I remember many long nights in college reading and rereading Shakespeare’s plays, fumbling over his words and his sentences and trying to keep characters straight. I loved Shakespeare, but the ability to deconstruct his lines was nonetheless daunting at times. But the overwhelming complexity of his literature didn’t stop Citizen Schools teacher Jessica Lander from constructing a modern day spin to Shakespeare- 6th grade style! She introduced his work to students at Clarence Edwards Middle School in Boston, Massachusetts by first studying his insults, then rewriting scenes from Macbeth as text messages and discussing the thousands of words Shakespeare invented.
With an impressive track record since expanding learning time in 2006, Clarence Edwards Middle School relies in part on the help of Citizen Schools to bring a rich and rewarding curriculum to its students. Citizen Teachers, community volunteers who teach apprenticeship courses, teach not-so-ordinary courses such as the science of soccer, top chef, fashion retail, and Law and Order: Mock Trials Unit. The fact that 6th graders at the Edwards read on average at a 4th grade level and that her class would have both students with learning disabilities and those for whom English was their second language didn’t scare Ms. Lander. Instead, the very challenge of understanding Shakespeare is exactly why she felt it should be taught. By the end of the year, Ms. Lander heard from other teachers – as well as from the students themselves – that her students were making connections to Shakespeare in other classes and outside of school. Their enthusiasm for the Bard was boundless.
With an expanded school day and community support from organizations like Citizen Schools, the Edwards is proving what can be accomplished when schools break free from outdated school scheduling. By expanding their school day, the Edwards and many others around the country, are able to spark student engagement by providing courses that empower students to learn skills they might not even realize they have. And Ms. Lander couldn’t be more right- “If we want to inspire our students to value education, we should believe even those who struggle the most can study great literature.”