevant even as the world keeps
changing, said Mary Ellen Dakin, a literacy coach at
Massachusetts' Revere High School, a former mas-
Madison Rees works on her
tablet computer in Albert
Cavalluzzo's 10th grade English
honors class at Mineola High
School in New York. Her class
is learning the play "Macbeth"
using iPads and a program
See an interactive
version of this
story online at
The Changing Face of Literacy / www.edweek.org/go/changing-literacy