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By Deborah Gascon

It’s September and the weather is cooling down, but your students’ love for Shakespeare is warming up, right? Okay, maybe not love like, “will you go to the homecoming dance with me?” love, but maybe a lukewarm shyness sort of love? Your students aren’t ready to dance with Shakespeare, but definitely have been making eye contact and passing notes in class (or sending iMessages for you techie-teachers?).

My new batch of students haven’t experienced too much Shakespeare yet, but I have been dotting my daily lessons with a little bit of Shakespeare and performance-based instruction. By prom, they’ll all be asking their new love Super-Shakes to be their date.

Let me tell you about a quick and easy way to include the Folger’s approach to performance-based learning in our daily classroom lives. (more…)

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Guest post by Deborah Gascon

Eighteen years ago, days before my first year teaching began, my principal gave me the best advice I’ve ever heard about the first day of school. She simply said, “Make the students want to come back.” She told me to forget the syllabus and classroom procedures—the students won’t retain those rules and did I really want my first impression to be about how to ask for the bathroom pass?

As suggested, I followed through with my hopefully-memorable plans on that first day. When I ate dinner that night (in my pjs because I was so exhausted!) I had visions of my eighth graders at their dinner tables telling their families about their invigorating English class. I’m still not sure if that happened, but they all came back the next day with smiles on their faces and eager to learn. They were optimistic. And so was I.

With that advice in mind, on the first day of school for the past two years I’ve incorporated Folger performance methods in my lesson plans.  What a difference this has made. No longer were my sleepy seniors glaring at me (and the clock) and no longer were my freshmen struggling to sit still in a desk after a summer of hyperactivity.  Instead, students were on their feet, participating and laughing (and learning!).

Here are some quick methods to get the students up on their feet and loving the first day (and every day after!) in your classroom:

(more…)

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William Fox presents Theda Bara in William Shakespeare’s masterpiece Romeo and Juliet, 1916. Folger Shakespeare Library.

William Fox presents Theda Bara in William Shakespeare’s masterpiece Romeo and Juliet, 1916. Folger Shakespeare Library.

By Julia Perlowski

If the use of Shakespeare’s early modern English is under attack in some “regular” and “honors” English classrooms, just think about what the reaction might be to the use of such rigorous text in an Intensive Reading class!

At Pompano Beach High School, I am not only the ONLY drama teacher, I am also the ONLY reading teacher. I teach all levels of reading from grades 9-12. While I am producing Romeo and Juliet in the auditorium during fourth period with my drama students, I am reading the same texts way out in portable 3 during first and second periods with my striving readers.

I believe that a text does not have to be changed among students of a variety of abilities… just the TASKS! One may “perform” Shakespeare by acting it out or by engaging in ANY activity that requires one to read closely and critically to execute the task. With struggling readers, there is great power in reading and re-reading and re-reading, for that is how even the best of readers grasps meaning, nuances, and depth.

Here is the “performance” task around the R&J Prologue for my Intensive Reading Class:

(more…)

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By Sue Biondo-Hench

My students have told me that studying and performing Shakespeare has made them better readers of all literature and better writers, stronger individuals and stronger leaders.

But how do we assess this growth?

There is no standardized assessment that truly measures this type of learning. And that’s an issue that challenges the credibility and viability of performance-based instruction.

When I was first asked to provide a workshop on Shakespeare and assessment last fall, I was a bit disappointed. I mean, assessment isn’t what gets me to school in the morning. But truthfully, I think about assessment all the time as I work with students and performance; it is at all stages of what I do with students. I just didn’t realize it until I began to think about what I wanted to share at that workshop.

One of the realities of assessment is that it has the power to scaffold, stabilize, justify, and transforms the performance piece for the students, for the classroom, for the audience, for administrators, and for me.

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By Kevin Costa

Whenever I begin a Shakespeare play with my students in my two-year course, The Institute for Shakespeare and Renaissance Studies at McDonogh School, I get the class working on text from just about Day One. I don’t spend a lot of time setting up with talk about Shakespeare’s life or with the history of the period — there’s plenty of time for that later, if at all.

Owiso Odera (Othello) and Ian Merrill Peakes (Iago), Othello, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2011. Photo by Carol Pratt.

Owiso Odera (Othello) and Ian Merrill Peakes (Iago), Othello, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2011. Photo by Carol Pratt.

When I first started this course, I would choose the play we’d cover for two years, but this fall I took a different approach. My students and I looked through the Complete Works, and we read bits and pieces of plays that I thought they might like. This year, I think we may have looked at the moment in Othello where Iago helps convince Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful (3.3). Then we also read through the two scenes in Measure for Measure where Angelo propositions Isabella to sleep with him (2.2 & 2.4).

If you have a choice of play from which to chose, this is a compelling way to have students own their experience from the get-go. In other words, get students hooked by offering some of a play’s “greatest hits.” Once they have a taste of something they like, they’ll certainly want more since a well-chosen scene can really awaken their curiosity for the whole work.

If you don’t have a choice in play, that’s no problem at all. Here are some ideas for some of the most-taught titles.

(more…)

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By Jill Burdick-Zupancic

In English 10, I chose to study Macbeth with the students this year. However, because we were also looking at how imagery supports characterization, I decided to get them back into the world of Shakespeare with a look at Gertrude’s recount of Ophelia’s drowning in Hamlet. I’ve recently been really into taking scenes from a variety of plays to support the study of a larger piece. This scene, as described by the queen, has taken root in pop culture as well; there’s even a band! But, what we did is take a look at the speech (as shown below, courtesy of Folger Digital Texts) and explored how artists interpreted the imagery to support characterization.

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In case you’ve forgotten: Tomorrow is Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday.

In my recent post I wrote about the Romeo and Juliet Balcony Scene-Flash Mob event that the Folger is hosting on YouTube. We’ve gotten lots of questions and comments about this activity, and we’re hoping that you take the time to get your students to create this scene. (more…)

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