The Bard shows students new ways of thinking

At Melbourne Grammar, we value students’ ability to think for themselves. Ours is a community that encourages ingenuity, invention and the confidence to draw our own conclusions. When Wadhurst teacher Paul Stewart saw an opportunity to enhance these skills among his students, he decided it was time to create an entirely new teaching resource.   

The result is Sycorax, a 288-page novel that couples key scenes from Shakespeare’s plays with the story of a student attending a school much like Melbourne Grammar. A 96-page guidebook for students accompanies the novel, complete with plot synopses, visual aids and even a list of Shakespearian insults.

The themes explored in the book include change, prejudice and belonging, with deliberate echoes between each Shakespearian extract and chapter. “We see the story through the eyes of our main character and he grapples with many of the same challenges our students do,” Paul explains.  

“Setting the story in a familiar environment meant we could allow the plot and characters to work as avatars for our students, while working on the critical skills of inference and subtext,” Paul adds. “We’re continuing to evaluate the results of the project, but in our mid-year English exams revealed far more insightful commentary and a higher level of complex thinking than we had seen previously.”

“It’s important for students to regard their teachers as more than just administrators of knowledge,” Paul says. “They need to see that we’re willing to be both creative and vulnerable. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the level of vulnerability involved in putting my own work in front of students, but they’ve responded magnificently.”

“You can’t do something like this without tremendous support,” Paul emphasises. “Even though it’s my name on the cover of the book, this was a group effort. My colleagues in the English Faculty encouraged it from prologue to epilogue. I think it’s also a very positive statement that Melbourne Grammar School supports a project like this.”

Having gathered feedback from parents and students on the first edition of Sycorax, Paul has revised the novel and published its second edition, with all profits going to Footscray-based social enterprise 100 Story Building which aids the most marginalised young people in our community in the area of literacy. The response from the school community has been so strong that Paul also spent the summer writing a sequel, Danny’s Inferno, for those students who were asking: “What happens next?”

Danny’s Inferno is dedicated to a fellow teacher, Mark Coleman, and Year 8 student, Rafid Haider, both of whom edited this second book” Paul explains. “Their support is typical of the MGS community. The Wadhurst boys were quick to show gratitude for the first book. Gluttons for punishment, they requested a sequel. And that is what they got.”

“These books are a reminder that no journey simply ends,” Paul adds. “A student’s passage through Melbourne Grammar School is simply one of many journeys they will undertake in their lives.”