Meet the King Lear Undergraduate Team
Wayne State English majors don’t want to keep Shakespeare to themselves. During the 2016-17 academic year, faculty, staff, and students from across Wayne State collaborated to develop teaching methods that make Shakespeare accessible to all students, no matter their age or academic level. Working with professors from the film, theatre, and English, a group of English and education undergraduates has been pivotal in aiding faculty in designing and implementing lessons that complement the traditional, text-led, Shakespeare class.
Through a micro-grant provided by the Folger Shakespeare Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities to improve the teaching of Shakespeare to undergraduates across the country, a seven-person team of faculty and staff (representing English, Film, Theatre, the Office for Teaching and Learning, and the WSU Libraries) is producing a digital suite of resources for educators. Called “Dividing the Kingdoms: Interdisciplinary Methods for Teaching King Lear to Undergraduates,” the project allowed undergraduate team members to help build, test, and assess these new tools. The result is an innovative package of lesson plans and resources for the teaching of King Lear.
Aaron Proudfoot and Lujine Nasralla, both senior English Honors students, expressed their enthusiasm about the project, which was headed by Dr. Jaime Goodrich of the English department. Aaron was especially impressed by the impact of using performance studies, something he initially had reservations about. He explained, “The hour spent with Professor Aulino was absolutely wonderful and played a pivotal role in my development as a literature student, far beyond the scope of the semester. Listening to the professor's passion for Shakespeare and the emotion he was able to put into the lines was inspiring and made me think about the words on the page differently.” This semester has been particularly important to Aaron, as he is preparing to start Ph.D. work in early modern literature this fall at the University of Connecticut. Being able to work closely with professors and to access different teaching approaches has opened his eyes to ways he can get his own future undergraduates interested in Shakespeare someday.
Lujine was equally excited to be able to work with professors and other students in thinking about how to make King Lear accessible to others, noting, “I was honored to be a part of this project and to work with professors as they created modules for teaching King Lear.” She found being a guinea-pig a stimulating experience: “I enjoyed that our role in the focus group was a bit meta, working with professors as they developed these lessons which they then tested out on us.”
The students were also involved in producing lesson plans and resources to be used in middle school and high school classes. Vocal music education major Sarah Noble worked with Dr. Goodrich to develop service-learning activities for each module that were appropriate for those levels, and Sarah then led a team of three Honors students to pilot the activities at Baker Middle School in Troy. Victoria Knight, a Junior involved in implementing the activity, said, “the students were much more receptive and enthusiastic about Shakespeare than I had anticipated, and it was wonderful to see them excited about a subject entirely new to them!” The experience proved valuable for all levels of learners, not just the undergraduates, showing that teaching others is a wonderful way to learn more about Shakespeare yourself. Cassidy Capoferri, a first-year English and anthropology undergraduate, believes “it's important that the university implement this type of module to classes in the future. It helped me learn, so I don't see why it couldn't do the same for future students.”
Dr. Goodrich stressed how pivotal it was to have students fully involved in the project, alongside faculty, saying, “the students played a crucial role in the development of the modules, providing an exciting template for future research-based collaborations between faculty and students in English and the humanities more broadly.” This collaboration shows how valuable the work of our students is, and how much their contributions are valued by the department. Thanks to the hard work of our undergraduates, an innovative interdisciplinary approach to teaching Shakespeare has been developed that will benefit students across the country.
By Georgina Adlam