Hamlet’s Dilemma Proves Timeless: Shakespeare Debuts in Post Falls Fourth Grade Classrooms

Monday, March 21 2011

By Donna Emert

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho – More than 70 Post Falls fourth graders are gaining a fundamental understanding of the Elizabethan era and insights into its most renowned spokesperson, William Shakespeare.

After talking with Seltice Elementary School (Post Falls) Principal Mike Uphus, University of Idaho professor Emily Duvall, director of the Northwest Inland Writing Project and program coordinator for elementary education in northern Idaho, approached Seltice fourth grade teachers Cory Nilson, Jennifer Nilson, Kelli Shepard and Alisa Travis with the idea for teaching an integrated arts unit that has since been dubbed “Shakespeare 101.”

“They were very enthusiastic and excited about the range of content their students are being exposed to and the opportunity to work in small groups led by the pre-service teachers,” said Duvall. “The Nilsons are fans of the Elizabethan times and that makes our collaboration especially wonderful.”

Students are focusing on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Penned around 1600, the play raises questions still relevant in the 21st century.

“Hamlet brings alive some very intense situations that we experience in our lives today,” said Duvall. “The characters work through issues such as divorce, love, death, betrayal and revenge – to name just a few – and they don’t necessarily do a good job of it. There’s a lot to learn from the story.”

The project aims to introduce elementary students to Shakespeare, Hamlet and the historical context that shaped them both. It is one of several interdisciplinary, full-immersion education collaborations resulting from a formal partnership between Seltice Elementary School and the University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene teacher education program through the Partner School Initiative. The partnership allows U-Idaho teacher education students to learn and begin to teach under the roofs of local public schools.

Participating pre-service teachers have found creative ways to make the play more accessible to fourth graders. One highlight has been reading a graphic novel version of Hamlet, said Duvall.

Duvall and Mary Orr, a doctoral student in the College of Education who teaches children’s literature in the program, also have purchased a class set of the Classics Illustrated Hamlet for the elementary school, and are hopeful that other schools will borrow it.

Beginning the second week of April, the pre-service teachers will lead groups modeled on Renaissance “guilds,” with elementary students participating as game historians, chefs of the feast, dancers and fencers, musicians, drapers/costumers, actors and behind the scenes experts in set and props.

On May 12, the integrated arts unit culminates in a Renaissance Faire that will include a Maypole dance and a student production of scenes from Hamlet.

“We’re still not sure which scenes we’ll be including,” said Duvall, “but there will definitely be a rendition of the explosive final scene.”

While the Post Falls fourth graders are learning about the play and its historical and social context, the University of Idaho education students also are learning.

“Our students are gaining valuable hands-on experience by developing and teaching a challenging curriculum,” said Duval. “Learning to apply behavior management techniques, adapt lessons to real children and brush up on Shakespeare are just a few of the perks.”
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About the University of Idaho

Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s land-grant institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year. The University of Idaho is classified by the prestigious Carnegie Foundation as high research activity. The student population of 12,000 includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars, who select from more than 130 degree options in the colleges of Agricultural and Life Sciences; Art and Architecture; Business and Economics; Education; Engineering; Law; Letters, Arts and Social Sciences; Natural Resources; and Science. The university also is charged with the statewide mission for medical education through the WWAMI program. The university combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities and focuses on helping students to succeed and become leaders. It is home to the Vandals, and competes in the Western Athletic Conference. For more information, visit www.uidaho.edu.

Photo/video Opportunities: Seltice Elementary School “guild” activities each Thursday, 2:15-3:15 p.m. from mid-April to May 12. The Seltice Renaissance Faire takes place Thursday, May 12, 1:30-3 p.m. Please e-mail demert@uidaho.edu to schedule a media visit to the school.