Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Macbeth for Kids - Part 2

My fourth graders finished reading Macbeth a few weeks ago. I posted previously about this subject here. I can't say everyone enjoyed reading Shakespeare, but I can say that they all got something out of their reading, and that the majority of the class did like it. I even started reading Hamlet with a group of four because they begged me. The leader of that group had been one of my biggest trouble makers for the past two years. She was also one of the smartest and most perceptive students in the class, but was, shall we say, foul-tempered, especially when she didn't get her way. The rest of the class was memorizing the witches'speech from act 4. Some were brave enough to recite what they had memorized in front of the class and for visitors.

After we finished the play, we watched the movie version by Orson Wells. My other choice was the Roman Polanski version. It was produced by Hugh Hefner and Playboy Magazine, so it really wasn't a choice. Whenever we show current movies to classes in school, the students are noisy and obnoxious. In this case, even though the movie was in black and white with lousy sound, they watched. They pointed out to me the places Mr. Wells took liberties with the script. I hadn't seen this kind of attention paid to a movie since I showed a group of fifth graders Romeo and Juliet after they had read that play.

The point here, as we can see, is that if children are taught to read properly, they can read, understand, and enjoy anything we put in front of them. We don't have to bring Shakespeare "down to their level". We don't have to patronize our "urban" and minority students to make great literature palatable to them. It's so much better for our students when we raise them up to meet the great voices from the past.

In his book, The Western Canon, Harold Bloom says something to the effect that reading the great books gives us something to think about when we're alone. I also know from years of teaching that the more a student brings with them when they read a piece of literature, the more understanding they will get from it. These students will bring with them more than most fourth graders.

A final point. We read some things after Macbeth. Students were much more fluent than before Macbeth. The ease of reading "normal" books surprised them.

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