"The play's the thing": The effect of performance-based teaching methodology on student attitudes toward Shakespeare study
Though Shakespeare is the dominant author in the American secondary school curriculum, there is no empirical evidence suggesting practical methodologies successful in the teaching of Shakespeare. This study examined the effect of speaking and enacting the text as a successful methodology. Its purpose was to determine whether learning about plays through performance-based methodology influences secondary school students' attitudes positively and significantly, as compared to students who learn Shakespeare through traditional, nonactive classroom methods. Subjects were selected in a two-step process. Fifteen secondary school teachers who did not use dramatic activity but rather traditional nonactive methods in their teaching of Shakespeare were identified by means of a Teacher Screening Questionnaire. Each of these teachers involved one class in the study; these students comprised the control group. Fifteen teachers experienced in the teaching of Shakespeare through performance-based methodology were identified through the Folger Shakespeare Library. These teachers also selected one class for participation in the study; these students made up the experimental group. Six elements of student attitude were identified: overall positive/negative response, sense of mastery, sense of accomplishment, understanding and accessibility of Shakespeare's language, sense of enjoyment, and feelings about future study of Shakespeare. Attitude was measured by a corresponding six-item survey instrument administered before and after the period of Shakespeare study. All subjects completed the pretest. Control group students were taught Shakespeare in the traditional manner while experimental group students received the treatment, a sequence of ten performance-based lessons. Two weeks after completing their Shakespeare study, all subjects completed the post-test. Students who learn Shakespeare by means of active, performance-based methodology have a more positive attitude toward Shakespeare study than do students who learn through traditional methodology. Affected most powerfully and most positively were students' attitudes concerning their own ability to understand Shakespeare's language and to master Shakespeare as a school subject, and their belief that the study of Shakespeare can be enjoyable. This study supports change from traditional nonactive classroom strategies to active, performance-based methodologies in the teaching of Shakespeare and other literature.