By Larry Reiff
Since the introduction of Apple’s first iPad, tablet devices have been finding their way into classrooms all over the world. Their portability, adaptability, and ease of use make them the perfect tool for teaching Shakespeare to our students. As an English teacher, I believe the that the best way for my students to learn Shakespeare is to interact with his words. The iPad and other iOS devices are the perfect tools allowing students to fully connect with Shakespeare’s text. Most English teachers are aware of the basic Shakespeare apps, most of which are just a collection of his works. Some other apps, such as Shakespeare in Bits, are useful, but they are somewhat limited and don’t really offer the student an opportunity to immerse themselves in the text. However, there are plenty of other apps that can transform the way you teach Shakespeare in the classroom.
Is it sacrilege to cut lines out of Shakespeare? Of course not, great directors do it all the time. When we encourage our students to do the same, we force them to focus on what is important and what can be deleted. I’ll give my students a scene from Romeo & Juliet and tell them to cut out half of the lines. They have to concentrate on precisely what Shakespeare is trying to tell his audience. iAnnotate is a wonderful app that allows students to mark up and manipulate the original text. Students can cut lines and annotate their own version of the script. It is the perfect app for student created prompt books. Students can easily insert stage directions or notes on vocal inflection. The annotated scripts can be emailed directly to the teacher for evaluation.
Twitter is also a great tool for forcing students to focus on the core message of a soliloquy or long speech. Imagine your students trying to reduce Hamlet’s To Be Or Not To Be into 140 characters. What would Tybalt tweet when he sees Romeo at the Capulet masque? How would Titus Andronicus use the social networking app to invite Tamora, queen of the Goths, over for dinner? The students have a great time with this activity and don’t even realize that they’re learning something. Best of all, they are doing exactly what we want them to do; they’re wrestling with the text.
Have you ever tried to show a clip from film version of a one of Shakespeare’s plays? How does your class react during the time it takes to load the DVD and find the specific scenes you’re looking for? Even one minute of downtime can quickly spiral into chaos. The iPad’s mirroring function makes it the perfect instrument for comparative video activities. Students and teachers can seamlessly switch between Laurence Olivier’s 1948 Hamlet and Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 version. As long as the videos are preloaded onto the iPad, you can move from one video to the next with the push of a button. There is absolutely no downtime. Students can even annotate the video and insert their own comments on the performances.
Performance is the key to understanding Shakespeare. The camera on the back of the iPad serves as the perfect appliance for student generated films. Using the iMovie app, students can edit the videos, include a voiceover or soundtrack, and upload the finished product to YouTube. iMovie includes some great templates that students love to use. Imagine you’re producing a new film version of Hamlet. What would the “coming attraction” look like? Students can use the trailer template in iMovie to splice their video together. iMovie also includes another template for news reports. Have you students use it to do a “breaking news report” from outside the Capulet tomb in Verona.
Students can express their understanding of Shakespeare in a variety of ways. Having them create a graphic novel of a play can really assess what they’ve learned. ComicLife is the perfect app for creating graphic literature. Students use the camera on the iPad to take pictures of each other posing as if they are in a scene. It is a great kinesthetic learning activity. The students will show you that they “get it” through body language and facial expressions. Using ComicLife, the students can insert word and thought bubbles straight out of the original text.
While it’s not an app for the iPad (yet), iBooks author can change the way we normally read the work of Shakespeare. Using iBooks author, teachers can create completely interactive texts of Shakespeare’s work. Imagine your students having an edition of the play that also includes audio,video, and a 3D model of the Globe Theater. As they read the play, they can watch clips of different performances. Teachers can include video of themselves explaining or introducing certain scenes. A built in glossary helps students to define difficult words or cultural references. Students can insert their own notes in the text and those notes can be emailed directly to the teacher for assessment. You can even include a short quiz at the end of each scene or act. I’m a huge fan of the Folger editions of Shakespeare’s work, and I would love to see iBook versions of these editions. As of right now, the only way to read an iBook is on an iOS device. While you are currently unable to read an iBook on your Mac, I’m hoping this will be a feature in Apple’s next OS update, Mountain Lion.
As a tool for teaching Shakespeare’s plays, there really is no limit to how the iPad can be used. With over 1500 new apps being developed each week, the uses of the iPad for teaching Shakespeare are unlimited.