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Shakespeare at JICS

On October 19, the Grade 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 students, their classroom teachers and many specialty teachers including Chriss and myself, travelled to the Stratford Festival to see Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”. It was wonderful to observe the focused faces of the children as they delighted in watching Malvolio be fooled by the forged love letter or the hilarious sword fight scene between Sir Andrew and Cesario (ask your child to re-enact it!).

At JICS, we believe that Shakespeare is for everyone and the best way for students to learn Shakespeare is by “doing Shakespeare” in their classes and “experiencing Shakespeare” by watching theatrical productions.

Recently in the media there have been discussions about whether the Shakespeare is still relevant and whether his work should be replaced in schools with the literature of more diverse authors. Here are some examples:

At JICS, we support all efforts to make the learning curriculum more reflective of the diversity of our community. We partner with our families to help children broaden their view of themselves and others by ensuring that they encounter “mirrors” of their own background and experience, as well as “windows” of difference. At the same time, we believe that Shakespeare is more than just a “long dead British guy” but someone who has much to teach us about the modern human condition. Teaching Shakespeare is a golden opportunity for students and teachers to collaborate on mutual discovery, and to figure out what it all means together. Our experience has been that JICS students understand and enjoy Shakespeare’s stories, instilling in them a desire to explore more of his works.

We also believe exposure to Shakespeare is a social justice issue. Knowing Shakespeare is power. Shakespeare is a significant part of world culture, owning a piece of him and his plays is important for all children.

In her book, Other People's Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom, Lisa Delpit, a MacArthur fellow and Benjamin E. Mays Chair of Urban Educational Leadership at Georgia State University, shows how everyday interactions are loaded with assumptions made by mainstream society. Delpit describes “a political power game,” a “culture of power” that often plays out in society and if marginalized members of society want to be “part of that game”, they must learn the “code of the privileged”.

As a lab school that is responsible for the exemplary education of our children and an adult teacher-education program, we at JICS share our unique approach to “introducing Shakespeare” each year in a workshop for the teacher-candidates as part of their academic courses. It is our hope that these future public school teachers will share their learnings to empower their students with this knowledge. Ultimately, we want all children, especially marginalized students, to “dominate the dominant curriculum”.

On the morning of Monday, October 2, I shared the approach we used to introduce Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” to our Grade 2 to 6 classes at the JICS Parent Ed “Coffee & Conversation” in front of the school. Here is what OISE Professor, Yiola Cleovoulou, has written about the JICS Lab School experience with Shakespeare:

Each Lab School teacher (Grade 2 – 6) is designing her/his own developmentally appropriate approach to teaching “Twelfth Night”. Our goal is to gather these activities into a future publication to encourage public school elementary teachers to bring The Bard into their classroom. If you are interested in learning more or helping, please be in touch.

All the best,


Richard Messina


Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study Laboratory School

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education | University of Toronto

416-934-4509 |

twitter: @JackmanICS | @richardmessina2



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