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Double Double, Toil and Trouble:
Engaging Urban High School Students in the Study of Shakespeare

Marsha R. Pincus
J.R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Whose English? Getting Students into the Language of Shakespeare Shakespeare's Blues: Making Personal Connections to Macbeth Interrogating Macbeth: Crafting a Literary Analysis

Where do I teach?

What are my students learning?

Teaching Practice
What's my approach?

Student Work





(the following is an excerpt from "Learning from Laramie: Urban High School Students Read, Research, and Reenact The Laramie Project", published in the book Going Public With Our Teaching: An Anthology of Practice.)

Simply stated, I teach to “tikkun olam” or heal the world. I do not teach to earn a profit for some nameless investors; (despite the incursion of for profit companies into the public school arena) I do not teach to get the most privileged kids into the best schools; (despite the assumptions and demands made by some of the parents) I do not teach to pass on unexamined traditions of literature or history; I do not teach to perpetuate racism, sexism, classism, ethnocentricism, heterosexism, nor any of the other damaging isms that threaten to diminish the lives of some and aggrandize the lives of others. I do not teach to maintain the status quo.

For me teaching is a hopeful act, one of possibility and transformation. And it has been a struggle. The struggle became more difficult for me in a school of relative privilege. It wasn’t just that the playwriting program didn’t fit; my own philosophies and values appeared to be in conflict with the dominant values of the school at large.

With the support of The Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) I began to explore alternative approaches to what I was doing in my English classes at Masterman. With the assistance of CASTL I was able to develop an interactive website entitled “Playing With The Possible:  Teaching, Learning and Drama on the Second Stage."  On that website, and for my Carnegie project, I was able to 1) outline my process and history as a teacher researcher, 2) present my thinking behind the development of a new elective class called Drama and Inquiry and 3) explain my burgeoning theory of “second stage” school reform that I thought might be possible at a school like Masterman.

Many theatres have two performance areas: a main stage upon which works are performed with a wide audience appeal and a second stage, sometimes called a black box where new plays and experimental works can be developed. The second stage often serves as an incubator for main stage productions.  In rethinking my approach to my teaching at Masterman, I developed an elective class called Drama and Inquiry that grew out of my decade long association with Philadelphia Young Playwrights and consistent with my critical pedagogy approach to teaching and learning. While my English classes (represented in this website) remained “main stage” productions, my elective became the alternative, experimental space- my second stage on which I could enact a different kind of pedagogy that might eventually have an impact on the pedagogy of the main stage.


I also read the work of Brain Edmiston (2000), one of the leading researchers in Drama Education. I was intrigued by his ideas about drama as a form of ethical education that could provide students with multiple and sometimes conflicting views of events. He writes, “to judge myself ethically, I must be answerable to others’ evaluations of my actions at the same time I expect them to be answerable to me and to others” (p 66).  Reflection on action is essential to acting ethically and one must get outside of his own intentions to view his actions from the perspective of those affected. He goes on to argue that drama enables young people to imagine life from other people’s positions. Such positioning offers them the opportunity to imagine “how the world could be different and what our lives could be like if we acted in different ways” (p. 67). 


Site last updated October 21, 2005