'If you want all to end well, teach toddlers Shakespeare'

World

'If you want all to end well, teach toddlers Shakespeare'

It's the best way to break down social barriers, says top educationalist

Camilla Turner

Shakespeare gives children as young as three a confidence boost, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s director of education has said.
Exposing pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to complex language allows them to become as eloquent as their privately educated peers, according to Jacqui O’Hanlon.
She explained that teaching children Shakespeare from a young age “narrows the gap” between those from disadvantaged families and those from better-off households.“No age is too young to start learning about the Bard,” she said, adding that some schools begin teaching toddlers who are still in nursery.
“They are learning new words all the time, every day. Shakespeare is just a new set of really gorgeous, delicious intriguing words,” O’Hanlon told The Sunday Telegraph.
“You ignite a curiosity about language. And that is a fantastic skillset, particularly for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“It narrows the gap. If you go to an independent school what you will be surrounded by is a group of young people who are utterly confident in communication. That confidence and communication is what Shakespeare opens the door to.”
The RSC has supported the teaching of Shakespeare in over 100 schools around the UK for over a decade, encouraging “rehearsal room” techniques such as reading the plays aloud and acting them out.
O’Hanlon has long suspected that the ramifications that learning Shakespeare has for disadvantaged children are far-reaching.
Now she feels that the benefits of Shakespeare are indisputable after seeing the results of a piece of research by the UK’s Warwick University.
The study, commissioned by the RSC, was a series of interviews with teachers at around 100 schools where Shakespeare is taught to disadvantaged children using the rehearsal room method, either at primary or secondary school.
“What we wanted to do was to find out from a range of teachers what Shakespeare enabled for their pupils,” O’Hanlon said.
“Anecdotally we kept getting this very powerful testimony about the dramatic impact that Shakespearean language had on a child’s confidence, on their communication skills and on their language delevopment, both spoken and written.”Researchers found that 95% of teachers said pupils were more willing to contribute ideas and opinions in lessons.
The same proportion said that learning Shakespeare impacts on children’s self- confidence, and over 80% said that disengaged boys particularly benefited.
A further 83.9% of teachers said the work had a positive impact on students’ spoken and written language.
O'Hanlon said anyone who claims that children from difficult backgrounds will not understand or will not relate to Shakespeare is being “enormously patronising”.
“What we see is access to Shakespeare really boosts children language skills,” she said.
“It is complex, difficult and if we give children the tools to unlock the complexity and access the rich beautiful work they feel very different about themselves.
“Teachers say it really extends their horizons and raises aspirations.” — © The Sunday Telegraph

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