If you hear Kansas high school students hurling insults at one another in English or drama classes this fall, just remember that their teachers may be encouraging them.
Trading Elizabethan-era insults is one of the techniques that a select group of Kansas teachers learned this summer at Kansas State University's Camp Shakespeare. The weeklong course brought 10 teachers from across the state to campus, where they learned how to better teach the bard's work to Kansas teens. And insult-swapping contests abound in Shakespeare's plays.
Don Hedrick, K-State professor of English, and Charlotte MacFarland, K-State associate professor of drama, joined two teachers from Manhattan High School to lead Camp Shakespeare. It was supported through a grant from K-State's Center for Engagement and Community Development, which brings K-State expertise to the state.
"The arts and humanities are important, especially here at K-State," Hedrick said. "We would not have been able to do this without the Center for Engagement and Community Development."
The campers had the chance to meet and learn from Ralph Cohen, director of the American Shakespeare Center with its famed Blackfriars Playhouse in Virginia and its company, the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express, which often appears at K-State.
Using high school students from the Manhattan area, the campers tried out some of their new teaching techniques. Hedrick said one idea the campers learned -- besides teaching about Shakespearian insults -- was to encourage students to move to the rhythm of the work.
"One idea is getting students up to read lines and emphasize the beats, so they actually jump with the rhythm of the language and begin to feel the verse," said Hedrick, who is the K-State English department's Shakespeare expert. "I have taught students for so long who think they know what iambic pentameter is but don't. Students can understand it when they listen to hip-hop, but they lose that when they see it on the page."
One hurdle that the camp taught teachers to overcome is the idea that Shakespeare is too difficult for high school students.
"We send students the signal that learning Shakespeare is really harder than it is," Hedrick said. "One of the big things all of the campers took away is that Shakespeare isn't that hard and to make it seem like it's not such a big struggle."
Hedrick said that high school students often are exposed to movie adaptations, including teen movies, of Shakespeare's work, which can be a positive thing.
"But there are some 'translations' of Shakespeare into modern English, which is not the way to go, because it sends the message that Shakespeare's language is too hard -- even though a very small percentage of his vocabulary is obsolete. It's just much larger than the average high school student's vocabulary."
Hedrick said one of the neat things about the program is that the campers are sharing what they learned with other teachers in their schools, as well as in their communities, such as a session campers did on Shakespeare's love poetry with residents at Meadowlark Hills retirement community in Manhattan.
"People often put obstacles in front of Shakespeare, but a lot of cool things happened at the camp," Hedrick said. "I know these teachers will do interesting things when they get back to their communities."
Participating teachers were from: Concordia High School, Cottonwood Falls High School, Derby High School, El Dorado High School, Kensington High School, Manhattan High School, Quinter High School, Highland Park High School in Topeka, and Wichita High School Northwest.