MD history and English teachers journey to England

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Sofia Kim, Staff Writer

This summer, the Middle Division’s (MD) history and English departments traveled to Stratford, England to train with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) for two weeks, the first time since the start of the pandemic.

RSC is a British theater company that produces Shakespeare performances and works with students and teachers to develop their language and theater skills. “Its educational department offers incredible resources on teaching challenging texts,” MD history Department Chair Catherine Garrison said. 

The purpose of the trip was to train teachers with RSC techniques and pedagogy to bring back to the classroom, Garrison said. “They are experts in their field, and while our teachers have shared that work with newer faculty over the last two years, it cannot compare to learning from the experts themselves.”

At the school, Garrison has used RSC strategies to open department meetings and has incorporated RSC activities into the curriculum. “The training is incredibly helpful in inspiring new ideas for active lessons,” she said. In years prior, teachers introduced historical texts such as the “Tao Te Ching” and the Constitution to students through reading and writing; now, they include theater-based activities into their curricula as well. The ensemble-building and active reading strategies will hopefully allow students to grasp deeper knowledge of the topics, she said.

Historical texts are often difficult for students to connect with because they use older language, and are meant to be read aloud, History teacher John Eckels said. The history department can use RSC techniques to help students pick apart language, get out of their seats, and physically interact with course material. “Students that have a harder time engaging with really dense written work can connect more if you bring in movement,” he said.

Eckels described RSC training as “training by doing,” he said. “Teachers did the same exercises we do with students, except we were the students.” Exercises included team building, quick-thinking, and intuition-responding games, as well as analyzing texts, Eckels said. 

A typical day in Stratford started with a morning training session led by RSC practitioners, English Department Chair Morgan Yarosh said. They also reviewed plays taught in the MD such as “Romeo and Juliet” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” In addition, they enacted classroom activities such as acting warmups and exercises that explored story, theme, and character, she said.

Tom King, the current Learning Partnerships Manager at the RSC, directed the training while the faculty’s residency, an on-site program, was led by Chris White and Tracy Irish, Garrison said. Faculty participated in workshops with the RSC staff and actors to experience the program from a student’s perspective.

Faculty considered how they would apply their training in class. “There was a lot of discussion on what exercises worked, what didn’t, and what could change,” Yarosh said. She hopes RSC’s teaching methods will help students walk away from lessons with a positive view of studying Shakespeare and other challenging texts. The school has been using RSC teaching methods since they started partnering with them five years ago, so this trip helped faculty refine and expand on existing techniques, she said.

Due to the pandemic, there was less RSC work because of masks, social distancing, and virtual learning, Eckels said. “The trip was a great reminder of how fun the exercises can be and how important it is to bring them back to the curriculum.”

After lunch and another afternoon training session, teachers met together for dinner in the city of London and saw plays like “Richard III” and “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Globe Theater. The faculty also connected with teachers from other departments, Eckels said. “It was a really good experience to build a community with people you might not normally see at school […] and see how people work differently.”