Undergraduate research: “Play the Knave”

Undergraduate research: “Play the Knave”

Photo Credits: MICHAEL LEAHY / AGGIE

An interactive research opportunity for aspiring teachers

In an institution where STEM is highly touted, it can be easy to forget the leaps and bounds that are made in other fields. The liberal arts in particular have made incredible advances in the research conducted by various members of the English department.

Play the Knave is an interactive platform that allows students and professors to teach Shakespearean literature through visual and performative methods. Students tackle the dense texts by acting out the various plays that have made Shakespeare a household name. Through this program, students can teach Shakespeare at any grade level to either introduce the illustrious playwright or to dive deeper into his work and explore its rich history.

Dr. Gina Bloom, the interim English department chair, has worked closely with Play the Knave and was essential to its coming together. Through her teaching internship program, she allows students the opportunity to work with Play the Knave and take the first steps toward teaching with the aid of technology.

“I have undergraduates, mostly English majors, but some from other departments, who work with me to bring Play the Knave into local schools,” Bloom said. “Students who are involved are learning how to use Play the Knave in classrooms, develop lesson plans that go online for future teachers to use and other things of the nature.”

The program is shared with local schools of all grade levels, ranging from early elementary to high school grade levels. Bloom believes that these kinds of interactions are great for younger kids who are excited to play and act with avatars, while also being a strong tool for upper grade-level students that seek a deeper understanding of Shakespeare.

“[Teachers and students] are really enjoying it,” Bloom said. “Students love it because it engages them in Shakespeare in a way that they don’t tend to be engaged in. Teachers like that it gets students up, performing the lines and speaking the language. It motivates everyone to get engaged.”

After nearly six years of development and perfecting, Bloom’s main goal is to get the program in the hands of as many teachers as possible to begin experimenting at a larger scale. With the help of students, the current recorded results show the beginning of the widespread implications of what the program can bring to the classroom.

“[The teaching goals] really depend on what the students are working on,” Bloom said. “We teach close reading skills by having the students read the language and determine what type of movement their avatar should make. There is a lot of digital literacy skills and how you can interact with technology and make it a collaborative partner.”

Bloom also recognized that the platform can be used in other subject matters and that its purpose is malleable in its early stages.

“What I would really like to see is teachers around the country using this and having it be a feature of teaching that can be used in many different ways,” Bloom said. “A lot of teachers I have been talking to are interested in using it for other subjects. I have a history teacher who is very excited to use this as part of a history lesson.”

Play the Knave offers exciting innovations that allow Shakespeare to be transformed and used in many different settings and is not limited to English classes.

As part of the research process for Play the Knave, Rachel Cowen, a fourth-year English major, developed her own lesson plan for an eighth grade classroom. In her lesson plan, Cowen and her colleagues explored how performance affected the learning ability of students. She created an experience that “allowed students to work cooperatively together to create a cohesive scene.” Some students were given the ability to choose their own characters and roles, while others were assigned specific roles to play. As students interacted with one another and watched their peers perform, Cowen found that students “felt it helped them pay more attention to the language of the scene,” which attributed greatly to the students’ understanding of the play. More of Cowen’s research, along with the work of other Play The Knave members, can be found on Play the Knave’s official website.

While this is only one example of liberal arts research, it is one that can be adapted to fit any discipline and any teaching goal. Students and faculty can work together to create an experience that draws students in and encourages interaction through performance instead of reading. Creating this atmosphere can have great implications for how students interpret and approach important subjects within academics.  

Written By: Vincent Sanchez — features@theaggie.org